What I Enjoyed, December 2016

The books, films, and music I enjoyed in December 2016.

December 2016 was a very good month for books, movies, and music in my life. Let’s get into it!

Books

I did a fair amount of reading this past month. I finished Drive by James Sallis, which I wasn’t very fond of, but I did enjoy two other books.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

I am about halfway through A Wizard of Earthsea and really enjoying it. It’s a fantasy novel that follows Ged, a young boy who becomes a wizard. Ursula K. Le Guin’s prose is so good that at times I stop and re-read a sentence or paragraph three or four times. I really appreciate the way she puts things.

I like the way magic is presented in the book. It’s all about knowing the true names of things to have the power over them, and there are some clear rules and boundaries to how it all works. It feels less about casting fireballs and more about the intersection of nature and humans.

This book has got me excited about fantasy again, which is a genre I took a break from recently. I’m looking forward to finishing A Wizard of Earthsea and continuing the series.

Blame! by Tsutomo Nihei

Right before I left Portland for a holiday vacation to A’s family’s home, I got a real hankering for some science fiction. I purchased Blade Runner to watch on the flight, and I figured there had to be some great sci-fi manga out there—something similar to Akira and Ghost in the Shell. I did some searching online and came across Blame! by Tsutomo Nihei, and I am happy I did. Blame! is a 10 volume series collected into two omnibuses. I finished reading the first omnibus, and I am going to start the second one soon. Here’s what I thought about the first omnibus volume:

Incredible line work. An endless future city. Minimal story. A man on a mission with a blaster. Blame! volume 1 hits a sci-fi spot that I didn’t even know I had. The story follows Kyrii, a man in search of a lost gene. I’m still not sure what the gene is for or what Kyrii plans to do with it, but what Blame! lacks in plot it more than makes up for in style and atmosphere.

Following along with the story is challenging, usually because it’s absent. Dialogue is rare, and what is there is difficult to comprehend. I found myself re-reading pages and studying the panels in-depth to better understand is being conveyed. Typically I would find that problematic for the pacing of reading, but it feels appropriate for Blame! Every time I re-read a page, I appreciated it more and more. It truly is a meticulous work.

While challenging at times, I think Blame! is worth the effort.

Movies

With a few days off for the holidays, two days flying, and the weather getting colder, December was the perfect month for watching movies.

Blade Runner

I truly watched Blade Runner for the first time and was blown away. The music, the set design, the pacing, I can’t say enough good things about it all. I get why it is considered such a classic now. It has revived a sci-fi flame inside of me that burnt out a few years back.

I shared my thoughts in more detail in the “I Finally Watched Blade Runner” journal entry.

Manchester by the Sea

I watched the trailer for Manchester by the Sea the week before I saw it, and I didn’t know what to expect based on it. The trailer didn’t do much for the film, and I feared it being exceedingly mediocre. I went and saw it with A’s family during our holiday vacation, and I was pleasantly surprised. I think Manchester by the Sea is one of the best films I have seen in the past couple of years.

The story, in a nutshell, is about man traveling back to the town he grew up in to take care of some family-related business. Interwoven throughout are flashbacks, tastefully filling in the gaps to give viewers more context. The story is set in Manchester, a town on the coast of Northeastern Massachusetts, which is captured beautifully.

Manchester by the Sea rides on the performances of the two main characters, Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck, and his nephew Patrick Chandler, played by Lucas Hedges. They both do a stellar job. The movie has just the right mixture of humor and drama, but it’s not overly humorous or dramatic.

I grew up in New Jersey and lived in Vermont for four years, both on the outskirts of the heart of New England, where Manchester by the Sea is set. I felt nostalgic hearing the characters talk and seeing them walk around the small coastal town. It made me think of the people I had met over the years from New England. It felt spot on and true to the area.

The cinematography and dialogue were the highlights of the film for me. Manchester by the Sea is a raw and true film. It tells its story, and it ends. There were times were I worried it would go certain places, but it shows restraint and doesn’t, for the better. As my partner so aptly put it, “It’s just a slice of these people’s lives.” There’s no need for suspension of disbelief. There’s no “Come on, really?” moments. It’s a film with stellar acting, a solid story, and a beautiful setting.

Honorable Mentions

I saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on the day it came out, and I thought it was good. After some more time to reflect on it, I think it has some pacing issues, but I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it.

Done In is a short film available to watch on Vimeo. It is well paced and completely worth watching until the end.

Minimalism is a film I saw earlier this year in the theater during its only day of limited release, and it reinforced a lot of my existing beliefs and values. I watched it again with A’s family during the holidays. It’s a good watch, but not one I am dying to watch again.

Another film I rewatched was Her. I originally saw Her in the theater when it came out, and it had quite an emotional impact on me. This second time around I was able to think more about the shots, acting, and writing, which I think are all superb. The music is spot on. I love the outfits everyone wore, as well as design aesthetics throughout the homes, offices, and buildings. I can see myself watching Her a third time in the next few years.

Music

I mostly listened to two albums in December, both on repeat for the entire day.

Women as Lovers by Xiu Xiu

Xiu Xiu released my favorite album of 2016, and I have started to explore their back catalog of albums. I started with Women as Lovers. The first song “I Do What I Want, When I Want” is so catchy, so I decided to go for it.

I found the album to be a bit challenging at first, but I stuck with it and ended up listening to it on repeat for almost the entire month. I’m going to keep working my way through Xiu Xiu’s albums in the coming months. I also bought tickets to see Xiu Xiu live in Portland in March, which I think will be quite an experience.

Song highlights:

  • “Gayle Lynn” — Something about this song makes me emotional. It gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it. It’s a really tender song.
  • “Under Pressure” — A unique cover of the great song by David Bowie and Queen.

Blade Runner Trilogy by Vangelis

I bought the soundtrack to Blade Runner after watching it, and it has been great music to write and draw to. Electronic, ambient, and jazz all fuse together on the album, evoking images of the film’s setting and characters. “Blade Runner Blues” is my favorite song on the album, although it is difficult to pick just one.

What’s neat about the Trilogy version of the soundtrack is that it contains a bunch more music by Vangelis from the film or inspired by the film. I’d recommend the Trilogy version if you’re into the music in the film.

Author: Brett Chalupa

day: software developer, night: comic artist & writer

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