Per reader Bluejay’s suggestion that we revisit this question every couple of months (though it’s been almost nine months now), to keep up with our obsessions, here we go!
(You can also discuss this at Substack or Patreon, if you prefer. You don’t need to be a paying subscriber to comment, but you will need to register with either site to do so.)
This week’s question comes via reader Bluejay, who suggested it in response to last week’s question*:
What cool stuff are you watching / reading / listening to / playing / enjoying right now?
TV or movies, games, comic books or novels, magazines, web sites, music, whatever. If it’s an art or an entertainment, old or new, popular or obscure: if you’re loving it right now and want to evangelize about it, this is the place!
Bluejay suggested revisiting this question every couple of months, to keep up with our obsessions, so we’ll give that a try.
(You can also discuss this at Substack or Patreon, if you prefer. You don’t need to be a paying subscriber to comment, but you will need to register with either site to do so.)
photo by Maryna Yazbeck on Unsplash
*In last week’s question, I asked you what question (about movies, TV, pop culture in general) you would like to put to Flick Filosopher readers. Please keep dropping your questions here!
I just saw the email and figured I’d jump in.
Watching: I discovered Resident Alien is on Peacock so started watching that. Alan Tudyk is so great and makes the show. It has its imperfections,and the kid is stupid annoying, but I’m still enjoying it.
Sadly, I haven’t been to a theater in forever. I think the last movie I watched at home was the Sea Monster which was wonderful.
Reading: I have been consistently reading this year, which I’m proud of. Right now its Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel. Very well written. Takes complicated topics like time travel and end of the world stuff and narrows it down in focus. Good stuff.
Health issues have been keeping me from watching anything that requires an actual attention span, although I’m trying to get to Thor and Nope before every plot point has been spoiled.
I have been managing to read books, a few pages a day. I just started the new autobiography by James Burrows, who directed most of the great sitcoms of the past 30 or 40 years, including Cheers, Taxi, and Friends. The problem is that I keep skipping to my favorite shows and reading the book completely out of order, but with my limited attention span, maybe I’ll have forgotten those chapters by the time I get to them again.
I just watched the first three episodes of The Rings of Power. It was excellent, better even than I expected. Still a bit sparse on female characters, at least among the soldiers, but much better than the original. Also, a few of the leads are female, so that adds a lot for me as a viewer. I like the character development and that they introduced a bit more diversity (though not a huge amount). The pre-hobbits are delightful.
The plot is a bit slow, probably because they are introducing so much background. I was glad they did it that way, since it helped deepen the world building. It’s not a simple story; it has a lot going on. Visually, it’s absolutely gorgeous! The soundtrack is also excellent, well-fitted to show. It’s more like a movie than a series. Overall, I enjoyed it.
MarkyD, I’ve also found Resident Alien. I didn’t expect to like that one since a lot of serialized comedy shows leave me going “huh?”. But it’s actually pretty good. I watch each episode now as it comes out.
Watching: For All Mankind (on Apple TV+) — I can’t recommend this show highly enough. I recently finished Season 3 and am impatient for Season 4. The story starts with the moon landing in 1969 — except that it’s a Soviet cosmonaut who steps out of the capsule. Russia wins the race to the moon, and what unfolds is an alternate history of the space race — told over decades, through the lives of a handful of astronauts and their families and associates at NASA — in which we simply kept going, kept the Apollo missions going into the high double digits, and set our sights on Mars. The actors are excellent. The perilous space action is thrilling. The story is very human, both rousingly feminist (women get to be astronauts a lot earlier!) and smart in the ways it explores the costs of toxic masculinity. And it’s a real kick to see how history plays out differently in this world, even beyond NASA. Some technologies are achieved sooner. Some public figures are never elected, some are elected earlier, some die unexpectedly, some survive. (This is a world that still has John Lennon in it. *sob*) In terms of being a wish fulfillment story for people dissatisfied with the reality of how things turned out, this is sort of like The West Wing for space nuts. Loved it.
Reading: I recently finished two wonderful books — one long, one short — set in our post-climate-apocalypse future, which hold out the hope that we’ve figured out a way to claw back from the brink, rethink our societies, and rebuild the world. The longer novel is A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys; the premise is that local, grassroots communities called “dandelion networks” have wrested power from diminished corporations and collapsed nation-states, and have begun to live more harmoniously with the environment and repair the damage done. Things are beginning to look good… and then the aliens arrive. They’re friendly, and are on a mission to persuade humans to join them in their Dyson-sphere civilization of a trillion trillion citizens, because they’re convinced humans have outgrown the Earth and can only survive if they abandon it. So — what to do? The rest of the novel is a fascinating exploration of ethics, diplomacy, community, empathy, gender, and the many permutations of love, as the characters (both alien and human) quarrel about, and figure out, where the best path for humanity lies.
