Things I Liked – September, October and most of November

Wow, I haven’t done one of these in a while. I have been quite busy writing-wise, some of which I hope to have news on in the near future.

So, without any further ado, here are things I’ve liked in the last two-and-a-bit months.

Perfect Sound Whatever

I listened to this on audiobook really quite a long time ago now and—actually, back up. I should probably explain what the fuck this thing is. So, Perfect Sound Whatever is an autobiographical book by a British comedian named James Acaster. In 2016 he, according to the book, it’s not like I’m spilling hot tea here, broke up with his girlfriend and his agent, and generally went through a lot of shit, life and career-wise. He then spent most of 2017 trying to get his act together which he did, somewhat bizarrely, by deciding to listen to as many albums from 2016 as he could. Leading him to conclude that 2016 was the greatest year for music there had ever been.

It’s a very strange listen, because it’s a combination of personal anecdotes, stories about the albums themselves, and discursive meditations on life, music and mental health. It’s also just really nice because I’m so sick of people whining about music (and everything else) being shit these days—and it’s great to have someone sit down and explain to you, passionately and at length, that there are remarkable relevant artists doing remarkable relevant work right now if we’d stop banging on about how entitled millennials are and pay attention for five minutes.

Now I think about it, it’s a slightly odd text to recommend on audiobook because what will happen is he’ll discuss an album and you’ll think “oh that’s cool, I should look that up” but because you’re already listening to something—that thing being James Acaster talking to you about albums—you can’t really stop and source the album he’s talking to you about. On the other hand, James Acaster is a professional performer and he writes like a stand-up comedian so the text itself works, I think, so much better when it’s read out loud by James Acaster.

I should probably also mention that listening to Perfect Sound Whatever makes it a lot harder to go back and watch, for example, the quartet of Netflix shows that James Acaster made over the period he describes as being really difficult in the book. Because you suddenly become very aware of quite how not-joking he is about the many dark themes he touches on. Like, he does a routine about growing up as a “little Christian boy” in a show that ends with him turning the lights out and eating a Christingle and that whole gag feels a lot stranger when you’ve heard him talk quite honestly about his struggles with religious faith.

So I suppose my recommendation is to watch Repertoire on Netflix, then listen to Perfect Sound Whatever, and then watch Repertoire again and feel way sadder about it.

Disco Elysium

This is the nuts. It’s a … I’m honestly not sure if it’s originally French, it feels like it might be, and it’s got quite a lot of slightly Frenchified language… anyway … it’s a game in the fairly standard isometric RPG mould. Obligatory note: for those of my audience who know shit all about videogames, an isometric RPG is a computer game where you play the role of a character (hence role playing game, hence RPG) and the graphics are two dimensional, shot from an isometric angle, rather than being fully rendered in 3D. If I want to be really pedantic about it, I’d suggest that isometric RPG is a good example of a retronym in that, back when 2D graphics were the only graphics, we just called them RPGs.

Where was I? The role that you play in this particular roleplaying game is of a washed up, probably divorced (?) completely awful, or possibly a genius (?) detective who wakes up, drunk and amnesiac in a hotel room, discovering that he has a murder to solve in a richly realised but subtly bizarre world. Also his tie keeps talking to him.

I’ve not got that far into the game, partly because it’s quite slow paced and complex, and partly because I’ve actually started a second play-through. The reason I’ve started a second play-through is because during my first play-through I accidentally let my morale score dip too low, got drunk, making it even lower, then had a conversation with myself that went so badly I gave up on being a cop. And, technically, I could have re-loaded the game and made slightly self-destructive decisions but it just seemed like such a perfect end to that frankly surreal story that I couldn’t quite bear to.

And, actually, my second play-through is really my third play-through because on my second play-through I tried playing a custom character, accidentally gave myself a health score of 1, and died of a heart attack trying to turn the lights on in my hotel room.

It’s that sort of game. It’s completely bananas.

Play it if that sounds at all appealing.

The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula

I feel like a bit of a national traitor for putting the Boulet Brothers’ Dragula as my dragshow entry for this list rather than Drag Race UK. But, the thing is, although I really liked Drag Race UK, it was still basically Drag Race, and I’ve seen a lot of Drag Race over the years.

