BOLTS ARE NUTS (OR: WHEN TYLER, CREATES) | 7th August, MMXVII

I’d have to admit that I’m not watching much TV lately, although to be fair I’m fully dedicated to a couple YouTube channels almost on a daily basis, which in 2017 does in fact mean that I’m watching TV lately, right? Well, by that I mainly mean that the global Netflix and TV series hysteria club that has been going on for about 34 years now has just fairly recently lost one of its least proudest members, partly because in my humblest opinion there actually aren’t that many good shows around at the moment, and partly because the fact that I recently moved country of residence implies that I’m now enjoying vastly reduced catalogues and streaming service offerings as opposed to what I was used to in the mighty United Kingdom.

What I haven’t stopped being into for even a single minute is music though, and in that regard I recently launched a fiery and incendiary ether debate on Twitter by asking the Interweb.com to compare Vince Staples’s latest album Big Fish Theory with the one of leader and co-founder of the alternative hip hop collective Odd Future, i.e. American rapper, record producer, and music video director Tyler, The Creator. Tyler’s fourth studio LP Flower Boy dropped a little more than two weeks ago on 21st July and has since been on heavy rotation on yours truly’s high fidelity FM. I thus have been fiercely flirting and battling with the thought of delivering another highly-subjectively biased hip-hop/rap ARM instalment for the good part of the past week, only to then find out that there was so much more going on artistically with Tyler, The Creator at the moment worth mentioning to say the least.

Besides launching his very own take on the legendary Converse One Star shoe model in visual conjunction with his newest record, aka the One Star X Golf le Fleur, Tyler also debuted as the host and main mind of a brand new TV show on Vice Media’s channel VICELAND called Nuts + Bolts, accompanied by the following promotional caption: “Tyler, the Creator explores the things he loves and the ways they work, with the help of experts and personal heroes”. Needless to say I was extremely captivated by whole idea of the programme, and realizing that it would all be steered by the raw, twisted, and inspiring mind of Tyler only made for an even bigger excitement on my part. Nuts + Bolts premiered on Friday 4th August with an episode called “Stop Motion” dealing with… stop motion (!) and the exploration of a specific sub-discipline called clay animation (Wallace and Gromit anyone!?).

As I already anticipated over on holy grail Twitter when the episode first aired, great TV in an age of abundance and overwhelming noise to me is when it can reveal you something you didn’t necessarily know before, which in this specific case was my discovery of how cool of a movie technique stop motion actually is. The amount of dedication, precision, and effort that go into producing a segment even as short as a rad and badass one minute piece like Tyler himself did at the end of the first episode is simply astonishing and admirable. Make damn sure you check out the first episode in full on VICELAND’s site by clicking here (or head over to good ol’ Facebook if you’re not currently living in a country under Donald J. Trump’s presidency). The segment literally turned me into a deep admirer of said practice, to the point that I’m now super willing to learn more and get informed as to how and where I could potentially materialise a project on my own. Yet I’m digressing, the whole point I’m trying to make is that Nuts + Bolts is shaping up to become both a very entertaining and truly informative modern-day TV series/doc, stemming surprisingly enough from a man at times as despised as society’s biggest villains.

The amazing aspect about the show is that a quick look at its trailer – first released back in June – reveals that in addition to stop motion an incredibly vast and incredibly cool list of topics will be covered throughout the programme, ranging from sneakers and go-karts to donuts and time-travel. I’m just in love with the idea that as far as content programming, anything goes in the series and nothing is too wild to be omitted a priori, as it’s quite clearly very hard to find a lowest common theme encompassing every episode’s focus. I guess the formula to describe Nuts + Bolts was actually cracked by the man himself, when during the main trailer he says that it “[…] is a show describing how everything that I think is awesome is made”. I’m voting for this one.

