Recommendation Dump, September 2016

Jurymore –  Another podcast from the great Justin Robert Young, though unlike my previous recommendation of Politics Politics Politics (which I’m recommending again right now because it is continually terrific and it’s now going up three times a week) this one is not a one man podcast. It’s also not ongoing—it ended awhile ago, at about 30 episodes long. It ended because Justin got married—that’s the premise of the podcast. Justin Robert Young and his then fiancée Ashley Paramore recorded a regular podcast for the better part of a year leading up to their wedding, and document the process of planning the ceremony.

Terrific. The two have great rapport, and most episodes focus on an interesting topic—often something to do with the wedding planning, sometimes just something to do with relationships. Their honesty and ability to speak (and sometimes argue) freely while streaming the podcast live is refreshing, and some of the greatest moments of the podcast are when they get into fights. Because the two really are a terrific couple, and their fights aren’t abusive nonsense, they’re genuine arguments. And the whole show has an energetic, comedic tone, because it’s JuRY after all.

Also, they had the wedding ceremony at DragonCon, so once you’ve finished the podcast you can watch it, like a finale.

Rome – Rome is a historical HBO series set in Rome, during the transition from Republic to Empire. It begins with Julius Caesar returning from his conquest of Gaul, and ends with the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra. But the show isn’t just about the historical figures. It follows several groups of people, the aristocrats, the senators, and the common people—specifically a pair of roman soldiers who are the show’s protagonists, and who are continually thrown into the thick of historical moments. It’s a terrifc way of looking at history which combines the actions of great men and women with the everyday lives of people, and shows how they all interact. The series paints a vivid image of Rome, the city, with graffiti and cracked paint and public service announcements and shrines, and everything you might expect to see in the city and several things you wouldn’t. I’ve read that it’s a very accurate, well-researched show, but I can’t personally attest to that since i don’t know much about Roman life. Regardless, the level of detail in the show is marvelous, and it gives the city and the culture depth, and it constantly gives the viewer something interesting to look at and wonder about.

Waterloo – Another historical piece, this one a movie about the Battle of Waterloo. The story and characters are rather dry, but it doesn’t matter. If you’re looking for great performances and deep characters, look elsewhere. This movie is about spectacle. The first half of the movie follows Napoleon during the hundred days—his short return to power after being exiled to Elba. The second half of the movie is entirely the Battle of Waterloo. Spectacular. What’s more spectacular is that the filmmakers used fifteen thousand soldiers from the Red Army as extras, and trained them in proper Napoleonic era formations. The movie gives a grand view of this battle, showing all the maneuvers and replicating them with actual soldiers. There are so many wonderful, jaw-dropping sequences in the battle, which convey the scale and immensity of war in a way I’ve never seen before.

And it’s nice to see a battle in this era of muskets and cavalry, which is underrepresented in movies, and is just as hellish as medieval or modern warfare. You can watch it on youtube here. – URL kinda says it all, doesn’t it?

Shirobako – An anime about making anime. The 24-episode show mainly follows Aoi Miyamori, a production assistant at a small anime studio, working on an idol show—but really, it’s just as much about the ensemble as it is about her. The show covers every aspect of anime production, and a wide range of problems that can arise with each of those aspects—from key frames (the meaning of which I finally learned by watching this) to CG to writing to voice acting, the show manages to portray in detail every piece of the huge collaborative effort that it takes to produce an anime, and everything that can go wrong with all of those pieces. In doing this, the show also develops a huge cast of characters, all of whom have depth, and feel distinct from all the others. By the end of the show, you really feel like you know this studio, and the people who work in it, inside and out.

The show also strikes a terrific balance between showing anime as a job, and showing it as art. Between characters doing things because they feel inspired and impassioned, and doing things because they need to meet a deadline—and showing the conflict when those two things run counter to each other. And the show uses the language of anime well, with some scenes exaggerated as if they’re in some battle anime, and other scenes rendered as if they’re happening within the show that they’re making. I adored this show the whole way through, and will definitely rewatch it several of several thousand times.

Looking for Richard – A terrific documentary on Netflix, made by Al Pacino, which examines Richard III in its modern relevance and its timeless beauty. The basic framing of the movie is going through the narrative of Richard III, with performances of key scenes acted out by a terrific cast, including Pacino as Richard, Alec Baldwin as Clarence, and Kevin Spacey as Buckingham. The bulk of the movie is made up of scenes of discussion between the actors, interviews with scholars, and bits of background information about Shakespeare and about the War of the Roses. Pacino is the driving force of the movie, which is great because he has an everyman charisma about him, but still has a very humble, actor’s love for Shakespeare, and the poetry of Shakespeare. So he’s not just some stupid foil to the scholars, but he also has a healthy irreverence for the academic and cultural mythos surrounding Shakespeare. The selections from Richard III themselves were sometimes a bit too whispery for my taste, but overall Pacino’s Richard is captivating, and the scenes with him and Spacey are terrific.

I’ve found, throughout my middle school and high school and general involvement with Shakespeare, that there’s an aggressive, relentless push to make the Bard cool and modern, but this movie probably does the best job of it, because it isn’t pushing to bring Shakespeare into the 20th century. It’s very open about the how unfamiliar people today are with Shakespeare, and especially Richard III. There are several man-on-the-street scenes where people cop to having never seen Shakespeare, or knowing nothing about Richard III. There are also a few discussions between the actors of why Shakespeare is inaccessible. And, ultimately, fantastically, the movie isn’t trying to make it accessible—everyone’s dressed up in period costumes, all the lines are rendered verbatim. The play is made accessible by the ease of all the actors, and their performances being true to the words, and not overly self-important or grandiose—not by heaping 20th century ornaments on top of the play, or attempting to translate it.

The whole documentary feels very earnest. It isn’t manipulating everything to the service of some grand point, it’s just continually exploring, and opening up discussion about Shakespeare, and Richard III, and the endurance of these words written four centuries ago.

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