Sunday, 27 December 2015

Other Places, Other Worlds

Unlike some years where I struggle to choose a mere five books to make the top 5 of the year list, this year the books seemingly chose themselves. Sure, I read a lot, and a lot of it was good, but these five were a step above the others and took it to a whole other level of enjoyable literature. 

The Hunger - Whitley Strieber

I’ve been a fan of the film version of this novel since I saw it back during my undergrad years - who doesn’t love David Bowie as a vampire, a Sandman-inspired musical intro, and a completely different take on vampirism - but until last year I had no idea that the movie was based on this stunning novel. A lot of the themes are the same between both mediums, and the general feeling of both book and film is well adapted, but the focus Strieber’s focus on the character of Miriam Blaylock heightens the tension to a point where it’s almost impossible to put the book down. This is definitely one of the seminal books within the vampire genre, so I’m incredibly glad that I finally read it (and added it to my collection - yay Value Village score) this year. 

All the Light we Cannot See - Anthony Doerr

This novel is kind of a slow burner, but it’s one of the best WWII-era books that I’ve ever read. Doerr weaves a compelling tale that really gets to the heart of the German-French conflict through the characters of two young children - each on opposing sides of the conflict, and neither with any real interest in the war besides the fact that they are in it. At times the story feels like a caper, with it’s plot line of a cursed jewel secreted away from Nazi looters, and at others like a human interest piece, with its family drama in a multi-story French household, and is all-together an absolute gem. I can’t wait to see more from Doerr, since it’s clear that he has a way with historical stories. 

Paris: The Novel - Edward Rutherfurd

Something about reading this book at the peak of the mid-summer heatwave made it incredibly easy to devour this lengthy and complex book in only seven days. Maybe it was the synergy with Paris in the summertime (not that I would technically know, since I have yet to set foot on the banks of the Seine), maybe it was Rutherfurd’s style of prose (which is impeccably detailed and historically accurate, yet easy to engage with), or maybe I was just caught up in the stories of one of the most fascinating cities in the world (even if they are fictional). Either way, this book made me an official fan of Rutherfurd and piqued my wanderlust for the City of Light. 

Harry Potter : The Creature Vault - Jody Revenson

When I read Rowling’s bonus book to the Harry Potter series, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I wanted it to be exactly like this one: full of fantastic illustrations, carefully written but humorous text, and all the magical beasts that you could ever want! It came out just in time to pique all of us latent HP fans for the coming film adaptation of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them next year as well, so I would say this book had perfect timing. 

A Madness of Angels - Kate Griffin

It’s been far too long since I’ve read a truly wonderful urban fantasy novel, but thankfully I stumbled upon this fantastic series by one of my favourite authors, who had been writing under a pseudonym so I had no idea that she had a whole bunch more books published than the four that I was aware of. In this book we get London, truly urbanized magic, an intriguing protagonist, and a horrifying but relatable villain, all wrapped up into a wonderfully rollicking adventure that sees a truly unique magical world realized - one that is right under the noses of modern Londoners. So far I’m three books into the series, and I never ever want them to end!

*images from Amazon

Sunday, 20 December 2015

A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Before I get into my top 5 movie picks for 2015, I have a confession to make. I haven’t yet seen the Star Wars: the Force Awakens, even though it was a pretty sure pick for the list. It literally opened just a few days ago, and my love for Star Wars isn’t quite enough to deal with the infestation of nerds that is sure to be packing the theatre. I like nerds just fine (hello, I’m definitely one of them), but theatre mania and opening weekend madness is not something I have any interest in. I’ll likely see it in like a month, when the hype has calmed down; here’s hoping that I don’t stumble across any spoilers in the meantime! Okay, and now to the films that actually did make the list!

Kingsman: the Secret Service (2014)

There seemed to be a lot of spy movies out this year, ranging in seriousness from the latest in the James Bond franchise (Spectre) to the Melissa McCarthy-led Spy, but the one that really stood out from the genre for me was Kingsman. I saw this relatively early in the year, and was immediately charmed by the careful balance of action-packed stunts (I don’t think any of us will be able to look at Colin Firth the same way again) and the slightly less-than-subtle jokes (mostly centring around Samuel L. Jackson’s well-meaning villain), so it was a sure pick for the list. It might have had to compete directly with Spectre if I had managed to see it in time, but the library is keeping me waiting, so the dilemma of potentially having two spy films in the list was nonexistent!

Song of the Sea (2015)

This movie was totally adorable! Like I haven’t seen an animated film be this good since the peak of Studio Ghibli circa Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. Not only is the animation style absolutely stunning and unique in a  world washed with Disney and claymation (which are totally fine, but there’s a touch too much of it sometimes), but the mythology adds a whole other level of sophistication to the storytelling. Most of us who know anything about folklore have heard stories of the Selkies - seal-women who can shed their skins to become human for a time, but who ultimately return back to the sea, leaving their loved ones bereft - but this is the first film that I’ve seen which really explores this legend in-depth successfully. To top it all off, the protagonist’s brother, Ben, has an adorably charming large mutt who looks like he could be related to Oscar & Felix (the large and silly pups I babysit). 

