January in Review

I know, it’s 11 days into February and I’m just now reviewing January. Gotta problem with it? SEE YOU IN COURT.*

With the absolute storm of bullshit surrounding U.S. politics, my January has been focused on two things: pointing out the corruption of the United States government, and de-stressing from pointing out the corruption of the United States government. Let’s focus on what helped me do the latter!

Books

I read 3 books in January, and I’m on track for my 50 book challenge so far, as well as my “No White Guys 2017” challenge.

  1. Pluto 001 by Naoki Urasawa – a graphic novel about robots and AI that I read to start my year’s reading off gently. Post-election I was not feeling like doing much of anything but screaming, so jumping directly into a big novel wasn’t going to do it for me. I actually read the 3rd book in this series last year before realizing it was a series, and I’ll probably be reading the rest in the future because it’s just SO GOOD. The art in it is particularly wonderful, it’s all framed really well, like a storyboard for a gorgeously-directed movie. Author info: Male, Japan
  2. The Birds by Daphne du Maurier – again, couldn’t force myself to pick up anything too daunting. This was an audiobook production with a full cast that I checked out from the library’s online catalog, and it was pretty good. I’ve seen the Hitchcock movie, so nothing was too big of a shock, though this book does a much better job of setting the slowly-moving, ominous tone that makes the birds seem otherworldly and eerie, as if the reader is only getting half the story, whereas the movie feels more like a traditional horror. Author info: Female, UK.
  3. The 14th Dalai Lama by Tetsu Saiwai – I bought this in Seoul about 7 months ago, and it’s been on the very top of my to-read pile since then. I knew absolutely nothing about the Dalai Lama before reading this, and I think that’s the way I’d recommend going into it, as the story leads you through his life from the time he was discovered as the 14th reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, to the present, where he is still in exile fighting for the freedom of Tibet. It’s a fantastic short dive into his life and the history of Tibet, and the art is sooooooo lovely and clean. Definitely recommend.

Movies

My goal to watch 50 movies is going even better than my book goal,

  1. Exit Through the Gift Shop
  2. The Shining
  3. Amadeus
  4. 13th
  5. Being John Malkovich
  6. Zoolander No. 2
  7. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  8. Sing Street

I think I’ve talked about some or all of these before on the blog, so I’m not going to review them all, but The Shining and Amadeus have quickly made it into my very favorite movies of all time (the January 2017 watching of Amadeus is the third since early December.)

Other Favorites

  1. Steven Universe – I finished watching the first two seasons of this show FINALLY. Just like Over the Garden Wall, I found myself slogging through the first few episodes, not really connecting to the character or voice. But sometime in the middle of the first season, I realized that I was remembering all of the character’s names and personalities and getting involved in backstory, and it all kind of unraveled from there. This show basically is my new My Little Pony Friendship is Magic, which I marathoned a few years ago, and which basically acted as TV Xanax for me.
  2. Youtube Art Videos – I think I’ll do an entire post about my favorite youtubers, but I’ve been absolutely obsessed with watching artists on youtube lately. It’s so calming and inspiring to just relax and watch someone paint while you’re painting. Some favorites are here, here, and here.
  3. Speaking of painting, arts and crafts! – I have always been a crafter, but recently I’ve really been pushing myself to produce creative products on a regular basis! I’ve been trying out traditional painting, polymer clay and papiermâche sculpting, some wood working (building shelves and things), cardboard crafts, and other random stuff. As I said in a previous post, staying extremely busy helps me to control this creeping horrible anxiety that’s been plaguing me recently. 🙂 Plus my house gets more and more decorated. Win double win.
  4. Okra. Weird favorite, but this month I decided to go meat-free! I’ve been considering it for a while, and then I had a few different long talks with a few different friends and realized that I just want to do it. I’m not planning on becoming a vegetarian or vegan spokesperson, as I think there are a LOT of factors that go into someone’s dietary decisions and it’s not my job to tell you what to eat, but I felt like I needed to regain some control over my impact on the environment and on my own body. This is a long paragraph that’s basically saying: don’t come for me with ur anti-veg vibes because i don’t give a shiiiiit. But yeah, I’ve been eating SO MUCH OKRA recently and it’s been great.

