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Dom Schwab’s 2019 Favs: Books, Music, Film, Television, Stage

dom schwab

Now that we are nearly a third of the way through 2020, I felt a Year-In-Review of 2019 was sort of obsolete, but the astute “herocious” brought to my attention that a list/piece such as this may yet be of value. Namely, with so many people in Quarantine due to the Novel Coronavirus, this list of works I enjoyed during 2019 might inspire some people to ingest new works of art that they may not have done otherwise, which would, in turn, broaden their horizon. As such, I think it prudent then to provide this list, so that, while in self-isolation, people might have the opportunity to have their interest(s) piqued, which may in turn make them consume new art, which in turn would ultimately make people learn and grow and, thus, become better humans. With this goal in mind, here is the list and a few blurbs about some of the entries. Enjoy.

First, there are lists of the most memorable and favorite works enjoyed for the first time by Dom throughout the year of 2019. Then, there are a few blurbs regarding some of the works in question, which provide answers or mild analyses of the work in question.

LISTS

Books:

  1. LIVEBLOG (2018) – Megan Boyle [began reading in 2018, finished in 2019]
  2. Elevation (2018) – Stephen King
  3. Women Are Some Kind of Magic – Amanda Lovelace
    1. the princess saves herself in this one (2016/7)
    2. the witch doesn’t burn in this one (2018)
    3. the mermaid’s voice returns in this one (2019)
  4. Slant Six (2014) – Erin Belieu
  5. A Night Without Armor (1998) – Jewel
  6. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (2011; trans. 2014) – Marie Kondo
  7. The Secret History of Twin Peaks (2016) – Mark Frost
  8. The Southern Reach Trilogy (2014) – Jeff VanderMeer
    1. Annihilation
    2. Authority
    3. Acceptance
  9. Consider the Lobster (2005) & Both Flesh and Not (2012) – David Foster Wallace
  10. Free Will (2012) – Sam Harris
  11. Under the Dome (2009) – Stephen King
  12. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939) – T. S. Eliot
  13. Information Blossoms (2019) – Ryan Bry
  14. The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre (1963; 1982) – H. P. Lovecraft (ed. August Derleth; Introduction by Robert Bloch)
  15. Frankenstein (1831 edition) – Mary Shelley
  16. David Lynch: Someone is in my House (2018) – David Lynch & Stijn Huijts & others

Music:

  1. The Moon & Antarctica (2000) – Modest Mouse
  2. “Ill Wind” (2019) – Radiohead
  3. FABRICLIVE 93: Daphni (2017) – Daphni
  4. Ouroboros (2016) – Ray LaMontagne
  5. Buoys (2019) – Panda Bear
  6. Odelay (1996) – Beck
  7. Anima (2019) – Thom Yorke
  8. Comforter (2019) – Bodywash
  9. Hyperspace (2019) – Beck
  10. Little Earthquakes (1991) – Tori Amos

Film:

  1. Leaving Neverland (2019) – Dan Reed
  2. The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) – Orson Welles
  3. They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018) – Morgan Neville
  4. Anima (2019) – Thom Yorke & Paul Thomas Anderson
  5. Midsommar (2019) – Ari Aster
  6. You Were Never Really Here (2017) – Lynne Ramsay, Perf. Joaquin Phoenix
  7. The Hateful Eight (2015) – Quintin Tarantino, Perf. Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, et al.
  8. Joker (2019) – Todd Phillips, Perf. Joaquin Phoenix
  9. 3 from Hell (2019) – Rob Zombie
  10. The Lighthouse (2019) – Robert Eggers, Perf. James Pattinson & Willem Dafoe
  11. Eli (2019) – Ciarán Foy
  12. Pumpkinhead (1988) – Stan Winston
  13. Knives Out (2019) – Rian Johnson
  14. The End of the Tour (2015) – Dir. James Ponsoldt, Writ. Donald Margulies, Perf. Jason Segel & Jesse Eisenberg
  15. Mystic River (2003) – Clint Eastwood

Television/Stand-Up Specials:

  1. Stranger Things, Season 3 (2019) – Matt & Ross Duffer, Perf. Winona Ryder, David Harbour, et al.
  2. The Keepers (2017) – Ryan White
  3. Wild Wild Country (2018) – Maclain Way & Chapman Way
  4. American Horror Story, Season 1 (2011) – Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk
  5. Paper Tiger (2019) – Bill Burr
  6. The Hateful Eight, Extended Version/Limited Series (2019) – Quintin Tarantino; Perf. Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, et al.
  7. Schitt’s Creek, Season 5 (2019) – creators/dir./perf. Dan & Eugene Levy, perf. Catherine O’Hara, Annie Murphy, Emily Hampshire, et al.
  8. The Good Place, Seasons 1–4.9 (2016-9) – Michael Schur, Perf. Kristen Bell & Ted Danson
  9. I Am a Killer, Season 1 (2018) – dir/prod. Ingo Nyakairu
  10. Castle Rock, Season 2 (2019) – Sam Shaw & Dustin Thomason
  11. Magic for Humans, Season 2 (2019) – Justin Willman; dir. Adam Franklin

Stage:

  • Little Shop of Horrors @ Mercury Theater Chicago

BLURBS

Books:

  1. Women Are Some Kind of Magic (2016, 2018, 2019) – Amanda Lovelace
    1. Having heard of the princess saves herself in this one, I got the first two books of this loosely connected poetry trilogy at a discount, later reading these micropoetry collections with delight. I read the third book about 6mo. later, which I did not quite enjoy as much, but I appreciated what Lovelace had done with the book and, to me, it seemed a logical conclusion to the former two collections.
  2. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (2011; trans. 2014) – Marie Kondo
    1. Admittedly, I found the brief, airy style of this book to be delightful; having watched Marie Kondo’s recent Netflix special, it became easy to hear her voice while reading her (translated) words. Additionally, this book shifted the way I understand my possessions and, thus, has aided my ability to let go of things I no longer use or require, even things with long-standing sentimental value.
  3. The Southern Reach Trilogy (2014) – Jeff VanderMeer
    1. My boyfriend, James, and I saw the adaptation of Annihilation in theaters, which deeply impressed both of us; as such, we bought the trilogy, at which point James read the books and then, this summer, I read them. I found the first novel to be intriguing, the second to be a paranoid cat-&-mouse tale, and the third to be, as a conclusion, a crowning achievement of VanderMeer’s cosmic trilogy: Acceptance’s mirrored structuring, shifting storylines, shocking revelations, and kept secrets are beautifully wrought and worthy of applause.
  4. Consider the Lobster (2005) & Both Flesh and Not (2012) – David Foster Wallace
    1. David Foster Wallace, being one of my favorite authors, was a perfect chameleon in style, tone, and subject. Taking these two collections of his essays back-to-back is, I would say, enlightening, for they are both collected over a span of numerous years, but differ in the methodology of collection: the essays of Consider the Lobster were collected by Wallace’s own hand while those of Both Flesh and Not were collected posthumously (by necessity) and, despite the editor’s flaw of placing the titular essay at the beginning of the work, were ordered chronologically.
  5. Free Will (2012) – Sam Harris
    1. While it appears as though there may be new, empirical evidence which vindicates the existence of each person’s Free Will, Harris’ brief book is argued fairly well and deeply thought-provoking. Apart from Marie Kondo’s debut, no other book I have read this year has been as successful as Sam Harris’ book-length essay at making me reconsider my preconceptions and beliefs.
  6. Information Blossoms (2019) – Ryan Bry
    1. A shapeshifting book of poems, Ryan Bry’s poetry function as a slice of mental expression divorced from restraints: a stream-of-conscious collections of pieces which, as a whole, showcase the random flickerings of a mind at work: thoughts, feelings, opinions, memories, hopes, dreams, observations, etc. Immortalized by artistic words, Information Blossoms, like a kaleidoscope, shifts, changes, and self-references a variety of subjects, from romantic love to familial experiences, from drugs to video games, from joy to ennui—in this way, it is a very human poetry.
  7. The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre (1963; 1982) – H. P. Lovecraft (ed. August Derleth; Introduction by Robert Bloch)
    1. I have owned this book since high school, but never ventured to read it. However, James and I have been playing a board game over the past year which I bought for him on Christmas, 2018, called “Arkham Horror,” which is based upon the stories of H. P. Lovecraft. This is easily our favorite game, so I finally decided to crack open this book and read it this autumn; I have been delighted at the horror and monsters Lovecraft dreamed up, and I lament that I hadn’t taken the time to discover this weird fiction in my youth, as I would have loved it. That being said, my favorite stories included were “The Dreams in the Witch House,” “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Whisperer in Darkness,” “The Colour Out of Space,” and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”
  8. Frankenstein (1831 edition) – Mary Shelley
    1. Of course, I’ve known the main story for most of my life, but it was (as it always is) refreshing and exciting to read the original source. Shelley’s novel is a conglomerate of her life: the philosophy she learned, the Romantic poetry she read, the people she knew, the tragedy of death she witnessed again & again… Frankenstein manages to tell a somewhat simple story eloquently and with real human feeling. Interestingly, The Monster is far more empathetic and touching than Victor Frankenstein who, in 2019, comes across as an emo wimp. And yet, even he is worthy of pity, for this is a work of Romanticism, after all; and, of course, a work of horror, of science fiction, of philosophical musings, of Byronic feeling, and of veiled symbolism about the story of the writer creating the text. It’s a beautiful novel and, if you’ve never read the actual text, I recommend it.