I guess the funny thing in all of this is that thanks to Tyler, The Creator and his trademark way of making even bolts go nuts I will soon indeed be watching a lot of TV again, with its tentacles permeating through every possible gateway of my digitally consumed life. Not that this might necessarily be a bad thing per se, not at all in fact if all TV I watch is as catchy and cocky as Nuts + Bolts, yet I still can’t help but always be a little bit worried about not finding enough time to do everything my instincts tell me to, especially when it comes to checking out new music. The fact that the whole reason why I got into TV again with this show was actually because of me checking out new music is kind of uber ironic, I do hand it to you. Yet in life most things do indeed get a full circle if one looks close enough. Pretty much like nuts and bolts and bolts being nuts.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

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WHERE DOES THE HOUSE OF CARDS LIE? | 13th March, MMXVI

The fourth season of Netflix’s original drama series House of Cards premiered earlier this month on 4th March and it’s obviously already all over everyone’s mouth. Similarly to previous seasons, the latest instalment of the highly successful and critically acclaimed political web series dropped all thirteen episodes at once thus pleasing hungry and indebted binge-watchers who eagerly waited for over a year to properly nurture their fictional thirst further with cutting-edge political intrigues. Despite this one being a very hot and concurrent period for big TV series releases and new season premieres – see for instance Better Call Saul, Vinyl, Love, Daredevil and Flaked to name just a few… – House of Cards quickly and intensively stole the scene for me emerging as the preferred streaming choice lately among the aforementioned titles. A good reason for this is undoubtedly the show’s extremely catchy and dense plot, full of deep one-to-one confrontations, narrative twists, and terrific cliff hangers that it’s probably safe to say have only gotten better with time, if compared to the previous three seasons. Sometimes I truly wonder how much more suspense can legitimately be created in the storyline without falling into the risk of self-reference and fast-food entertaining stimuli constructed pretty much just for the sake of it: well, the writers (as well as the actors involved) somehow always manage to contradict me while delivering solid, surprisingly credible and especially status quo-relevant narratives.

It’s precisely this very last attribute that I’d like to detail in more depth after having almost approached the end of the season: namely the show creators’ ability to sustainably grow with and adapt to the changing times, partially in a chillingly realistic fashion. [Readers don’t worry at this stage as I won’t unveil anything plot-specific that will ruin your entertaining experience with the show (THIS BLOGPOST HAS BEEN DECLARED SPOILER-FREE BY THE MPAA®), whilst I’m sure a good portion of you will have already gone through it all by the time you’re reading this and will only have to agree on the point I’m about to make].

Back to the main track. My argument here is that it’s somewhat surreal to note how many parallelisms and real world-related happenings are outlined throughout the whole season.  Undoubtedly, this has also to do with the current simultaneous 2016 United States presidential election and related campaigning somewhat reflected in the fictional story telling of House of Cards’ fourth season, though aside from this (not entirely insignificant) tie there are a number of other strong connections between the show and real-world politics. Take for example main character Frank Underwood’s ruthless and pragmatic modus operandi recalling some of Donald Trump’s bold and controversial statements referring to radical decisions (albeit substantial party-specific differences), or even fictional Secretary of State Catherine Durant both physical and attitudinal resemblance to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Or again, on a more macro-political level, the analogous National Rifle Association’s controversies, tense relationships with other major countries such as Russia and China and, last but not least, ISIS-ICO’s terrorist threats presented under different name but having strikingly similar motives. This is obviously overlooking other minor but certainly not less influential similitudes between a blurry fiction and reality continuum, such as the role of spin doctoring in both everyday politics administration and campaign management, the disruptive and increasing role of the Internet as well as the inflated ego-centrism of political leaders eventually flowing into enhanced personalisation of politics.

However, what it’s most striking to me here is that, if one does the historical recalling right, the events and trends emerging from House of Cards appear to have preceded many of their look-a-like happenings in real life, at least as far as the writing and shooting go. At this point a variety of questions could arise. Did Frank Underwood’s cynical and pragmatic skills inspire modern day politicians and delegates? Does the dark and cutthroat spectre that contours Netflix show’s have something to do with the more and more scandal-filled and fear-driven showcasing of American politics? Did the strong profiles of Claire Underwood, Heather Dunbar, and Catherine Durant play a role in cementing and fortifying Clinton’s ambition for the White House this year? In some ways, it’s as if in the realm of politics fiction has come to acquire some kind of influence towards reality, and while this can’t legitimately be fully true – or can it? Conspiracy NWO-Hollywoodian theorist debating in 3, 2, 1… – one could the least note here is that show creators Beau Willimon and David Fincher could’ve earned a hella lot of money had they bet on the concretisation of some of their fictionally created events in the series. Again, think of not just when the series is being premiered online but also about the realisation that such shows originate years back from when they first air and normally go through long processes of conception, writing, casting, pre-production and shooting that can take ages. Hence, there should definitely be room to ask where the title-referenced house of cards really lies, is it in the apparent fictional world of TV shows or in our concrete everyday life reflected by ongoing campaigning and political manoeuvring? To say it all, at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if on 8th November it will be Frank Underwood’s big smiling face that will be taking over everyone’s screens.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