Woman in Gold (2015)

This film was at the very top of my watch list this year, and even after having to get it from the library twice (note to self: always check that you’re putting a hold on the DVD version since you don’t own a blu-ray player…) it was totally worth the wait! Not only is this film about art theft during World War 2 (a topic that intrigues me very much) and specifically about repatriation of the art that was stolen by the Nazis, but it’s a totally true story that manages to translate well on screen. Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds play surprisingly well opposite each other, and it’s ne’er impossible not to get complete caught up in their struggle to take down the Austrian government in court. Not bad for a little old lady and her lawyer, eh? I have yet to see the documentary that chronicles the entire story (Stealing Klimt), but that’ll go on my watch list for next year.

Age of Adaline (2015)

For a film that isn’t actually very complex, I absolutely loved the experience of watching this movie. The story is simply that of a woman who stops aging, and the complexity of her falling in love in the modern world and potentially having her secret revealed, but the way that the story is told makes the film feel like it’s a book. There’s careful placement of outside narration, the characterization is subtle, and the imagery is simple but effective, which culminates in elevating the emotional quality of the film to a place that it would not have been able to achieve otherwise. Plus, this film is absolutely perfect for Blake Lively, as it gives her the vehicle to prove that she’ll become one of these classic woman (a la Tilda Swinton, Helen Mirren, and Cate Blanchett) who will continue to be fabulous for the entirely of their lives with seemingly little effort. 

Cinderella (2015)

Even with the success of Maleficent last year (a sure shot for the top-5) I was very sceptical of this film going in. Unlike it’s predecessor, which focused on the untold story of the villain, the story of Cinderella is something that I much prefer to see given a relatively traditional spin. It is a classic fairytale after all, and messing with the story too much can potentially end in disaster. But Disney kept it pretty simple this time around, and didn’t even allow for the odd choice in fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) to throw the story - though I will admit that I was less than thrilled with Carter’s lacklustre performance. Even though I’m still a die-hard cynic when it comes to romance in the real world, I didn’t find myself wanting to throw up too often while watching this film, since both Cinderella and the Prince are given at least some realistic personality traits besides both being beautiful and fated to fall in love. And really, even the die-hard cynic needs some fairytale romance in her life!

*images from IMDB

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Shake It Off

Just kidding! You all know that I’m not a T-Swift fan, and that hell would have to freeze over before her album made it anywhere near my top-5 of the year list! Or at least I hope you know that… I like pop music well enough, but that goes too far! Okay, getting off topic here, so back on point with the top-5 albums that I had on repeat  this year!

Dopamine - Third Eye Blind

Yes, that’s right we’re kicking off the list with a band that is a helluva throwback, but it’s hard to be a 90s kid and not fondly remember TEB’s smash “Semi-charmed Life.” I got this album on a random kick, and was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t immediately hate it. And then I listened to it again. And again. And again. And then I listened to it on a proper stereo and was like “oh yes, this is even more wonderful.” Besides the fact that TEB kept just enough of their old sound to give me a serious case of nostalgia, their updated sound is even more addictive and their lyrics are still totally on point. It doesn’t get any more poignant than lyrics like “let that feeling born in shadow/make you strong/and those demons/you’ve got to carry/let them carry you on and on” (“All These Things”) and “I took my blade and I cut him deep/And the blood bloomed red on his crispy white shirt/for your party guests to see” (“Blade”).

Uptown Special - Mark Ronson

It was pretty inevitable that Uptown Special made it on to this list, since “Uptown Funk” was such a smash hit last year - with even the multitude of spin-offs making waves in their various fandoms. Most of the other tracks on the album aren’t as funky-fresh, but I really enjoyed the overall groove (which is really weird, considering that funk isn’t really my genre). Top tracks included “In Case of Fire” and “I Can’t Lose” for their unique (but definitely reminiscent) beats, but I’m more fond of this album as a backer for a chill soirée. 

Young Chasers - Circa Waves

It was a long time coming between the first single and the full album dropping, but it was totally worth the wait. For most North Americans who aren’t up on the indie scene in the UK, Circa Waves is probably not a band that they’re familiar with, but I am really glad that I stumbled upon them during my stint of obsession with BBC Radio 1 last year. Their sound is surprisingly Californian for a band coming from rain-soaked England, but I’m hoping that their catchy jams will be equally as popular around the globe as their Liverpuddlian predecessors, the Beatles. If I had to pick one album that defined summer this year, this would definitely be it - especially with tracks like “T-Shirt Weather” and “Best Years.”

Wilder Mind - Mumford & Sons

Never did I ever think that I would be a fan of Mumford & Sons. The hipster aesthetic is something that I actively disagree with, but it’s ne’er impossible not to like a lot of the tracks from this album. The whole sound is just so authentic and reminds me so much of the West Coast lifestyle (which I dearly miss) - campfires & star-filled skies, beers & BFFs, endless Autumns & forest-lined ocean coves - that I’m going to officially move these guys out of the hipster category and firmly back into indie-rock reality. Top tracks are “The Wolf” (we’re all wolves at heart), “Ditmas” (catchy guitar riffs and brutally concise lyrics), and “Snake Eyes” (for the dangerous girls). 

Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied - The Fratellis

This album was a late-comer to the list, but damn I’m glad I decided not to pre-judge the Fratellis based on that fact that I normally only like their singles. This whole album is wonderfully whimsical from the creepy carnival-esque piano-heavy jam “Me and the Devil” to the charmingly disarming acoustic remake of “Imposters (Little By Little).” They reference so many influences that I can’t see anyone disliking this album, and they do it in such a subtle way that even people who adamantly hate certain genres of music *cough*country will go along with it. 

Bonus single of the year! “Dreams” - Beck

I’ll apologize in advance for starting this song running around in your head, but for reals Beck is the shit, and everyone deserves to experience the trippy/riff-heavy/can’t-stop-dancing-to-it track that is “Dreams.” Actually, I’m not sorry at all - jam on dreamers!

Music videos from Youtube

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Land of the Not-So-Waking Dead

Once again it seems I went off grid for a few months and left this blog sadly neglected… I missed it’s 5th anniversary at the beginning of October, I missed prime photography season in the Autumn, and I missed two entire months’ worth of planned blogposts (thankfully they’ll keep for the future) - without even doing anything really worthwhile in the meantime. Oh well, let’s soldier on and try harder next time! 

After all, there’s no way that I was going to miss my annual top-5 review month - especially with a brand new category, which is what I’m starting you all off with today! The last few years (this one included) have been super disappointing in the land of cinema, and for most of this year I found myself swept away by the astounding work that’s being done in TV-land so I just couldn’t resist sharing my top five picks for tv this year. (On a side note, I’ve also done away with trying to restrict my reviews to the current year, as that leaves out way too much of the good stuff and I tend to stumble on things randomly anyways).

Deutschland 83

Do you know how rare it is that we actually get German language television programming available in Canada? Like never - up until now, with SundanceTV’s and RTL’s co-produced series, subtitles and all! This show is definitely a slow starter, and I wasn’t hooked until abut 3 episodes in, but once I was in it was an obsession. German culture circa 1983, vintage Mercedes-Benzes, Stasi spies, GDR/FRG competition, teenage emotional drama, and a wonderful ‘80s soundtrack made this show a perfect match to homemade burgers and Beck’s on Friday nights this summer. Here’s hoping that they bring it back for Deutschland 84!

Peaky Blinders

I’m blaming my addiction to this show entirely on my former boss (of Analogue Hobbies fame). It’s his fault that I started watching this show, so it’s therefore his fault that I’m now [even more] obsessed with Irish accents, Cillian Murphy’s eyes, and tweed overcoats. 1920s gangsters aren’t usually my thing at all, since we usually get the American prohibition and jazz age themes (and like most truly Americanized things that’s just a few shades off of interesting for me), but the Peaky Blinders and the Shelby family sure are something else. They have the post-WWI shell-shock trauma, gritty industrial boom England scenery, a truly intriguing cast of bad-ass characters, and the English version of 1920s style - all of which is far more up my aisle.

Parks & Recreation

I caught on to the ridiculously amazing hilarity that is Parks & Recreation far, far later than the majority of its fans… So late in fact, that I had heard many of its best jokes via a few of my friends’ Tumblr accounts. I literally came in right in time to catch the finale - thankfully I was able to marathon the first 6 seasons over dreadfully boring last winter and was only 2 episodes behind when the final season started to air. I may have been seriously late to the game, but I think my obsession with the concept of “treat yo’self” (I had already secretly been doing this for years, which is why my mother thinks I have a shopping problem) and my reference to Ron Swanson as my spirit animal makes up for my tardiness. 


I’ve been watching Suits since the very beginning, and thankfully it’s still going strong. It’s hard to resist a cast of beautiful men in perfectly tailored suits and even more beautiful (and powerful) women, so why bother resisting at all? What sets this show apart from all the other legal dramas for me is that it’s not at all focused on lawyers practising law - sure, they do practise, but the driving force behind the entire show are the characters and the legal aspects just fade away into the background. 

Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter 
aka Generation War

For a mini-series that is so exactly on topic for what I studied in University, and continue to be entranced by in reference to world history, I am shocked that it took me 2 years to actually get around to watching this show. It’s enlightening, harrowing, beautiful, and brutal all at once, and rings with a certain truth that is sure to open up the dialogue about the experiences of the general populace of Germany during the years of the Second World War. I meant to savour it over a few weeks, but once I started watching I couldn’t stop and ended up finishing all 3 episodes in less than 48 hours - which stands to prove how engaging all the aspects of it were, from the actors (who I’m now trying to catch up on the rest of their work), to the cinematography (which was excellently done). I only wonder sometimes whether the version we get distributed in North America is edited slightly differently than the original German version, since there were a few choppy editing moments that seemed to be editing choices rather than part of the flow of the narrative. 

**all images/gifs from Tumblr