A Show About (but not About) a Lawsuit, A French Film Re: Family, and A Fierce, yet Sincere Novel

TV show: Good Girls Revolt (2015-2016) created by Dana Calvo

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The genius of Good Girls Revolt wasn’t in how it dealt with its central premise and raison d’etre: the suit filed by the female research assistants at News of the Week for the right to be reporters. The genius of the show was how it dealt with everything else. Looking back on lives and times, we tend to lose our sense of perspective. We focus on the singular events, the turning points, the times that changed. We lose sight of the fact that those events, points, and changes were also just a day in the life. Most things that happen are a long time coming, but the coming is hard to recapture after the impact of the arrival.

Good Girls Revolt captured that coming perfectly. The lives of the women, of the reporters, and of the magazine go on mostly as usual while the lawsuit brews in the background. The drama is that of an ordinary newsroom in the 1960s (though the periodization leaves something to be desired; the comment from one of the women that a party was “lit” was among the more jarring of the show’s occasional slips). People fall into and out of love, stories come and go, and the lawsuit is no big deal. Until it is. The press conference and announcement make the suit suddenly real and upend everything in the finale.

That’s what lawsuits are like. Everyone has a life apart from the lawsuit, and they just want to get on with it. But eventually, for one reason or another, they can’t. Then there has to be the conflict. And the conflict is all we remember. That’s why Good Girls Revolt is uniquely excellent: it’s a show about a lawsuit which is not about the lawsuit. Word on the street is that the show has been discontinued after its first season, but that first season is still well worth watching.

– David Shelton

 

 

Film:  It’s Only the End of the World (2016) directed by Xavier Dolan 

 

It feels rare to come upon a book or movie where one empathizes at least in part with every single character, but that’s what I found in It’s Only the End of the World. It’s plotless, just an afternoon where a young man – who says very little the entire movie – travels home to tell his family of his terminal illness. They have not seen him in 12 years, and the entire movie portrays all the family issues that result from how much they adore and admire him, but also resent his absence.

I found it especially poignant as an artist, because I’m frequently embarrassed that people treat me as un-relatable because I may have artistic talent. Where art should bring people together, sometimes it makes people feel an alienating sense of awe instead. The movie is French and won a biggish prize at Cannes last year, so you will feel very cultured if you watch it, and extra points if you use the French title when telling people that you saw it. I should also mention that I saw it on a plane, where everything seems more emotional than normal, so hopefully this movie doesn’t actually suck?!

 

– Karissa Tucker

 

 

Book: Salvage the Bones (2011) by Jesmyn Ward

 

Jesmyn Ward has been on my TBR stack for a while and I’ve only just gotten to her books beginning with this one. I could not put it down (trite but true). The pace is constant while the story swells and ebbs with subtle, localized tensions. 10846336The central character and narrator, Esch, has such a believable voice. As a young girl, whose mother has died, with an alcoholic father, and three brothers, she struggles with the line between childhood and a premature, inescapable maturity. The story hovers on the brink of an impending storm mirrored by the tempestuous though seemingly minor events of the plot.

Skeeter, Esch’s brother and senior by a year, owns and arguably carries a burning obsession for his pit-bull, China. He cares for her like his absent mother may have cared for him, with an outspoken intention of pragmatic purpose but a close kept tender love and pride for the animal. She is a fighting dog but the book starts with her giving birth to a litter of puppies, she is a mother. The thread of motherhood runs thick through the text. The children’s mother who dies before the narrative begins, a dog who has stunted maternal instincts and Esch acting in the role to care for her father and brothers. Ward poses the question of what motherhood means. She explores how this state affects a woman and those she holds an obligation to through birth. A maternal figure bears responsibility to nurture through food and through physical love.

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Pit bull’s smile

Esch, as the narrator, provides a powerful perspective for the reader. While young, her role compels her to cook for the family, watch out for Junior, the youngest, and take on tasks her mother would have done were she still alive (i.e. laundry, searching for chicken ward_jeggs, and caring for her father when he gets sick). Her sexual experience with various boys from her community also flirts with the boundary between young adulthood and greater maturity. Esch has been forced to grow up early in many ways but she still misses her own mother and compares the ideal of motherhood with observations of China and her pups.