The shorter novella is A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers. In a future time when we’ve (again) figured out our mistakes and learned to tread more lightly on the planet, a tea monk (who goes around offering people tea and kindness) wanders into the wilderness and meets a robot (the first one to emerge since all the robots gained consciousness and walked away from humanity, generations ago). The robot asks: What do people need? And the rest is a charming, rambling story of these two characters — both absolutely lovable — becoming companions and discussing, basically, what everything means, what matters, and what’s the point of living. It’s very cozy and comforting, the sci-fi equivalent of a warm hug. I read it in a day, and took another day for its sequel, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy. Loved them both, and I think I kinda needed to read them.
I put Half Built Garden on my reading list just a few weeks ago. I was looking for science fiction type books and it sounded super interesting. I’ll be sure to get it soon.
I just finished watching the ‘Kleo’ miniseries on Netflix. It includes some gratuitous violence, but is overall entertaining.
I’ll share an oddball one. I’m reading an a short story collection called Dangerous Dimensions: Mind-Bending Tales of the Mathematical Weird, edited by Henry Bartholomew and published by the British Library. It’s lots of mostly turn-of-the-previous-century (do we have a way to say this phrase in the new millennium now? I mean the early 20th c.) stories about people being thrown into extra spatial dimensions and wandering in rooms that are impossibly vast. I’m a big fan of what I like to call “non-Euclidean horror”—House of Leaves being probably the best example.
As a sidebar, if you liked House of Leaves, I can’t recommend highly enough a book called Subcutanean, by Aaron A. Reed (an IF writer who’s publishing an amazing essay series turned book called 50 Years of Text Games about the history of text adventures). It’s about a pair of friends exploring a Navidson-like impossible house, but the text of the book was developed with some procedurally generated elements, so no two bound copies contain exactly the same details. Not just a gimmick, it’s one of my favorite stories even without that element.
So while reading these short stories, I happened to hear about a game called HyperRogue, which is a roguelike (a dungeon-crawling game with procedural, ie randomly generated elements) that is played on a non-Euclidean hyperbolic plane. If you want to experience what “bigger on the inside” actually means, go get this game. Just search the name, and it’s completely free to download on itch.io. You have to fiddle some in the settings, but I recommend trying out the first person view instead of the default top-down map and see what it actually feels like to be in this hyperspace. Plus the low-poly content is just cute and fun—there’s a Dune-inspired desert land, you can play as different characters including a cat, and you can decide whether to save a princess or prince from the Hyper Palace, so there’s that.
Rather than looking at new stuff, I’ve been catching up on all the old stuff I missed on account of graduate school. My recent obsession is The Wire. Not a feel-good show by any means, as it painfully reveals how institutions crush the efforts of those few individuals who put the public good above career advancement, the futility of the drug war, the way poverty and racism put paid to any dream of escaping the projects…It’s not exactly a fun watch, but it’s all too real, even 20 years later. Fabulous performances by Lance “John Wick” Reddick, Idris “Beast” Elba, a 16-year-old Michael B. Jordan(!), and pretty much the entire cast. John Oliver just did a show about copaganda like Law & Order. If you’re looking for an antidote to the fantasy of crusading police relentlessly pursuing the Bad People to protect Innocent Victims and zealous prosecutors seeking justice against the horror that is criminal defense attorneys, give The Wire a shot. Law & Order it ain’t.
The John Oliver segment is very much worth watching. Some of his points will sound familiar, because “copaganda” has gotten a lot of attention the past few years, but we really need the reminder; there’s been such a backlash against the idea of defunding the police that I’m starting to wonder if we’ll see police reform in my lifetime.
Ive had The Wire on my list ever since i subbed to HBOMax, but just cnat pull the trigger. Its seems like an exhausting watch and I’m not sure I’m up for it.
Watching (TV): aside from baseball (have every finger crossed the Phillies will keep from a September collapse and finally make the postseason again), I have been catching up on Barry very slowly. I am now into the first half of season 3, and the technical craft of this show is just phenomenal – there is a tracking shot of Sally in the first ep of s3 that was a masterpiece of large scale, seamless choreography, and another perfectly framed and timed shot in ep2 that is a masterpiece of a punchline. Along with being one of the funnier things on (although I don’t know if I would still call it a ‘comedy’), it’s got incredible performances, and I am in trouble with how much I love Noho Hank.
I’ve also been keeping up with Reservation Dogs, which with an all-Native writers room brings a refreshing tone and humour that as a white person is new to me, and it’s fantastic. This show portrays contemporary American poverty in an upfront, honest, humane way, and it showcases the desperation and folly of the central teens as well as the grief of an entire community hurting from generations of oppression, manifested in thousands of ways. It’s pretty incredible.
Watching (film) : Covid numbers in my part of the world have declined and held there for a while now (touch wood that continues), so I’ve been endeavouring to hit the cinema weekly. Unfortunately, I haven’t been impressed by much that’s been available. But! I did get to catch Emily the Criminal, and dang it was great. Aubrey Plaza is incredible, utilizing her understated performance to toggle from overwhelmed to reckless as Emily, who has been fucked over societally, just wrenches control of a situation any way she can. Theo Rossi is incredibly disarming and earnest, even while introducing Emily to the world of fraud. It’s a bleak indictment of late stage capitalism and a contemporary film noir with a morally ambiguous protagonist. Lots to chew on.