That’s a wrap! Up. Next time I’ll try to make it before halfway through the next month but if you’re coming here for consistency you’ve only screwed yourself.

W

*Real talk for a second to Americans reading my blog who would prefer me to be less political: If Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or any other real political figure had tweeted “See you in court” after going to court and losing, they would be laughed out of office. If you treat Tr*mp as “not that big of a deal” or “just another politician” or anything other than a giant anti-American stain on an already-foul reputation, you are showing a deeply-rooted ignorance of the American government and the idea of democracy in general.

If you are not speaking out against evil, you are siding with evil. If you stand by as the government destroys the rights of its people, bans government offices from spreading facts, restricts its judiciary branch, and disrespects the power of the country, you are just as at fault as those actually signing the laws. When your taxes raise, or your school systems crumble, or your roads go unmanaged, or your libraries close, or your national parks become oil fields, realize that you had a chance to stand up for basic human decency, and instead you decided to be *uncontroversial*. I pity you, but I will never forgive you.

Movies I Watched in January

In keeping with my 50 Movies in 2016 challenge, I made an effort to watch more movies than usual this month. I usually have a habit of bingeing on tv shows (and I definitely did that too), but for some reason when I sit down to watch a movie I just get so easily distracted, no matter how good it is. Sometimes I’ll have to pause it and come back to it after surfing the internet or getting something to eat. What can I say? I’m a product of the digital age– I like constant, ever-changing stimuli.

Even so, I managed to watch 5 movies this month, and all of them new-to-me! A pretty good start to the challenge, I must say.

The Propaganda Game (2015) – Propaganda_ 3Poster_creditsA4_3Documentary. Longer review posted. Really enjoyed this, though I don’t think it added too much to a genre I already am pretty well versed in (North Korean ‘what it’s really like’ documentaries).

 

 

 

 

 

The Ghost Army (2013)71h29bvzqcl-_sl1500_Documentary. I’d heard about the book with the same title, and checked this out because of some good reviews, and it was wonderful. It’s about the, well, “Ghost Army,” if you hadn’t guessed, the troop of military personnel used in World War I that served in a non-combat division of the US army that specialized in diversion and deception. Artists, sound engineers, and other special forces were banded together to impersonate army battalions using fake weapons, tanks, track marks, sound effects, radio chatter, and all sorts of other tactics. Really, really interesting– more interesting than the actual war, to be honest. Definitely watch it.

 

“American Experience” The Poisoner’s Handbook poisoners_postervf-lores3-660x977(2014) – Documentary. This is a PBS documentary on the invention and rise of forensic science in Jazz Age New York. I love a good poison study, and it featured some really excellent reenactments (which is cool, because many reenactments are just garbage.) I’d say, watch it if the subject’s in your wheelhouse, or if you were planning to time travel back to the early 20th century to murder someone. Otherwise, skip it.

 

 

 

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2013) the-kingdom-of-dreams-and-mDocumentary. Behind-the-scenes for one year as Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli work on The Wind Rises, and discuss animation, storytelling, and how Miyazaki’s political views and personal history affect his storytelling. It was, at times, incredibly slow, but it was supposed to be. Much of the film focuses on Miyazaki’s creative genius, and how he takes the time to think, and breathe, and enjoy nature, and take care of himself, amidst all of the hard work he does. He came off as a somewhat grumpy old man, a little sad about the world, nostalgic, and ultimately hopeful. It was a really peaceful film, and it gave me an interesting insight into Japanese creative life (at least, one Japanese creative life), that I will keep in mind on my visit. You should watch it, but only after you’ve seen at least two or three Ghibli films, as otherwise it’ll be a bit dull (though still really interesting/calming.)