The world Esch inhabits has its own set of cultural rules defined by a largely black community. Ward does an excellent job of fleshing out a world where the nuanced behaviors, speech, and lives of her characters feel intimate and grippingly tangible. While reading this book, I felt through Esch curiosity as she explores herself and the world around her. I felt her fears for the future, loneliness in her isolated womanhood surrounded by men, and her courage in bearing up under the mounting pressures forced on her.

– Jessica Webster

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An ‘American’ American TV Show, A Diverse Historical Musical, and an Inspiring Offbeat Documentary

TV Show: American Odyssey (2015) created by Peter Horton

It’s been a while since I’ve mourned a canceled show quite this much, especially since this show is not really “in my wheelhouse” (which, I hate to say, is some combo of Spanish soap operas and period dramas). I’m the furthest thing away from into all things #merica, but this show manages to encompass a lot of the current political mood in the US without taking a political side. The main character, Sargent Odelle, comes across some suspicious info on a terrorist’s computer while on assignment in Mali, and spends the rest of the show trying to survive being killed for having unwittingly uncovered a vast web of corruption involving the US military and a large investment firm in the US. One review I read said that with a “been-there-seen-that premise and multiple muddled plots, American Odyssey can’t escape the shadows of its superior predecessors in an age of solid spy/action television.” Again, I haven’t watched loads of spy/action thrillers, but the thing that set this show apart for me (beside the government conspiracy thread, which feels eerily timely) was that is did an excellent job of humanizing the characters in Mali. There’s even a subplot about a man who has been framed as a terrorist and the impossibility of proving himself innocent when most people only want to believe the worst of him. I read that the show tacked on the “American” part to its title to come across as more patriotic, but frankly, I think this show is too fair to non-Americans to do well on American TV. BOOO. It stands alone pretty well as a single season, none the less.

– Karissa Tucker

 

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Musical: Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda

One of the biggest broadway hits in the past few years, Hamilton is the story of the founding father who was never president. It covers his whole life: the drama, how he wrote like he’s running out of time, the scandal, and *spoiler* his death.

When I saw the show on Broadway, my friend told me to not listen to any of the music before the show, so the whole experience was completely new to me. The musical was a blend of hip hop, R&B, and rap (genres I don’t usually listen to). After a few numbers, I was able to keep up with the fast rhythms and lyrics, catching and following the story.

16450_show_landscape_large_03Hamilton uses a fairly minimal amount of props, instead using lighting, backup dancers, and a spinning stage to portray the action. Unlike some musicals that have plot-song-plot-song structure, Hamilton’s songs are the plot. If you listen to the soundtrack online you’ll essentially hear the whole show and know the story. However you can’t pick up on things such as who Peggy’s actress plays in the second half and their lyrical connection, witness King George take full command of the theater, or follow the final bullet as it heads towards Hilton himself. Tickets are hard to come by, but it is well worth it!

– Richie Gowin

 

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Documentary: Hot Sugar’s Cold World directed by Adam Bhala Lough

Hot Sugar’s Cold World takes you on a creative quest with composer/producer Nick Koenig, known by his stage name Hot Sugar, as he answers the question, “why do we need instruments anymore?”

Director Bhala Lough follows the producer in the field as he hunts for interesting sounds in non-musical environments and adapts them into melodies. Some examples of these recordings are: the sound of human skulls bouncing off each other, the first computer that went on the internet, ordinary traffic noises, Pop Rocks in someone’s mouth, or the sound of silence at a funeral. The Associative Music he ends up with are beautiful, layered, emotional pieces that subtly reference their source sounds. These songs will end make up Hot Sugar’s debut album, God’s Hand.

Though slow at times, the documentary moves along with visits from director Jim Jarmusch, a break up, conversations with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, a trip to Paris, a fully tattooed Word War I veteran, and a sketchy craigslist meet up to buy illegal fireworks with actor Martin Starr.