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THE DARKER SIDE OF MAGIC: PRAISE FOR LEV GROSSMAN’S “THE MAGICIANS” | 26th August, MMXV

—- THIS BLOGPOST HAS BEEN DECLARED SPOILERS-FREE BY THE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN PUBLISHERS

So go on, read it.

The past two-three weeks have been quite a tumultuous time for yours sincerely, having had to deal with a frenetic and exhausting flat-search in the living hell that the city of London is, the finalization of the Master’s dissertation (to which a separate blogpost may possibly be dedicated, since it’s partially about music), and the adventurous beginning of a new employment in the realm of video technologies. Thankfully, such overwhelming slices of pressing, yet compulsory time have been balanced and championed with some quality escapism accompanied by HBO’s brilliant second season of True Detective (with an outstanding performance by Colin Farrell) and, more relevantly, by US novelist Lev Grossman’s first book of his fantasy trilogy sensation “The Magicians“. Despite having published the first self-titled book of the saga already in 2009, the trilogy only seemed to have reached widespread mainstream attention over the past few years (unless I’m really, really late to the party…). In fact, its extraordinary popularity may momentarily be confined more to the USA (not least judging by the fact that the book seems to be physically untraceable in UK’s bookshops, get it through Amazon folks), although given its potential I wouldn’t be surprised to see it taking over this part of the Atlantic quite soon as well.

It is precisely for this last reason that I’d like to frame the present blogpost as both a genuine suggestion to insert “The Magicians” in your bucket-list of upcoming “must” readings and as personal praise to its plot and narrative. As I’ve already pointed out, the novel is the first book of a fantasy saga completed by “The Magician King” (2011) and “The Magician’s Land” (2014), and it tells the story of 17-year-old student and brainy talent Quentin Coldwater, who suddenly finds himself thrown into New York’s highly secret and exclusive Brakebills College to pursuit a cutting-edge education in magic and begins his personal journey into the good-bad juxtapositional worlds of real magic rawness. I have to say though, as I’m writing this I find myself being only at about two-thirds of the book, and while this of course positively restrains me from giving away too much in terms of the content, I must convey to you that I’m still unable to deliver a total judgement of the first instalment. I know, I know, this shouldn’t ever be done when dealing with literary reviews (blasphemy claims in 3, 2, 1…), but to be honest I really felt this was the right momentum to let you all know about this linguistic beauty. Also, in all frankness, even if from here on out the book really only delivers first-class shit until its conclusion, it would nonetheless still be saved by the greatness of the insights I’ve come to read so far. And by insights I mean the directness, honesty and tangibility of Quentin’s experiences at Brakebills, obviously transposed into a realm of fantasy landscapes, supernatural forces and powerful wizardry.

What I mean by all this is I guess Grossman’s literal and stylistic sensibility that allows him and the reader to perceive Quentin’s adventures as personally relatable as ever, and yet so dislocated from the very realities that shape us on an everyday basis. By placing Quentin’s social encounters, extravagant successes, and painful struggles through the brightest of days and the darkest of nights within such a surreal scenario, the author in fact constructs a deeper connection to such dynamics that trascends their own contextualisation. That is, it’s literally impossible not to emphatize with the protagonist as he goes through all of his challenges at Brakebills, precisely because the things that come to happen in Quentin’s life, from recalibrating one’s young adult self-confidence or coping with life’s ephemeral temptations and disillusionments, are exactly the same ones that sooner or later, and with varying intensities, will cross our life paths too. Some, probably too many, like to draw comparisons between “The Magicians” and Harry Potter or even more hazardously with Narnia, though I really think Grossman’s story is capable of better digging into our most inner selves than it’s the case with the other two masterpieces, probably also because it may relate even more to young adults like me. In this regard, and also ’cause now that I’ve entered the door of the fantasy world I’m probably authoritatively obliged to mention his opinion, “Game of Thrones” bestselling author George R. R. Martin likes to think the following of Grossman’s effort:

“The Magicians is to Harry Potter as a shot of Irish whiskey is to a glass of weak tea. Solidly rooted in the traditions of both fantasy and mainstream literary fiction, the novel tips its hat to Oz and Narnia as well as to Harry, but don’t mistake this for a children’s book. Grossman’s sensibilities are thoroughly adult, his narrative dark and dangerous and full of twists. Hogwarts was never like this.”

