Stories on the edge of familiarity
The Art of Goofing Off: Episode 1

The Art of Goofing Off: Episode 1

For a while, I’ve wanted to write a feature about cool book, movies, music, etc that I’ve discovered and enjoyed. Now I am. You’re welcome.

The Art of Goofing Off will be a monthly feature (usually the last Friday of the month, the first Friday this time because it took me a while to get the right picture together), the length depending on how many interesting things I find and how much I have to say about them.

This episode covers movies, TV shows, books, video games, and music. By all means, skip to the sections you’re most interested in. :)

Stories on the Big Screen (Movies)

Asterix and the Mansion of the Gods
First of all, if you haven’t read any of the Asterix comics and you call yourself a lover of wit, go right now and read the Asterix comics. The Cleopatra one in specific is fantastic for a series of tooth-related puns in relation to crocodiles. I mean, the names of every single non-historical character is a pun or joke of some kind. And then, when you realize these comics were originally written in French, the fact that the humour comes through so effectively in English makes it that much more impressive.

In terms of the movie, it’s like watching an Asterix comic. In the beginning, Caesar makes an impressive speech about the Gauls and how he wants to crush them only to be interrupted partway through a sentence because the people listening didn’t understand his eagle metaphor. There’s a Roman character whose name in French is Applejus. Cacofonix (the bard who lives up to his name) gets a chance to sing while the Gauls plug their ears with vegetables. And the slaves brought in to build the Mansion of the Gods almost steal the show – the satire involved in their characters is top-notch.

If you want to watch a movie where Julius Caesar tries to conquer the last Gaulish village by building Roman suburbs around it, all to hilarious results, this movie is for you.

Ex Machina
On the other side of the tone spectrum, Ex Machina is a fascinating, dark, cerebral look at the possible implications of true AI. The acting is superb, and the story has some interesting twists, going in a direction I haven’t seen explored before with this topic.

My only reservation about the movie is its ending, which left me disturbed. Which is as much to say that the only thing I didn’t like about it was the conclusions the creators came to with the story and the implications of those conclusions. Which, when you think about it, speaks to the quality of the movie itself and the fact that it told a story that means something in the real world. It’s the kind of movie that will keep you thinking for long after you’ve seen it.

Stories on the Silver Screen (TV Shows)

Vampire Diaries
First off: while the TV show premiered the year after Twilight, the books it was based on were published 15 years before the Twilight books.

Second off: I stopped watching at the end of the second season because they have this tendency to kill off emotionally balanced characters and not kill off characters that create drama.

That said, here are the things I really liked about this show:

  1. The horror elements. This is far more a horror show than a teen drama, at least at the beginning.
  2. People reacted realistically to vampires. As in “this guy has been all nice and stuff, but HE’S AN UNDEAD CREATURE OF THE NIGHT WHO THIRSTS FOR MY BLOOD ABORT ABORT.”
  3. Side characters have their own plotlines. And actual personalities. HALLELUJAH.

What I didn’t like was that they didn’t know what to do with their best characters. Awesome, emotionally stable characters who would have moved the story forward in positive ways got killed because angst. Awesome, complex characters who would have enriched the story and deepened it got moved to side threads so they wouldn’t get in the way of the main story. The best, most interesting villains stopped being used as true antagonists right when they could have had the most impact on the story.

Overall, though, I’m glad I watched it because it was interesting and gave me plot bunnies (one character gets turned into a vampire at the beginning of season 2, and something about her arc grabbed me and wouldn’t let go). So there. :)

The Moon Embracing the Sun (or The Moon That Embraces the Sun)
All hail Korean dramas! This is the first one I’ve ever watched and I’m enjoying the heck out of it so far. The characters are wonderful, and the story makes it possible to have empathy for them all, often in surprising ways.

It’s historical fiction with a touch of the supernatural. There’s court politics, tragedy, and moments that make you want to pinch the characters’ cheeks because they’re just so darn cute. One thing to keep in mind is that the Netflix description doesn’t kick in until episode 6. The previous episodes tell the story leading up to that description, and give it the context that makes it meaningful. Do watch from the beginning.

Something else I wasn’t used to is the fact that each episode is an actual hour long. Keep that in mind when taking a Netflix break. :P

So, since I haven’t finished it yet, I don’t have anything to say about the overall quality of the story but, so far, it’s engaging (I’ve been talking to my computer screen far too much while watching this), comical and intense by turns, and excellent at developing its cast of characters without losing sight of the story being told.

Interactive Stories (Video Games)

Papers, Please
In this entirely tongue-in-cheek game, you play as a customs official at a border checkpoint in the 80’s for a fictional country patterned after the USSR. Aka, you decide who gets to be let into the country, the rules change every day, terrorists try to kill people, an underground organization tries to recruit you to help overthrown the government, and you’re bribed or asked break the rules on a regular basis. All while you’re trying to make enough money to pay for rent, food, heat, and medicine to keep your family alive.

If you’re looking for a game strong on hilarity, this is it. Its makers went all out to make sure every detail fits the premise, and the result is a game with 20 different endings that you unlock by who you decide to let in and who you decide to keep out. And the game really is in the details. From the syntax meant to evoke Eastern European accents to the creative number of ways people could forge their papers, from the utilitarian pixel graphics to the myriad of little storylines playing out all around you, this is a game that will make you laugh. And maybe a bit neurotic.