Hot Sugar’s Cold World is a must see if you’re looking for some inspiration this fall. After a long dry spell, watching this documentary kickstarted a several month long burst of creativity for myself and my husband. The entire documentary is free to stream on youtube. It is split into eight parts, each around ten minutes long.

PART ONE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orBQp6aSF9I

other links:
http://associativemusic.com
http://hotsugar.tv
https://twitter.com/hotsugar

– Riayn Grey

An overlooked American Classic, Edge-of-your-seat Anime action, and a Visceral Music Experience

Book: The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Hawthorne is typically associated with his short stories. He’s even more typically associated with the austere New England setting of his work. However, in this lesser-known novel, Hawthorne takes the reader to Italy, into the heart of old Rome. The Marble Faun is one of the first of the American international novels, a form perfected later in the century by the likes of Henry James. James himself had high praise for the book, which I will not quote because James was clearly writing before the advent of the “spoiler alert.”

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The themes of the work are the usual ones for Hawthorne: guilt and repentance, morality and sin, heaven and hell. Hawthorne’s work benefits from the historical setting, and the additional room afforded by the novelistic form. More than any other of his works with which I am familiar, The Marble Faun displays the author’s uncanny ability to deliver, in the midst of describing a scene, an observation that speaks directly into the heart of an apparently unrelated matter. This book is one of those few which are not considered American classics, but should be.
– David Shelton

 

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Anime: Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) original manga by Hajime Isayama, anime directed by Tetsuro Araki
Yes, my roommate got me into an anime. It also happens to be one of the top animes of all time. In this world, all of humanity (mostly German) lives behind a wall to protect themselves from human devouring Giants called Titans. When the wall is breached, death and tragedy ensue.attack gif Titans are impervious, mindless, eating machines. The show is full of tragedy, complex relationships with well developed characters, a theme song you CANT skip, and gore galore. The first season is on Netflix, but you’ll have to wait along with the diehard fans for season two that’s been postponed for three years, even though it’s nearly complete! It’s hard not to binge watch this action filled thriller.

– Richie Gowin

 

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Music album: A Man Alive! By Thao Nguyen and the Get Down Stay Down (2016)

I’ve loved Thao Nguyen ever since she sang “As sharp as it stings / As sharp as I sing / It still soothes you doesn’t it / Like a lick of ice cream” in 2008. This fourth album from Thao Nguyen was produced by Merrill Garbis of tUnE-yArDs (both artists are from the San Francisco/bay area). Thao explains how many of her new songs explore feelings of abandonment and recovery from her father leaving when she was young. In her World Cafe session/interview she says that she has been acutely aware of the fact that her father isn’t dead. He left and still exists somewhere in the world. She could find him. He is a man alive.

Thao’s lyrics carry powerful emotion and convey raw vulnerable questions. With lines like “We’re not born for departure / But we do learn to take it” and “Leave me here / In disbelief again” in the song “Departure”, the artist sings honestly about her own experience with hurt. Her poetic and striking lyrics are backed by incredible tracks that incorporate dissonant/discordant beats and noise with driving melodies that pair perfectly with Thao’s voice and circling choruses. The sound has descriptions like “a driving banger fueled by a chopped-up hip-hop beat and analog squelches” (NPR’s Mike Katzif on “Meticulous Bird of Prey”) and “a cool-down strut sounds like its slinked off some mid-’70s Rickie Lee Jones record” (Stuart Berman for Pitchfork on “Guts”). The songs on this album often evoke a little girl putting on a brave face. She combines an innocent straightforward expressiveness with a questioning that borders between wounded and accusative. The swinging arc of the album shows Thao’s visceral reaction to her father’s abandonment, but simultaneously displays a fierce liveliness that shows strength and willingness to confront trouble head on. The final track, “Endless love”, doesn’t offer the listener concrete resolution. The simple lyrics, “I’ve got an endless love no one can starve / I don’t want it, carve it on out of me,” sound less like a nice tidy end and more like a lament. It would be easier not to feel than to be vulnerable to the world. Despite this final line the artist hasn’t gotten rid of her capacity to feel, instead she allows herself to be transparent with her audience in a beautiful, tender yet resilient and accomplished body of work.

– Jessica Webster