The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula seems very much designed for people who’ve seen a lot of Drag Race over the years. Obviously, I don’t want to speculate too much about intent but it feels to me like it almost deliberately positions itself as an anti-Drag Race. One of the quite fair criticisms that’s been made of RPDR is that it can present quite a narrow view of what drag is and while it is getting better at this (to some extent) and, in a way, Dragula is no less narrow I think there’s quite a big difference between a narrow portrayal of an art form that sells itself as the entire art form and one that doesn’t.

Hell, by the third series the Boulet Brothers have taken to saying really explicitly in every judging “we are not here to judge your drag. Drag is art and art is subjective. We are here to judge your drag as it relates to this competition” which is basically the opposite of the way the judging is presented on Drag Race. Like, they never ever do the “we need to see you do something different” thing. People who have one shtick don’t necessarily go far in the competition but, if you always wear a mask, generally they don’t read you for always wearing a mask.

For what is essentially horror drag (with all the full-on sideshow grossness and freakery that entails), Dragula has a strange sincerity to it. And, obviously, there’s that old saying about sincerity being the most important thing and if you can fake that you can fake anything, but the show really does feel less produced than most reality television. Partly, I think, because it has such a narrow focus that it can be honest about what its looking for. I mean, yes “next drag supermonster” is, in a sense, no less vague than “next drag superstar” or “Alan Sugar’s next business partner” but, in the context of the show, you get a very, very good idea of what the brand actually is. It’s someone who can turn a fabulous lewk, but also eat live spiders, and staple dollar bills to themselves.

Dragula is super not everyone but you kind of have to respect how hardcore it is. Also, it’s very noticeable that it only took them to season three to start including drag kings and bio queens in the competition.

Biscuits

One of the great things about the “holiday season” (which is to say the period of 3-6 months between the schools going back and shops finally running out of excuses for flash sales) is that you can buy family boxes of biscuits. I fucking love biscuits.

The Vampire Diaries

So I did actually watch this when it first came out on TV but I drifted away from it about the time it forked off into The Originals, and there was that whole weird thing where Klaus went to New Orleans and suddenly the racial dynamics got really uncomfortable. On the discovering that the whole thing was on Neflix, I finally decided to do a re-watch and, you know, this is definitely my favourite girls & vampires series, and I love girls & vampires series. It’s just so balls-to-the-wall everything, like their vampires just straight up murder people all the fucking time, their werewolves also just straight up murder people, although slightly less so, and the only thing better than a broody vampire boyfriend is his a broody vampire boyfriend with a cooler, sexier, less broody brother. Also, I know pretending to be different people is, like, an actor’s whole job but I’m always secretly really impressed by the way Nina Dobrev comes across so differently when she’s playing Elena (the heroine) and Katherine (the heroine’s evil doppelganger vampire murder villain).

And I do get that the show has its issues. I mean, there’s no getting away from the fact that Damon murders a lot of basically innocent women and yet still comes across as a surprisingly plausible alternative boyfriend for a teenager. And the racial dynamics that are non-ideal in The Originals are also non-ideal in, um, the original, not least because it’s set really specifically in Virginia so you do have the slightly hand-waved fact that both the romantic interests really explicitly fought for the Confederacy. Okay, now I say it out loud, there’s a lot that I could see would be a deal breaker for a lot of people with this show.

But, hot damn, is it watchable. I have very much the opposite feeling watching a season of The Vampire Diaries that I have watching a season of Game of Thrones. Like, I get to the end of a season of GoT and find myself thinking “well, that was really compelling, but I’m pretty sure nothing actually happened.” Whereas when I get to the end of a season of The Vampire Diaries I have forgotten what the plot was at the beginning because there have been six different plots since. I have watched this show before and I completely failed to remember that there’s a crypt with 26 vampires in it that gets opened up about halfway through the first season because so much other crap happens afterwards.

I’ve been sitting here for about ten minutes trying to sum up what it is I like about this show in spite of its obvious problems and I just can’t do it in sentences so here’s some bullet points:

  • Elena has a tonne of agency, and genuine chemistry with both guys, even the one she’s supposed to going out with, which never happens
  • The heroine’s friends get to be genuinely interesting and do their own shit—although I feel consistently sorry for Caroline
  • The nice normal guy in it is genuinely nice and not a creepy douche bag, despite having previously gone out with the heroine
  • Everyone keeps a diary. I know it’s the title of the show but dude
  • Little brother Jeremy is weirdly not awful
  • Even the token jock character actually gets quite a good arc
  • Every so often they’ll just wheel in a new hot guy in case you don’t like any of the current selection of hot guys
  • The escalation is off the charts
  • People just kill each other all the time, and it’s fine
  • Like, seriously, look up half the characters on the Wiki and they’ll have an entry for ‘death’ and it’ll usually have more than four entries

The Netflix Cinematic Christmas Universe

So I love Netflix Christmas movies. I don’t know why because they’re all the same, and they’re all terrible. Maybe it’s just as bloody minded reaction against that one tosser who sent the “who hurt you” tweet when it turned out that some people were, for some reason, watching Christmas movies at Christmas.

