Showing posts from December, 2019

2019, A Year in Reading: Best Books of the Year

I read 80 books in 2019 (81 if I can finish the one I'm currently on before midnight).  On the whole I'd say this year's reading was solid but not amazing--which feels very much of a piece with my cultural consumption all around (see also my list of favorite TV shows at Lawyers, Guns & Money).  Of course, there are so many 2019 books that I still haven't gotten around to, that it may turn out I had a great reading year, I just didn't know it until long after it was over.  For now, however, my favorite books of the year are below. Best Books: Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah Every year has to have at least one superlative short story collection, and Adjei-Brenyah's debut was it for 2019.  And what a debut it is.  Taking obvious inspiration from George Saunders, the stories here straddle the line between realism and parody, naturalism and science fiction.  A store clerk on Black Friday learns to understand the language of the feral shoppers aft

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

One interesting aspect of our current era of cinematic universes and mega-franchises is that the stories behind the scenes often feel more interesting, and more dramatic, than the ones on screen. I like most MCU movies, but I'd pay a lot more than a movie ticket's price to know the answers to questions such as why Patty Jenkins was fired from Thor: The Dark World , or what the creative differences were that led to Ava DuVernay leaving Black Panther . And when it comes to Star Wars in the Disney era, these questions feel even more urgent, because the decisions being made are so much more baffling. Is it really possible that one of the hottest IPs of the century, the potential cornerstone of an empire of spin-offs and merchandising opportunities, was written in a method not unlike the party game where everyone writes a sentence in a story, folds the page down, and then hands it to the next person? I'd give a lot for a record of what went on in the meetings where the shape of

Notes From the Streamapocalypse

Until last month, 2019 felt like a year in which popular culture was winding itself down.  What seems like an abnormal number of shows, including juggernauts like Game of Thrones , wrapped up their stories, while others were cancelled.  Collaborations like the Netflix MCU were brought to an abrupt end.  Everywhere there was a feeling of holding one's breath, clearing the decks in preparation for the coming onslaught.  And then, a few weeks ago, that deluge arrived with the launch of Apple TV+ and Disney+, two new streaming platforms seeking to directly challenge Netflix and Amazon for primacy in a field that already feels hopelessly crowded and balkanized.  Scripted TV is only one front in that fight (Disney+, for example, can afford to launch with only one original scripted series because it has such an enormous back-catalog to boast of, whereas Apple+ is scrambling to measure up with four new scripted series, and more to come).  But it's the one I find most interesting.  Over

Recent Movie Roundup 34

This will probably be the last recent movie roundup of 2019.  There are still several highly-lauded 2019 movies that I want to watch (and, of course, the looming giant that is Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker ), but between travel later this month and Israeli release schedules, I probably won't get to them until 2020.  The last bunch of 2019 movies is a mixture of highbrow, lowbrow, and stuff in between, of established directors and franchises and more experimental stuff.   I didn't love all of them--in fact, I disliked a few--but I'm glad that a year that had seemed rather barren, movie-wise, in the spring and summer has blossomed into an interesting stew of genres and modes towards its end. Terminator: Dark Fate - The latest film in the Terminator series--now with James Cameron back in a producer's capacity and with a story credit--isn't very good.  For a movie that works so hard to recall the first two, excellent films in this series (while also erasing its mo