Music:

  1. Ouroboros (2016) – Ray LaMontagne
    1. I had not heard of Ray LaMontagne, but one day, at work, I heard the song “Hey No Pressure” on the radio and was immediately struck by it, so much so that I stopped what I was doing to Google the lyrics, thereby discovering the song and the singer. Shortly thereafter, I downloaded the divided Ouroboros, which I found to be delicate, rockin’, frightful, beautiful, gorgeous, aching, and deeply heartfelt. Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a painful close to an album as LaMontagne’s—not simply the final song itself, but the strategic ending to both a song and an album…it is masterfully handled and has yet to fail bringing a tear to my eye.
  2. Buoys (2019) – Panda Bear
    1. As with most Panda Bear albums, it took a while for this album to grow on me. In fact, I didn’t really like very much of it at first, save “Token,” which is a gem of a song. But, like crystals underground, other songs began to grow within my consciousness and, eventually, Panda Bear’s newest album earned its place in my heart.
  3. Anima (2019) – Thom Yorke
    1. I waited up all night for the ‘drop’ of Thom Yorke’s latest album, Anima (as well as Yorke’s collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson on the one-reeler short film Anima on Netflix), but by then I was deeply tired and rather drunk. As such, Yorke’s album was rather elusive upon my first listening, but, over the following days, I listened to this album countless times. Unfortunately, I found the album itself to be, while cohesive sounding, half majestic and half lackluster; nevertheless, when the songs succeed (“Twist,” “Dawn Chorus,” “I Am A Very Rude Person,” “Not the News”), they prove Yorke is one of the most innovative artists working today.
  4. Comforter (2019) – Bodywash
    1. One day, while perusing the recently releases on iTunes, a single album cover caught my attention: Bodywash’s Comforter. This is how I often shopped for new music in high school at Borders: if the artwork was good, then the music must probably be good too; I have rarely, if ever, been let down by this rule. As such, I listened to a clip of the first song on their album and, impressed, I bought the album and deeply enjoyed it. Bodywash’s Comforter is an album of hushed confessions, droning/distorted guitars, and quiet beats. The shoegaze, dreampop aesthetic, both musically and lyrically, of this lovely little album will indeed prove itself to be as healing as staying buried beneath in bed for a lazy afternoon.
  5. Hyperspace (2019) – Beck
    1. A fun, enjoyable little album, Beck’s latest work, largely with Pharrell Williams’ assistance, dives into the pixelated production space; perhaps the best example is the oscillating chiming bells in the background of the album’s strongest song, “Uneventful Days,” and the foreground, slightly sharp bell-sounds of the album’s second strongest song, “Chemical.” The rest of the album, while solid and enjoyable, lags behind these two former songs and the closing track, “Everlasting Nothing,” which returns to acoustic sensibilities and functions as the counterbalance to the earlier track, “Saw Lightning,” which is as dancey and bombastic as “Everlasting Nothing” is stoic and determined in its message.

Film:

  1. The Other Side of the Wind (filmed/produced 1970-80s; released 2018) – Orson Welles
    1. I had heard of this film, but hadn’t exactly understood what it was. Early this year, on a day off and alone in the apartment, I decided to check it out, especially after having watched The Magnificent Ambersons by Orson Welles. First, however, I watched the companion documentary about Welles’ final, unfinished film, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead. Taken together, the documentary fills out one’s understanding of the film, but the film is beautiful and rich and mysterious all on its own. The brief scenes involving Oja Kodar, particularly her sex scene in a car, were far more gorgeous and captivating than most entire films ever manage to be.
  2. Anima (2019) – Thom Yorke & Paul Thomas Anderson
    1. Given what I’ve written above about Yorke’s album, I’ll only add to the background here that, having stayed up until 2am and finishing off 3-4 beers, I found the one-reeler short film to be exquisite. So beautiful in surreal, dreamlike storytelling, so gorgeous and abstract in the contemporary dances, so current w/r/t the opening scenes on a traveling commuter train… It’s a beautiful, gorgeous work which incorporates some of Anderson’s trademarks, like the use of reflected light a la Punch-Drunk Love. Given all the films I’ve seen throughout 2019, I think the luscious Anima may well be my favorite.
  3.  Midsommar (2019) – Ari Aster
    1. James and I saw Hereditary last year, which promptly blew me away with its masterful moodiness and terror; I was then deeply invested in seeing Aster’s follow-up, Midsommar. The juxtaposed tone in the trailer for Aster sophomore film got me super excited; and, while I enjoyed the film very much, I didn’t love it quite as much as I thought I would. Perhaps I expected too much, but, ultimately, I found the execution of the final product to be lacking. The colorful scenes, the depressingly dark preamble, the astute camerawork, and the story itself were all excellently utilized, but, at the end of the day, something about the final product felt stunted. Of course, it is reported that the original cut of the film was supposed to be something like 4 hours long, and then an extended cut of the film was released, which was closer to 3.5 hours long; perhaps these longer versions would have been more satisfying to me, but the film itself is beautiful and, despite its brief timeframe, there is enough there to be successful.
  4. Joker (2019) – Todd Phillips, Perf. Joaquin Phoenix
    1. It seems impossible to have seen this film and compose a “favorite” list of 2019 AND not say somethingabout Todd Phillips’ non-Todd Phillips Joker. Well, for starters, this film would have been a massive failure as a work of art if anyone but Joaquin Phoenix had played Arthur/Joker and if he had not thrown himself into the role as insanely as he has. Perhaps, in a perfect world, if Heath Ledger had lived, he could have revived his role from The Dark Knight and then that would have been a better situation, but as it is, there needed to be a new face put to The Joker; as such, there is nearly nobody alive today who is as dedicated an actor and young enough to have pulled off this role other than Phoenix. Furthermore, being as big a fanboy for Paul Thomas Anderson’s work as I am, I have seen his intense acting in both The Masterand Inherent Vice, and so I was, despite hating superhero movies, excited for this film because I knew Phoenix could pull it off. Anyway, as a film, it was ultimately somewhat lackluster, and I felt embarrassment for the filmmakers when the chosen song for the infamous stair-dancing scene was played; however, when all is said and done, I found the film to be successful in its artwork and successful in being a-film-that-happens-to-be-a-comic-book-movie and not simply a-comic-book-movie. The tiny scenes which touched upon the larger Batman Universe were not gratuitous, but existed as subtle nods to the Batman canon. Lastly, I simply must admit that, ultimately, I found the shrill warnings of many online to be akin to a moral panic; while Joker is dark, it is far from the darkest material to be put to film (or music or literature, for that matter), which thus resulted in my judging those who “walked out” of the film to be sad or befuddling. While the depiction of violence in Joker was grounded in a gritty realism, which was a bit shocking and, there have been films in which far worse happens—horror films immediately come to mind—which simply fail to garner anything like an analogous response from those online. Basically, Jokeris a well-made, though not perfect, film and if violence of a realistic nature (as opposed to the cartoonish nature of comic book movies) seems off-putting, then simply skip it and watch Captain Marvel instead.
  5. 3 from Hell (2019) – Rob Zombie
    1. Possessing a love of the horror genre since junior high, I was able to see House of 1000 Corpses before I was of legal age to do so; as such, Zombie’s debut film is one of my favorite horror films of all time. So of course I was extremely excited for a revival of his Firefly family franchise with 3 from Hell. While the second installment, The Devil’s Rejects, had taken a bit of time to grow on me, I expected the third installment to likewise not immediately grasp me; rightly, I was right. 