The most recent entry to the Netflix Christmas stable is called The Knight Before Christmas and, frankly, that is already amazing because not only is the title a weak pun based on a famous Christmas story, but, also .. knight? Like actual knight. With a sword and armour and stuff. Oh my God, it’s the best. By which I mean, quite bad, but in a brilliant way.

To talk very briefly about the actual film (spoiler, that is not the topic I’m most interested in) it’s about a knight who travels in time due to the intervention of an “Old Crone” who appears to be, maybe, thirty five but prematurely grey, and does dashing, knightly things in the 21st century, trying to work out what his “quest” is that he must perform in order to become a “true knight.”

Spoiler: it is to make out with a hot chick.

Very, very briefly I was bothered by the fact that they seemed to forget what century he was from, like, all the time: the splash screen says he’s from 1334, they keep referring to him as being from the 13th century (when, of course, 1334 is in the fourteenth century) and he is, and to be fair this is a problem that all fictional knight have, wearing a type of armour that would not have existed until the 15th or even 16th century. I am, frankly, shocked at the lack of historical detail in this time-travelling Christmas movie.

But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that there is a reference in the movie to someone having had a message from Aldovia.

Which means that this film, which canonically includes real magic and time travel, takes place in the same universe as A Christmas Prince, its sequel A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding, and its upcoming threequel A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby.

So much about those movies makes sense when you realise that they take place in a world where magic and time travel are real. Like, why is it always Christmas in Aldovia? Time travel magic. Why was the King of Aldovia required to hide the proclamation declaring that his adoptive son is also his real heir inside a hand-carved Christmas decoration? I still, don’t know. But probably something something Old Crone magic swirly blue portals.

To make things even cooler, in the film The Princess Switch, Vanessa Hudgens’ character watches A Christmas Prince, meaning that A Christmas Prince exists as a movie in the world of The Princess Switch. But, therefore, also presumably The Knight Before Christmas, which exists in the same world as A Christmas Prince, must also exist as a movie in the world of The Princess Switch. But The Knight Before Christmas ALSO STARS Vanessa Hudgens.

Which means not only does Vanessa Hudgens in the world of The Princess Switch have an identical double in the form of either the princess or of the lady who undergoes the titular princess switch but she must also exist in that world either as the actress Vanessa Hudgens (who in that universe looks identical to a princess who exists in that universe) or, as I am increasingly thinking more likely, she doesn’t exist in that universe as an actress and the films that are watched in Netflix Christmas Universe B, rather than having been made in Netflix Christmas Universe B, are actually windows into Netflix Christmas Universe A (The Knight Before Christmas / Christmas Prince universe) through which Universe B characters can observe the actions of their Universe A alter-egos.

How did a universe full of Christmas-themed characters wind up being separated out from their alternative reality selves and imprisoned in a hermetically sealed space-time bubble of eternal Christmas? TIME TRAVEL MAGIC.

I haven’t gone as deep into this rabbit hole as I’d like to yet (partly because I’m worried I’ll get trapped in an alternative Christmas universe). For example, I’m not yet certain whether A Christmas Inheritance takes place in Universe A or Universe B. It could, of course, take place in its own Universe C but William of Occam enjoined us that elements should not be multiplied needlessly, and therefore I will, for the moment, posit the existence of only two Christmas Universes.

Anyway. movie isn’t out yet. But the  moment it drops I’m watching the shit out of it.

Aaand, as ever, tell me what you’re into at the moment in the comments. Or don’t.

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25 Responses to Things I Liked – September, October and most of November

  1. christine armstrong says:

    I fell into the Netflix Christmas movie rabbit hole when I was home with a chest infection.Admittedly I watched whilst reading or listening to an audiobook so I could have paid more attention but it was difficult to miss the craziness of the knight .