Gotta say, I never realized how fun it would be to play a bored customs official before.

Kingdom
I call this the game where you solve all your problems by throwing money at them. Because that’s exactly what you do.

You play as a king or queen (because you have a crown, the game’s logic goes) riding a horse back and forth across a side-scrolling landscape as you throw coins at people and things to hire villagers, build walls and towers and farms, and fend off the nightly hordes of monsters come to steal all you have. If they steal your crown, you lose. If you rid the land of them, you win. In the meantime, you survive. And keep throwing money everywhere.

It’s also a beautiful game – the pixel art, the soundtrack, and the animation are all gorgeous. The gameplay and mechanics are elegant and minimalist. Sometimes a little too minimalist, but easy enough to get used to. And still fun to play after you’ve got the hang of the strategy behind it. Because where and when you throw your money matters. Because, no matter how many times you slip up and lose your crown, you get back up again and do better this time because you’ve learned from your mistakes.

And it’s that “you can get up no matter how many times you fall” mindset that makes me want to keep playing it long after I’ve won.

Written Stories (Books)

Among Others
If I had one word to describe this book, it would be that word at the tip of your tongue that you can never quite reach.

Trying to tell you what it’s about wouldn’t do the experience of reading it justice. The story is dreamy, odd, and yet one of the most plausible contemporary fantasies I’ve ever read – I found myself half-believing it at times. There are book references galore – excellent books by excellent authors that will be familiar to fans of fantasy and science fiction – there are fairies, but not like you’ve ever read before, and there’s magic, but not like you’d expect or want if you lived with it after a steady diet of fantasy literature. There’s a story, strange and thoughtful and questioning.

There’s a book, unusual, like the word at the tip of your tongue that you can never quite reach. And yet you know you’ve never really lost it.

The Scorpio Races
I probably shouldn’t start by saying that this book is about a race with carnivorous water horses.

Except that’s the whole premise.

Except that it’s not – that’s the stage set for the story.

I found out about this book because someone on Tumblr shared a bunch of Maureen Johnson’s tweets and told everyone to follow her on Twitter. So I did. She’s hilarious. And then, through her tweets, I learned about the existence of Maggie Stiefvater, who I also followed. She’s also hilarious, but in an entirely different way than Maureen. For a while, I enjoyed her tweets and didn’t get any of her books. And then she wrote a response to a fan’s question about what to do after a breakup and how to purge oneself of emotion. Which I read and sent to someone, who loved it and said they’d read everything Maggie ever wrote just based on that and how real she is in it. After that, one thing led to another, I got a library card, and now I’ve read The Scorpio Races.

And it’s real.

It breathes, and so do the characters.

It takes a total emotional nosedive and almost makes you want to write angry letters about how wrong and horrible everything is and how it can’t possibly be going in this direction.

But the writer of that response to the fan’s question also wrote the ending to The Scorpio Races.

Come for the carnivorous horses, stay for the emotional integrity

You’ll know what I mean when you get there.

Audio Art (Music)

Clean Bandit
In December, a friend of mine was back in town for Christmas before heading back to university in the States, and he wanted to pick up a copy of Hidden in Sealskin before he went. So we worked out the logistics and, afterwards, he informed me that he was addicted to the music of this group called Clean Bandit, who I’d never heard of before. As he said “I am addict. Please help.” After listening to said music, I informed him there was nothing I could do to help. I was also addict.

They weave electronic, natural, and instrumental sounds together into playful, confident music that’s contagious in its optimism. It’s clear with every note that these are people who are passionate about what they do, and who take every chance they get to delight their listeners. I would say more, but it’s probably best that I just let you start with the same song I did:

When I later handed my friend his copy of Hidden in Sealskin, it was signed with an apology. As we all know, books only enable music listening.

Empty Nest, Mree’s third album
I first discovered Mree’s music when she was still doing covers on Youtube. And, wow, are they gorgeous. Two in particular that struck me were Casimir Pulaski Day by Sufjan Stevens and Blood by the Middle East.

And then she released her first album, Grow, with her signature ethereal music and thoughtful lyrics. Good as it was, Empty Nest is her best album yet. I’m listening to it right now, and it’s exquisite. She’s excellent at creating mood and atmosphere, and there’s an elegant stillness to each song even as the lyrics, coupled with the rise and fall of interwoven melodies, deal with difficult emotions.

 

And that’s all she wrote! I hope you found something cool to goof off with this weekend. Have a great one! :D

3 Responses to The Art of Goofing Off: Episode 1

  1. I love this post! What a great idea to share what lights up your days currently. Could you insert links in your posts? I’d love to buy some of these items through you. I especially loved the idea of playing “Papers, Please”. I had never heard of it and wonder how come?! It has to be a great way to kill time :) As for Kingdom, there are so many video games out there called “Kingdom something” or “something Kingdom” that I got lost trying to find the one you are mentioning. I’ll return to see if there are links inserted in your post in the future (I don’t mind affiliate links!) Have a fun day!

    • Thanks! And I’ve added links :)

      The reason you’ve probably not heard of Papers, Please is because it’s an indie game. Unless you’re into those and look for them, they tend not to fly across your radar a whole lot. But they’re also cheaper and quirkier, so expect to hear about more of them from me. :)