Best of February

I’m a creature of habit. I like to go back to vacation spots I’ve visited before (I am not allowed another trip to Paris before I go to a new European city). I like to return to attractions and sites and parks I know, especially if I bring people along who have never been (I’ve been to Disney World in Orlando eleven times). And I tend to rewatch favorite television shows and movies and reread favorite books rather than watch/read new. (an old roommate once told me, in a completely non-snarky fashion, that it’s because the characters become my friends, and I think she’s right).

But I do like new experiences, really. I just have to push myself to have them and not to fall back on the comfortable and familiar. Join me as I try to consume the new as well as the old, and each month, I’ll give you my thoughts on some of the best I’ve discovered.

Television: Downtown Abbey

I consumed the entire first season on a single Sunday earlier this month (seven episodes, piece of cake!). I realized I was late to the party when I sought out Season Two and discovered it was ending and the early Season Two episodes were nowhere to be found on XFinity or Netflix. And then someone told me that I can watch full episodes of Season Two on PBS, and since they expire Tuesday, I’ll be doing that this weekend!

The Pilot is the most perfect introduction of an ensemble television cast that I have ever seen. (Before this, I thought the West Wing was the best.) We get to simultaneously see the status quo (the Crawley family and household staff beginning their day at Downtown Abbey) and what makes this day different (the Titanic has sunk, and with it members of the Crawley family that completely upsets the inheritance of the family, both financial and titular). The event that changes everything is a genius choice: the sinking of the Titanic was a moment in history that resonates with those who weren’t there to remember it. Portraying each of these characters, from the patriarch to the scullery maid, as they go about their normal interactions and then as they react to the news (both of the sinking of the ship and the loss of life onboard in general and to the personal effect on the Crawley family) communicates volumes about each in an instant. This is important when you have an ensemble the size of the Downtown Abbey ensemble. Genius, and very difficult to do no matter the size of the cast.

Film: Hugo

I went into Hugo on an evening after a long day while I was traveling, and I didn’t have the energy to seek out more active entertainment. I had no idea what I was going to see. I hadn’t read any reviews. It was just playing at the right time in the right place. I am so glad it was.

Beautifully shot, beautifully written, and beautifully acted, Hugo is a love story to filmmaking as much as it is a love story to the city of Paris of days gone by. Seeing Sasha Baron Cohen in an opening sequence made me think this was going to be a different kind of movie, but Cohen’s limping, royal blue-clad station master in love with the girl who sells the flowers just about broke my heart. His little story had no less power than the main story of Hugo Cabret and his desperate yearning to finish fixing the mechanical man his father had found, or than the story of Ben Kingsley’s Georges Melies, the believed-to-be-forgotten genius of cinema. Each of the little stories that weave together in this tale pulls the viewer along on a delightful ride with a satisfying conclusion. I left the theater with a smile on my face, and the movie has stuck with me in the weeks since. I was glad to see it win awards on Sunday.

Book: The Daughter of Smoke and Bone

This is cheating a little, since I actually finished this book on January 31st, but it was too good not to mention. From the opening pages, the story of Karou will leave you breathless. Who is Karou? She’s an art student in Prague, with blue hair, tattoos on the palms of her hands, a best friend and an annoying ex-boyfriend. She’s also the adopted daughter of a demon who lives in a lair that can be accessed by secret portals all over the world. When the doors to the lair close one day, leaving Karou locked out, she fears the worst, and only a mad chase through international cities and memories long forgotten, with the help of an angel who is assigned to kill her, can lead her to the answers.

The story moves fast, and the pacing is punctuated by chapters and scenes of unpredictable length. An action sequence will go on for pages while an emotional punch will be delivered in two paragraphs. Karou is bristly and maddeningly self-sufficient, but also vulnerable in all the right places…those places that make you want to help her and murder everyone who gets in her way. But Karou isn’t the only one to love…the author has somehow managed to make the reader fall in love with a terrible beast, to make the frightening seem loveable as well as feared. Laini Taylor has created a great story here, a fantastic world filled with incredible characters, and I cannot wait to read book two.

What did you see/read in February that made you want to stand up and shout to the world?

Posted on February 29, 2012, in Books, Movies, Television and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I’m a huge JJ Abrams fan, but somehow we just got around to seeing Super 8 this past weekend. And it was super! It was about so much more than just the horror/suspense–the relationships were fleshed out, the acting was superb (especially the kids), and there were great moments of humor. Dan pointed out that it had elements of Goonies and ET, which it did, but it was a great movie all on its own.

  2. This month I devoured two novels, Excession, and Inversions, from “The Culture” series of sci-fi books my Ian M Banks. Far-out stories set in the context of a “post-scarcity” society. Very good but also very rarefied audience. I will say that few books provide as good an example of how “science fiction” is really, as a genre, not a matter of fiction about science, but actually fiction about utopias and dystopias, frequently, though not necessarily, enabled through science. “Inversions” was set completely within the context of medieval societies and told from the perspective of one of the members of that society, and only the reader knows that the person to whom the narrator is apprenticed is a member of an interstellar, faster-than-light traveling society preventing to be a doctor living among them. Until 30 pages from the end there isn’t single moment that features futuristic technology.

    Anyhow, what happened to Amber?

    • Amber is still happening…remember it never gripped me at the beginning, so I’m having a hard time fitting it in with all the rest. But I’m reading it…I’ll let you know when I get past book two, which is where I was last time.

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