  2. EmmaT says:

    Christmas movies for the win!! And your spiraling into Christmas universes is sublime! I’ve watched a ton of Hallmark movies already this season, although they’ve mostly been murder mysteries like “Murder, She Baked”. Excellent.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Murder She Baked sounds amazing. Is this a real thing? Where can I get it?

      • EmmaT says:

        I swear I replied yesterday but it never went through. murder, She Baked is a Hallmark movie series. I found it online to stream on just random sites because you can’t really find it otherwise. It’s super entertaining although of course incredibly cheesy. That’s what makes it perfect.

  3. Dee says:

    I did see the Christmas movie you are referring too on Netflix, but right now I am so into watching The Crown on Netflix (just started Season 2). And I must say, Season 1 was so powerful, I actually sobbed my eyes out, I had to call my daughter (who’s name is Alexis and an English Lit teacher, who kept begging me to watch this show) and discuss the episode “Assassins” with her. Not since Dr. Who’s episode “Blink” and David Tennent playing Dr. Who have I ever been so engrossed in a series. Maybe when it gets closer to Christmas I can start watching Christmas shows, but my daughter did recommend watching Klaus on Netflix, she said it was a “good one”!! Well that is all and love love love your articles every month……keep on writing and have a very Merry Christmas and fabulous New Year!!

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Thank you for the good wishes – and seasons greetings to you too!

      I’ve not really watched The Crown. I think it feels a bit weirder when it’s, like, your actual head of state. But I’ve heard really good things so I should probably check it out.

  4. Jeanne Hurley says:

    Just did the easy stuff; bought Perfect Sound audio and put Repertoire and Dragula and Christmas Knight in my Netflix queue. Watching may not happen but I like adding things to my queues and wishlists and buying books so that was fun.

  5. Sophie says:

    I’m glad the writing has been going well! And wow. Now I’m really invested in the parallel Christmas universes. Obviously Netflix now has to make a movie ABOUT the characters realizing they’re stuck forever in eternal Christmas.

    Recently, my sister has gotten me into the soundtrack of this new musical called Beetlejuice. For me, it’s like Heathers—a musical I really like based on a movie I don’t really have strong feelings about (and also haven’t seen much of). Beetlejuice The Musical has turned the story into this generally cheerful, weirdly charming skewering of the suburban middle class, and it also has a dizzying array of both funny and serious takes on death placed side by side. And in the last few days I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for Frozen 2. I like these songs even better than the ones from the first movie, and, while I haven’t seen Frozen 2 yet, I’m still sad they cut this extremely adorable song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCGR6yJOFVs

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I’m torn on whether I want to want to Frozen II. Like, I really liked the original but I’m not totally sure the story has anywhere to go. And it falls into that odd space between “classic Disney movie” and “Pixar franchise film” which makes it hard to know how to feel about a sequel. I don’t know whether to go in expecting Toy Story 2 or Return of Jafar.

      And thank you for the musical rec – I am quite excited by the idea of Beetlejuice with showtunes.

      • Sophie says:

        I’ve only heard good things about the new Frozen! People have told me it’s darker than the first one, and has basically a whole new plot (I agree with you, there wasn’t really anywhere to go from the first one). And dark/serious Disney is often my favorite Disney, so I’m game for them to shove in a whole new unnecessary plot to get to produce that.

        Ahhh, Beetlejuice The Musical is so awesome! I really think you’d like it.

      • Sophie Hammond says:

        People that I’ve talked to that did see the movie really liked it. They said it was darker than the first movie and also had basically an entire new plot. I agree with you that there’s not really anywhere to go from the original Frozen–it’s not really a movie designed to accommodate a sequel–and I expect they’re going to have to scramble to deepen the world-building. But I’m looking forward to it for the songs, and completely prepared to hand-wave the actual story. XD

        Ahhh, Beetlejuice the Musical is so good! I think you’d really like it.

  6. WMD says:

    Phew…glad to see the blog refreshed. Was missing it! But I understand the reason now (time travel magic and Christmas space-time continuum issues or some combination thereof). Thanks as usual for sharing the bits. Current likes for me are chocolate cream pie (a recently acquired baking success) and putting the garden away for winter, a satisfying end-of-year process.

  7. Gwen says:

    Just binged Dragon Prince, season 3. Liked it a lot.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I think that’s one of those that keeps going past me on Netflix and I keep meaning to get around to watching at some point. But I’ve run into a serious hours-in-the-day problem.

