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A Few of My New Favorite Things

So, this was the year that the entertainment industries really tested my mettle. I was fed up with endless sequels to dying franchises, reboots of movies or shows I’d either never heard of or had no interest in; I ran out of authors to try, genres that didn’t make my eye twitch, and titles that didn’t sound hackneyed and trite. I didn’t even recognize most of the music artists in the Top 40. I felt bled dry, and when you’re a creative, you need to refuel that space inside you that’s meant to thrum with intrigue and inspiration.

So I decided to go waaaay far afield, give up on all known entities (for the time being, at least), and explore vast, uncharted galaxies of story, visuals, and harmonies. Here are some of my wins in this venture…

(On Netflix) Love, Death and Robots. OH. MY. GOD, just eeeeeeeee!!! with how much I LOVED some of these episodes! This show is definitely adults-only, and there were a few that I just didn’t care for, but I am sooooooo glad I took a chance on this anthology series. It’s a collection of mostly animated short tales (many only 20 or so minutes long), some based on novellas or stories by well-known sci-fi or horror authors; others are ideas that apparently just came up in the writers’ room, and the result is simply great. In no particular order, here are my personal faves:

“Mason’s Rats”: Once upon a time, in a not-too-distant future, an elderly curmudgeon of a Scottish farmer had a rat problem. He employed the most modern robotic methods of extermination, and didn’t quite get the results he expected…but they do turn out to be the results he needed. A truly heartwarming ending.

“Jibaro”: This is a truly groundbreaking piece. One of the few episodes using live action and actual humans, it was told without a single line of discernable dialogue. The scene opens on a medieval forest, and a group of soldiers on their way to wherever. Our protagonist is a deaf man who communicates with his colleagues through sign language. In the beginning, all sounds — conversation, wildlife, the wind, the river, the horses — are significantly decreased and muffled for the audience, presenting how it’s experienced by the hearing-impaired main character. As the rest of his army is drawn into the river by a siren’s song, he gets the chance to escape, because his deafness protects him from her dangerous call. Most of the story between the solider and the siren is told through pantomime and dance (downright excellent choreography), and it is spellbinding until the end.

“The Tall Grass”: This was a thought-provoking, honestly pretty scary, little tale of a train pausing unexpectedly among uncut fields, what an unwitting passenger discovers there, and the frankly wonderful conductor who saves him. Again, it’s only about 15 minutes long, and there is a LOT to unpack after those few precious moments onscreen. Masterfully portrayed.

“The Drowned Giant”: One day, in England (probably late 20th century, based on the fashions and technology), a literal dead giant washes up on a beach. It’s seriously a human easily 60 feet tall, and he’s just plain deceased. He looks young, and there are no clues to how he passed, where he came from, or how he ended up on this beach. Of course humans come to investigate, and everyone from scientists to trophy hunters to local tradesmen begin taking parts of the body; eventually what’s left starts to fall away, and will soon be reclaimed by the waves and sand. Even before that’s finished, the rumors begin — the giant was never really there, it’s an urban legend, it was a case of mistaken identity, and so forth. But the locals know the truth, even if they don’t talk about it anymore. A really interesting take on the subject.

“Sucker of Souls”: If you don’t mind some gore, if you’re into anime, and vampires, you’ll certainly get a kick out of this snappy little episode about archeologists and their hired bodyguards getting stuck in an underground vault with Count Dracula — gone full bat-monster-mode.

“When the Yogurt Took Over”: Narrated by Maurice LaMarche (of Pinky and the Brain and Futurama), this is a delightful short satire on the concept of yogurt becoming sentient and one day ruling the world. I absolutely loved listening to The Brain calmly telling me about how soon we’d all be outdone by advanced dairy products. Brilliant.

“Ice Age”: One of my absolute favorites, this is an adorable story of a young couple who move into a new apartment, and discover in the freezer of an antique refrigerator an entire, thriving, tiny civilization. Simply charming.