What I think it would be cool to do, for me, is to update you all on the matter a little later in time, possibly after having completed the first novel and having read the rest of the trilogy, which I predict it may happen in a not so distant future given the degree of appreciation I’m having for this. I honestly don’t know what to expect from the rest of the plot, not even what may happen before the end if this first instalment, but all in all I truly believe this is exactly what good reads should be all about. Thus, this one is definitely “to be continued”, unless I get myself invited and initiated into a mysterious and gloomy academy for magic in one of London’s suburbs, in which case, judging by Quentin’s fate, I may or may not ever come back the same…

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

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BETTER WATCH SAUL | 24th February, MMXV

Gotta say I’m pretty caught up with “Breaking Bad” (BB)’s newly aired spin-off TV series “Better Call Saul” (BCS), again created by those wicked masterminds who go by the credentials of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould. Although the show is officially only 3 episodes in, I feel like it’s already taking an unbelievably wonderful direction. Of course, as a long-time fan of what I’d have to consider the best TV product of all time (or at least that I’ve come in contact with), it wasn’t a difficult task for me at all to immediately feel closeness as well as tender empathy with the now-small-time-lawyer James McGill, who – surprise, surprise, who’d have said that?! – over the course of 7 fictional years will develop into the skunky ‘too cool for school’-attorney in law Saul Goodman folks have gotten to meet in BB.

Excuse me the spared dense description of both the BB and BCS’s story lines and extensive plots but I think there are enough well-written paragraphs out there on the Interweb providing this service for those who aren’t familiar with the two shows.  This take is just to shout out to another great piece of art minutely crafted off of the golden bones of what could have been a very dangerous source of corpsy-screenplay if treated and steered incorrectly. Yet, both the immediate appearance of radically-tensed action of the first three episodes of the first season as well as the introduction and adaptation to the show of very solid and extremely appreciable characters (the Kettleman couple, and Julie Ann Emery is too pretty [!], Nacho Varga, and James’s brother-and-also-lawyer Chuck McGill above all) is building up an extensive amount of high expectations with regard to the continuation of the overall series (which, by the way, has been already successfully commissioned for a second season and which you can watch on Netflix).

If it hasn’t become clear enough with these lines yet that I can’t do nothing but suggest you to embrace in the adventure of drawing in the magic of BCS, then I’m doing it right now anyway: well, it’s totally worth it. Drama, black-comedy, fictional-realism, just comedy without drama, just drama without comedy (and judging by the first episodes the tendency may well be this one…), call it whatever it may best suit you. Fact is, you should totally give this show a try, especially now that it’s still in its initial phase of taking-off in order to not miss out too much and don’t get anxious about potential spoilers as it was the case with BB. By the way, once again, I’m already sure this one is going to take home a consistent amount of awards emulating what its older brother has been doing in the past five years or so. 100% sure.

Furthermore, the very kind and generous production team of BCS has been also putting on a lovely podcast which follows the series with conspicuous commentary and analysis episode-by-episode. Captained by BCS editor Kelley Dixon on the moderating mic, so far it has hosted no others than show creators themselves Gilligan and Gould, alongside main star Bob Odenkirk in episodes 1 and 2). It’s actually pretty great (and it may be the only truly official podcast accompanying the series too, if I’m not mistaking), it delivers plenty of anecdotes and behind-the-scenes revelations of the shootings and, beyond everything, it helps contextualising not only each episode but also the big picture of the series in a beautiful and funny manner. I’ll only concede the fact that they may tend to be rather long (over 1 hour and 15 min each), although, first of all, for me they’re not too long at all, and second, they never get boring, honest to the Lord.

All in all, I’d really suggest you harvest my council of embarking in the BCS cinematic adventure, at best with the addition of the complementing podcast, but I’ll leave you that also just the TV series can do a lot of good to you. You definitely better watch Saul.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

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