 

Howl’s Moving Castle (2014) howls-moving-castle I’m still catching up on all of the Ghibli, and this is one that I hadn’t watched, for fear of it not being my thing. How. Wrong. Was. I. This movie couldn’t be more my thing. I LOVED IT. I loved it. It was, of course, absurdly beautiful, visually. The colors, the landscapes, the character designs, all stunning. Howl was strangely leaning towards anime, which at first kind of threw me off but I ended up liking. The plot, though. God. As I write this it’s currently 4:59am, and I stayed up after finishing this movie at 4:00am, just to make sure I included this movie in my post. I don’t know why I always doubt the magic of the Ghibli I haven’t seen yet, especially when they always end up leaving me speechless. I love Howl, I love Sophie, I love love LOVE Markl, and Calcifer, and the little dog Heen reminds me of Ned so much I can barely stand it. I’m glad I watched this one after seeing Miyazaki work in The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, it really made me pay attention to the details of the animation and dialogue and themes more than I may otherwise (Miyazaki= very anti-war. I think he and I would be friends). I’m hoping to catch up on a few more Ghibli movies before my trip to Japan!!!

 

 

Not a bad start to my movie watching for the year! At the time of writing I’m also halfway through Casablanca, but I paused it in favor of Howl’s, and now, well. Of all the gin joints in all the world… this one’s not open at 5am.

Here’s looking at you, February.

 

W

The Propaganda Game (50 Movies in 2016 #1)

The Propaganda Game (2015), directed by Alvaro Longoria

Netflix, watched 1/11/16
Propaganda_ 3Poster_creditsA4_3

 The gist: This is a documentary on North Korea, specifically the propaganda being spread about North Korea by the regime itself and by other countries (cough the United States cough).

The Viewing Experience: was not great. I watched the majority of the movie while deskwarming, and the video was really stuttering and strangely edited, though I’m assuming this had more to do with my school’s internet than the actual movie.

My Review: If you know me in real life, you may have noticed I have sort of a thing for North Korea. And, indeed, one of my motivations for moving to South Korea was how interested I am in North Korea (though, I must say, living here has been fairly useless on that front. Excepting one air raid drill early in the year that was looked at by students as an excuse to escape class for 20 minutes or so, South Koreans seem generally pretty uninterested in their angry hat.) It’s not like a “man, I wish I lived there” thing, obviously, thank God, but it’s more of a “look at this real-life Hunger Games happening in front of us, why isn’t everyone obsessed with this, man I’m probably going to see a nuclear war in my lifetime and I really want to know why” sort of thing. I designed a class on the subject, I’ve read a ton of books on it, I’m into it.

pyongyangSo because of that, this is far from the first documentary I’ve seen about the country, and all the ones I’ve seen approach the topic in a similar way: present footage of smiling people in clean, seemingly thriving Pyongyang, and contrast that with the numerous reports from human rights groups and defectors of mass starvation, totalitarian control, and other atrocities. It’s not that this formula isn’t effective, it absolutely is.

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I did enjoy the cuts from the DPRK supporters saying one thing, to the Amnesty International people saying the exact opposite, though after a little while it got a little heavy handed, and it never really had the shock value it seemed to be searching for. I mean, if you tell the viewer that citizens can be killed for saying something against the regime, it’s hardly surprising that you get no footage of citizens saying something against the regime, is it? Also, I found its view of North Korea to be very limited. The film showed many beautifully shot sequences in Pyongyang, and interviewed citizens living and working in the city, but because the filmmaker was not allowed to leave the city, there are is no coverage of the countryside. I appreciated the lack of bias shown in the coverage of Pyongyang, (there’s a point made that tourists and filmmakers often thing the entire city of Pyongyang is staged for them, which a worker says shows the tourists think themselves much more important than they are, and I think I agree), and because the film focuses on propaganda, it seems appropriate to use the only city open to foreign visitors. However, without showing any of the rest of the country, the film’s scope suffers, and I found I learned nothing that I had not already seen in other documentaries or in well-known books.

All of that aside, I did enjoy it (is enjoy the right word here? Probably not…) There were two things that stood out as different from other DPRK docs that really helped the film. First, the filmmaker makes use of the self-called Spanish Soldier, Alejandro Cao de Benós de Les y Pérez, who is a Westerner working in and liaising with North Korea, as his guide. 440px-alejandro_cao_de_benc3b3s_de_les_y_pc3a9rez_in_pyongyang_in_2012This Chris Christie lookalike takes blissful ignorance to a whole new level. He founded the Korean Friendship Association (check the website for a wild ride), and is a believer in the DPRK’s ideals and the Kim regime. He was apparently complimented as a child for his communist beliefs by a North Korean party member, and had since nourished a dream of being a part of the North Korean system. He is treated well and has gained many awards from the military, but when watching this film one gets the sense that Alejandro is a pawn being used as a symbol for Western admiration of North Korean beliefs. It is equal parts entertaining and bone-chilling.

