(if you’re a pretentious snot like me)
Since this blog is not Buzzfeed I am trying to avoid the lazy writing that is “listicles,” which is apparently the only sort of internet content available outside the New Yorker, but you can only read so many articles in the New Yorker for free, which is a pain. Having said that, I’ve wanted to start incorporating book/film/TV recommendations into the blog, but didn’t want to just hash out the same tired review format that everyone uses, so I decided to use an exposé, here’s-all-the-weird-crap-I-watch style. Rather than being a review of all the best stuff, I’ll just tell you all the stuff I’ve watched lately and whether or not you should give it a go. Take these recommendations (or lack thereof) with a grain of salt since I’m a big loser.
This was actually my second time in the last couple weeks watching this film. The story centers on a young French woman, Amélie Poulain, who’s somewhat lonely. I think the film tries to paint her as being happy on her own, but ultimately it follows her learning to take risks outside her own solitary, simple pleasures in life and building elaborate plots designed to make the people around her happy. It’s in French, which I enjoyed (though it means you can’t be on your phone through the movie or you’ll miss half of what’s being said) and it’s just beautifully made. Watching it feels like you’re swimming through a beautifully curated Pinterest board—I won’t pretend it isn’t arty and hipster, but I really enjoyed it. The first time I watched it I thought it might be my favorite, but I don’t think it holds up super well to rewatching since it’s more about the experience of watching than a gripping plot. I do still think it’s very well made and a very good film.
The Time In Between
This has been presented on a few websites I’ve seen as something to watch to fill the gap in your life now that Downton Abbey is over. Well, Downton Abbey was kind of garbage by the end, so this show certainly fills the gap by being garbage from the beginning. That’s a little strong, but I was immediately irritated off the bat that the creators of this show expected me to believe that the protagonist, a young dressmaker from Spain, would (spoilers, but it happens thirty minutes into the first episode) break off her engagement to the nicest man alive to go live with some greasy loser who doesn’t know what no means and has deceased caterpillars for eyebrows. To make matters worse, every ‘romantic’ moment of the episode was completely ruined by the bizarre stylistic choice to zoom in on his nasty eyebrows for the entirety of the dialogue.
This is not sexy. This is bizarre. At any rate, it’s only the first episode and I might be too caught up in the throes of love-angst to see past this probably minor detail. I’m only one episode in, and I haven’t gotten to the premise yet so maybe I ought to give it a go. Just be warned if you tend to root for the nice guy. The show is in Spanish, bringing the foreign language count of this list up to two. (I warned you it was pretentious.)
A Very Secret Service
(French title: Au Service de la France)
This show is fantastic—watch it immediately. Drop everything and watch it. I want to watch it again. It’s set in Paris in the 1960s and follows André Merlaux, a young man who is suddenly inducted into the French Secret Service. When I started watching it, I was surprised when a) it turned out to be in French and b) it was a comedy. It’s an extremely dry satire, with short, quippy episodes. My initial critique of the show is that you don’t get much backstory on the characters, even André, but these criticisms were answered the further I watched. Everything is fast-paced and a bit, “Wait, what?” but in a good way. I watched the entire first season in under 48 hours and am anxiously waiting for the next (which will probably not be for ages). A Very Secret Service is both subtle and not at the same time, but it is unquestionably very clever and very very good.
Full disclosure I watched exactly three minutes of this because my friend Abby wanted to show me how ridiculous it is. And it is… very. The brief clip I watched included the trippiest CGI unicorn/fantasy dream I’ve ever seen (including some weird butterfly nonsense?) and a woman doing some form of martial arts on a vending machine. So? Watch at your own risk? (Don’t watch this.)
Phineas and Ferb
This show is fantastic and no one will ever tell me any differently. Is it made for 11 year olds? Yes. But is it also excellent? Yes. I loved Phineas and Ferb when I was in middle/high school—it’s a children’s show that actually treats kids like they’re smart. So many Disney Channel/Cartoon Network/Nickelodeon shows when I was growing up resorted to crude humor or characters that acted like morons in 25 minute bursts for humor, so Phineas and Ferb was a diamond in the rough. It’s so intelligent and self-aware, fun without being demeaning, and really gets at the nature of childhood. If you don’t know the show at all, the basic premise of every episode is that the two brothers, Phineas and Ferb, build or invent something crazy and their older sister, Candace, attempts to get them in trouble (“bust” them). Meanwhile, their pet platypus, who is actually a secret agent (somehow?), sneaks off to fight an evil scientist. (Yeah.) Over the course of the show all the characters become incredibly well fleshed out and the universe of the show becomes more and more intricate. (They expect you to understand instantly when they reference back to an episode three seasons ago and make a joke about it.) Watching Phineas and Ferb feels like being one of the group, complete with inside jokes and the suspension of disbelief that comes with childlike imagination. I discovered recently that a season I never saw when I was a kid was up on Netflix, which is why it’s now on this list. I want to go finish that now, having written this. If you watched this as a kid, well done you, and if you didn’t, it wouldn’t hurt to watch it now.
Of everything on this list, Frida is probably the best. I knew a little about Frida Kahlo’s life and work, but watching this film gave me a new appreciation for her. It’s an incredibly challenging movie; something I’ve been grappling with lately (after seeing The Free State of Jones) is how one criticizes films that are of a biographical nature. It’s difficult to say, “Oh, this has problematic themes” when all the film is trying to do is show you what happened and let you make a judgment of your own. The Free State of Jones struck me in weird ways, not because of how the film was made, but because of the events it depicted. The same was true with Frida; the film does not try to glorify or justify her life, it merely depicts it how it was and I don’t know the way in which I’m meant to respond. All I know is that I’m grateful for having seen it and I now understand Kahlo’s work in a much deeper way. I believe art should stand on its own, as the artist’s message will show through without the viewer reading their prior knowledge of the artist’s biography into it; at the same time, if only to understand the context of Kahlo, this film is very worth a watch.