“The Secret War”: A Soviet platoon responds to a distress call in a remote village, where something sinister and apparently not human has been up to no good. When realizing just how serious the situation is, the soldiers must fight to defend not only themselves, but possibly their whole country, and their sacrifices will require the utmost courage and comradery. Despite the violence, the animation in this one is fantastic.

“And now, for something completely different…”

(Graphic novel) Lore Olympus. MY. GOSH. THIS. SERIES! I wasn’t familiar with the webcomic, so when I picked up the first printed installment of episodes 1-25, I had no idea what a treat I was in for. This is a modern retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth — one of my favorites — and the art, the characters, the evvvvverrryyyything is just superb. Because it’s in graphic novel format, it’s an easy read, but in noooo way does “easy” mean underperforming. Author and artist Rachel Smythe packs alllll the feels into her chosen medium, and Lore Olympus is premium storytelling.

The relevant aspects of the Greek myth are all present — for example, Hades is the god of the underworld, Persephone a spring goddess and daughter of Demeter; they meet suddenly, and Hades is immediately taken with Persephone, but she’s very on the fence about how to proceed. The emotional processes are updated, along with the setting — Olympus is now basically a parallel realm to today, with the ancient deities wearing modern clothes, having cell phones, newspapers, the internet, and cars. Unlike the version in most English class textbooks, which is rather truncated, Smythe’s retelling involves many different gods/goddesses and creatures and entities from the rich and broad Greek mythological pantheon.

Volumes 1-3 are available in print format, and there’s more to come, based on what’s already been released in the webcomic (over 200 episodes!). I am more than ready to find a way to make space on my already overflowing shelves for these gorgeous creations!

“And now, for something…”

Audiobooks narrated by actors, not readers — Most recent example: Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, by Stephen King, narrated by Will Patton.

Generally I like audiobooks — sometimes the format is preferable, because I can do chores or browse the web while listening, instead of needing to devote all my attention (and hands and eyes) to printed words and a tangible object. But I discovered pretty quickly that the major downside to audio is the narrator can make or break the story. Earlier this year, I didn’t finish several books on CD because the reading was so stilted and dull, or had the strangest take on a character’s accent or pronunciation, and understanding what was actually said was almost impossible.

It turns out the alternative, and often, fix to this is to find audiobooks read by actual actors. Whether they’ve worked in films, theatre, or animation, people who have been trained in making sure everyone can know what they’re saying will deliver a much more satisfying listening experience. After accidentally ordering the audio version of Stephen King’s novella, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, from the library system, I realized how valuable the choice of narrator is. Will Patton, a seasoned actor, was an absolute delight to listen to, as he took the audience through this non-horror, still a little spooky, but also very charming, King tale.

By the way, Netflix made a movie version, which I’ve watched as well, and really enjoyed. How am I batting two for two on this selection?! Actually, never mind, let’s just take the win and run with it.

“And now…”

(You Tube channel) Music Video Sins. Already being a fan of Cinema Sins and TV Sins, I fangirled a little too hard (until 1 a.m., to be precise) when I discovered these content creators also had a short-lived foray into sinning music videos. Most of the hip-hop/rap tracks I’d never even heard of (please don’t call me old), but it was a lot of fun catching up with bands and artists I knew about but lost touch with their work when I stopped listening to mainstream radio.

It turns out my music preferences haven’t changed that much in the last 10 years…which presents an interesting conundrum. I could either…ahem…try to keep up with “what the cool kids are into these days,” or accept that I’ve apparently reached my peak of crafting my taste when it comes to melodies and lyrics, and just be content with that fact. The last couple of years, I find myself much more drawn to the likes of indie alternative bands and video game soundtracks, rather than what’s topping the Billboard charts, anyway, so I guess deciding to pass on Taylor Swift’s and Adele’s new albums isn’t too much of a loss. (Just please don’t call me old…)

And there we have it! What were some of your favorite entertainment discoveries this year? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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