  8. AM Smith says:

    I think the word count and level of detail you’ve put into this Christmas Universe Theory are entirely appropriate. Have you ever seen the 12 Dates of Christmas? It doesn’t shy away from cramming in a dizzying number of holiday-season cliches. Its stars also are the right amount of “used to be more famous” and “still famous enough to sell a Christmas movie.” Well. They were in 2011, at least.

    Did you ever encounter the “Vampire Diaries” books? I remember them from back when they came out in the 1990s. Just curious. I suspect I’ll always have a bit of a soft spot for the young-adult, romantic-horror-lite stuff I read back in those days.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Okay, that sounds legitimately amazing and I will be checking it out first opportunity I get.

      I’ve not read The Vampire Diaries books, but I do remember them being around when Twilight first came out and everything was suddenly teenage girls dating vampires. But, no, to shame I’m very much a show-only fan and I suspect they’re probably quite divergent.

      • AM Smith says:

        You’re right–“The Vampire Diaries” books enjoyed a little renaissance when “Twilight”-related things (books included) were blanketing stores. The “Diaries” trilogy originally came out back in, like, 1992, and they were written by the author to fill a specific order (so to speak…it’s that thing where a publisher wants A Trilogy About Vampires, or A Teen Witch Cult Series, etc., and you’re writing to fill a call) from a publisher. They’re…teen books from the 1990s, so the blonde heroine is popular and rich, everyone’s white and straight, etc.

        BUT, I think the reason they stick with me is because the original trilogy (before it became popular and they added on) ended with the heroine sacrificing herself so that the two vampire brothers/romantic-rivals-for-her-affection would reconnect after her death. I’m amazed it was published that way, but I guess that was the time period of non-closure-providing endings of other horror writers in the teen space (e.g. Christopher Pike).

        Hm, I had a whole paragraph about slash fic in relation to the original books and why they were basically tailor-made to be fanfic-ilized, and was that intentional…but that could be inappropriate here. Instead, I’ll paste in the summary of “12 Dates”:

        “Kate is a young woman who re-lives the same first date on Christmas Eve over and over again. In an attempt to win back her ex-boyfriend on Christmas Eve, Kate ends up ruining her blind date with Miles, a handsome guy she’s been set up with. In a strange twist of fate, Kate is given the chance to re-live Christmas Eve twelve times!”

  9. Maarja says:

    So happy to read another blog post from you, but even happier that you’ve been busy writing – I can’t wait for the news! 🙂

    Just as a piece of information, Disco Elysium was actually written by an Estonian (my compatriot), so I find it really interesting that you connected it with French – I feel like our culture’s pretty much as far from French as could be in Europe… But as far as I know, the production took place in London and probably included a rather international crowd. I haven’t played it myself, though, since it seems too depressing to appeal to me.

    • Maarja says:

      Oh, and the most recent thing I really liked was Elton John’s autobiography “Me”, in audio format narrated by Taron Egerton. Even though I’m not a huge fan of Elton’s music, it was very interesting to learn about the things he’s seen and done throughout his life, his attitude was very open and honest, and I loved his self-deprecating humour. And brilliant narration!

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Okay, wow do I feel ignorant now. I mean, I could have looked that up I guess. I think it’s just because the game has a distinctly not America/Not England vibe, and the town you’re in seems to be called Martinaise – which sounds vaguely French to me.

      In terms of the game itself, it is sort of depressing, but in a weirdly liberating way. Like, you’re clearly a mess, and everything is clearly screwed, but at that point you can kind of enjoy it. Also it’s genuinely hilarious at times, and there are good people in the world, it’s just you probably aren’t one of them.

      • Maarja says:

        Oh no, I didn’t mean you were ignorant at all – I’m just absurdly and unreasonably proud that someone from our tiny country has managed to create something like this. 🙂 And Martinaise does sound kind of French-like.
        I’ve contemplated trying the game anyway – perhaps I will, once I have a load of free time and enough energy.

  10. Bungalow Barbara says:

    OK, I must have Christmas baking on my mind…I’d love to hear more about Biscuits. (Yes, I know British “biscuits” = USA “cookies.”) So which are your favorite?
    My baking plans call for World Peace Cookies (google for recipe) and Oatmeal Shortbread (my own recipe).

    I look forward to hearing about your writing as soon as you are ready to tell us about it!

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