I also managed to catch The African Queen for the first time, and as a fan of both Hepburn and Bogart, I had a blast with it (despite the obvious colonialism of the plot, that part is Bad). They both give really great performances here, and the narrative resolution is incredibly satisfying. I also caught Double Indemnity for the first time since a film studies class in college, and gosh gosh gosh, the dialogue is razor sharp and the use of light and shadow is just sculpture. A classic for a reason.
Reading : I am currently head over heels in love with The Locked Tomb series as I make my way through the second book, Harrow the Ninth (the third book, Nona the Ninth, just came out, but I am obviously not caught up, so no spoilers please!). This is queer science fiction horror but with the tone of the the best of tumblr shitposts and memes, and it is GLORIOUS. Ornate worldbuilding and politics, really heartstoppingly gruesome imagery, moments of genuine terror, and characters that are so funny and so endearing it is impossible not to love them. I’m about 20% into Harrow and the way that book is picking up where Gideon left off has given me brainrot (this is a positive). It’s fantastic.
I also read the novella Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant recently, and holygods it is terrifying. It’s 120 pages of a ship full of skeptics looking to make a quick buck by staging a mermaid discovery and making a “documentary” of it (plus some scientists willing to put their stamp of approval in exchange for the research opportunity). Except they wander into the habitat of actual mermaids, who are terrifying territorial predators. From jump you know exactly what’s going to happen, and then you just have to look on with dread as it does. Extremely good monster design for the mermaids, also, they are a Lot. I’ve got the novel-length sequel (Into the Drowning Deep) in my Read Next pile now.
Seeing another commenter’s rec of For All Mankind, along with my recent fondness for Our Flag Means Death and The Great, spurred this suggestion of a future loaded question : what is your favorite alternate/revisionist history lately? What about how this show/movie/etc. reimagines, or ignores, the known historical record is compelling to you?
oh, and how could I have forgotten Dracula Daily! Reading the novel completely chronologically and in real time has been really neat and made it come alive for me in a way the original publication did not , and it’s neat to be a part of an internet book club of sorts!
My latest obsession, which came out of left field for me, is the all-female Japanese heavy metal band LOVEBITES. I don’t usually listen to music in this genre, but I clicked on this live performance of their song “Holy War” and became an instant fan.
The princess-gown aesthetic may or may not work for you (I think it’s a fun contrast to the dark/goth/grungy wardrobe that metal bands have tended to wear) but I’m just gobsmacked by their god-tier musicianship. They’re blessed with not one but two lead guitarists who are unbelievably good, playing separately or in lightning-quick precision harmony. Their drummer is a tiny, indefatigable machine. Their singer is a powerful vocalist with a soul/R&B background (she sings mostly in English, but heavily accented to the point where I don’t really focus on the lyrics and just enjoy her sound).
I can recommend other live clips of theirs from my time down the YouTube rabbit hole. “Raise Some Hell” is a rockin’ “meet the band” party song. “Edge of the World” is built around singer Asami’s gorgeous vocals and features about three mood shifts in the song. “Swan Song” showcases guitarist Miyako’s chops on the piano (she’s classically trained, and is good enough to be a concert pianist as well). “Don’t Bite the Dust” centers the other guitarist Midori, with her fun, flashy stage presence. “Break the Wall” provides a good contrast between the two guitarists’ styles. “Frozen Serenade” features an interlude with piano, acoustic guitar, a bit of ballet, and a snow machine (because why not). “We the United” is an epic and celebratory show-closer. And their recent music videos “Judgement Day” and “Stand and Deliver” introduce their new bassist Fami, who is somehow just as amazingly skilled (if not more so) than their old bassist Miho.
I’ll stop here before I run out of superlatives. But if you folks like them, help me spread the word! Hopefully someday they’ll be popular enough around these parts for them to consider a North American tour. :-)
Ok here we are again.
I have NOT stayed current with movies at all. Last theater visit was to see Cocaine Bear with my wife. kinda fun.
Even at home I tend to watch shows more than movies nowadays. TV has just gotten so much better over the years. And allows for more time to get to know characters and explore themes.
I do everything slowly, though. Never binge.
I watched Severance on Apple. Great show.
I’m watching Beef right now. The title so doesn’t tell us that the show is about so much more.
I like detective shows so I watch things like C.B. Strike and Cardinal.
I’m still trying to finish God of War: Ragnarok on my PS4. Just about at the end. Amazing game!
I’m currently reading Half-Built Garden. Its….interesting so far. Would make far right conservatives heads explode haha. Bluejay explained the premise of it well in his september post.
Hello world, just joined and I love the feelings I get while reading your reviews 😍 thank you.
Things I’m watching are Mrs. Davis, Ted Lasso, Dave, Lucky Hank, The Diplomat, The Mandalorian (Love Grogu 🙃 🤗 !) and a couple more series. I feel I’m watching less and less movies and more series since covid.
And books that I’m reading Divan e Shams by Rumi, The Subtleties of Molla Nasiruddin by Shahed Qomshei, Masnavi by Rumi, Law of Human Nature by Robert Greene. I don’t read each in one go, a little from each one.
Thank you for your soul satisfying site 🙏 .