The second thing I appreciated as being fairly different from other North Korean-focused films I’ve seen is the acknowledgement of American propaganda against North Korea. The film made it clear that although North Korea is committing war crimes (and they are, even more than this film lets on), the United States is still compliant in spreading false information, which clouds any sense of truth about the Hermit Kingdom. I suppose this isn’t that shocking, seeing as how Fox News controls a large chunk of American news media, and would probably report that Santa was real if Santa came out as a muslim-hater, but it’s still refreshing to see a documentary on North Korea call out the United States on its role in spreading false information.

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Note: this isn’t a screenshot of false information, but I gave up looking for the screenshots they used in the film after about 500 screenshots of “Is Obama American?” shows. My patience is only so stable.

TL;DR: This was a decent documentary on an endlessly-fascinating subject, and I’ll be surprised if we don’t see many more like it in the future. It would be a good place to start for newbies to North Korean research, or for those with a casual interest in the country. If you’ve got some knowledge of the country, but are still interested in seeing the absolute clusterfuck that is a European supporter spouting regime doctrine while being massaged into compliance, definitely give it a go, it was an entertaining watch. If you’re looking for new information, though, look elsewhere, as this covers much of the same ground as most of the popular films of the genre.

 

W

Fairy Tales. (Yeah, check that title. Masterpiece.)

I started writing tonight. I don’t know if it will be a regular thing, it rarely is. I want to be a writer, I have always wanted to be a writer, and when I am old and am a schoolteacher or a doctor’s aide, or I work with computers doing something not very impressive for people who really don’t care, I will say I am hoping to be a writer, but am not good enough yet. But.

but.

That word I am quite good at. I’m very good at the not-writing of being a writer. The not-being-a-writer part of being a writer. The note-taking and voice acting, and talking with my hands in the car by myself, being interviewed by imaginary fans with microphones, “yes, the ideas just came to me. Yes, it was hard at first, but once I started, the characters just lived. It was really magic.”

I fake-magic because I can’t get myself to type out the sentences that make magic real, the ones that describe it, how it feels, where it comes from, how it hangs heavy in the air. It is as if the stories I want to tell are like the fairy coves in the movie Fairy Tale: A True Story, where this girl finds fairies in her backyard.

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If I let the stories stay a concept, they are magical and awesome and full of possibility.

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But if I write them down, and make them solid… they could fall flat, pale, and crinkled. Like fake fairies held up for blurry pictures.

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Not quite as good as everyone was hoping them to be, and somehow a little sad after all the excitement.

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At least… I think that’s what happened in the end of that movie. To be honest, I really couldn’t tell you. That could be the plot of this real life fairy story, which I’m assuming a Fairy Tale: A True Story is based on, though again, because this blog is built on a throne of lies, I’m referencing something I only half-remember. It’s been a really long time and the first time I watched it I just remembered thinking, “wow. this could be cool… but why get famous by faking fairies?” and then everything gets a bit blurry. But the comparison stands. The possibility of failure is very scary, especially when the buildup is so spectacular.

Then again… if the buildup isn’t spectacular, the results are rarely as big a show.

You can really tell I’m a writer from the use of such astoundingly beautiful metaphors. Wow. Much imagery. Very sensical. None confusion.

Also, is this Fairy Tale reference a thing? Also, is that what happens in that movie? I could be confusing it with the real-life version I read about in my random wiki-ing ventures. Oh, internet, you raised me so well.  Has anyone seen this movie but me? I feel like I had the VHS like last week, but thinking harder it might have been 3rd grade. Ahh, well. How time flies.

I want to start ending my blog posts with something that could be said in Mr. Miyagi’s voice. Ahh, well. How time flies. One second, you’re on, the next, you’re waxed off.

Some things may be best left in my head. I see that now.