3 from Hell was premiered as a limited event, three-night event and I was able to attend the third night. Before showing 3 from Hell, they showed The Devil’s Rejects, which, now after several years of love the sophomore film, I was grateful for watching on the big screen. Then came the main event, which was unfortunately not amazing, though it delivered on the promise of being very different from the previous two films. There is one assessment by an online writer that perhaps Zombie could have given a supernatural explanation for the miraculous revival of Captain Spaulding, Baby, and Otis, which would have been neat, especially if it had been coupled with a Hell-dwelling Dr. Satan, but this was not so. Instead, it quickly becomes apparent that this film is going to demand a different viewing mode than the previous two films; by the time Sid Haig’s Captain Spaulding is put to death at the beginning of the film, it seems apparent that this film, having been made over a decade after the release of the prior installment, will be vastly different. In this way, Zombie’s 3 from Hell seemed to be of such a different tone and style that it is analogous to David Lynch’s early Twin Peaks efforts and the eventual Twin Peaks: The Return (A Limited Event Series). As I settled into this type of headspace, I came to enjoy 3 from Hell, though I wouldn’t say I loved it; indeed, I appreciated numerous and varying scenes and scenarios, understanding them to be riffing upon prior works of art by other artists as opposed to being somewhat original, as was seen with House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. For example, early in the film, Baby escapes reality by staring into a dusting vent (see: David Lynch’s Eraserhead) and, inside, she witnesses a humanoid figure with a kitty-cat head and paws for hands, which recalls the kitty-cat personae Baby once assumed in the hierarchy of the Firefly Family and also references the musical/opera Cats, which, coincidentally, was also made into a film this year, and whose first trailer had been released mere days before the 3-night premiere event of 3 from Hell. Zombie’s third installment in the Firefly Family saga, while not necessarily asked for, was useful because it served as a vehicle for Zombie to make these references and add his voice and perspective to these tropes; and yet, there are shortcomings as well, perhaps most notably during what could have been an intimate scene between siblings Baby and Otis, who, after reminiscing about their father Captain Spaulding, speculate upon the meaning of life. Given the fact that the audience knows that these two Firefly members can be cold, heartless killers when needed, one would have hoped that Zombie could have had them both be a little more philosophical or pointed in their conversation than the final result proved to be. At best, we could say that Otis is uncomfortable with the “meaning of life” question that Baby puts to him, but at worst, this is lazy and unimaginative writing on Zombie’s part. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the film for what it was (even the embarrassing clown-hostage scene, which, again, I viewed less as an original scene and more as a way for Zombie to riff upon both the recent It films and the bizarre occurrences of people dressing up as clowns and terrorizing public parks and neighborhoods).
  6. The Lighthouse (2019) – Robert Eggers, Perf. James Pattinson & Willem Dafoe
    1. A beautiful shot film, the black-and-white of Eggers’ second film was glorious and necessary for the way in which this story was to be told. Again, I found numerous ways in which Eggers’ riffed upon other works of art (Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, VanderMeer’s Acceptance, London’s The Sea-Wolf, etc.) in order to craft something new and mesmerizing. I was struck by the film, and was shocked at certain scenes, and excited by the various tableaux throughout the film. I was deeply impressed with the acting of Willem Dafoe and, especially, James Pattinson. Unfortunately, I found the editing to be choppy and, eventually, incoherent, which may have been the point, given the loose mental psyches of the two characters, but it became too disorienting to be even somewhat graspable. Nevertheless, The Lighthouse was a beautiful film and a must-see.
  7. Knives Out (2019) – Rian Johnson
    1. A delightful little film, Rian Johnson’s whodunnit is enjoyable and becomes just the right level of “wokeness” while paying joking homage to the long tradition of murder mysteries. If you want an enjoyable, smart film, look no further than Knives Out.

Television:

  1. Stranger Things, Season 3 – Matt & Ross Duffer
    1. This popular, smart, Stephen King-homage franchise has now three-full seasons beneath its belt. While some thought the second season was a little meandering, I have enjoyed each season as much as the last. This third season, however, I found to be especially delightful and fun, and rather scary at the end. I’m not sure what they’ll be doing for Season 4, but I trust that the Duffer Brothers know what they’re doing.
  2. American Horror Story, Season 1 – Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk
    1. I’ve seen several episodes and entire seasons from the middle of this long, anthological series, but neither James nor myself had ever seen the original season. Finally, I decided I wanted to watch the entire series from start to finish, so I started us watching this first season, and I was quite impressed. I liked this first season, but we’ll have to move along to catch up the most recent, tenth season.
  3. The Good Place Seasons 1 – 4.9 – Michael Schur
    1. James began watching this series and watched the third season as it was happening in 2018. He was very excited by it and, knowing that I love philosophy, he insisted that I watch the series before the fourth and final season began, so that we could watch the last season together. I agreed and, just as he had predicted, I fell in love with this smart, witty, hilarious, and heartfelt series. Of course, the creator (Michael Schur) was also a writer for the US version of The Office and a creator of Parks & Recreation, so it made sense to me that he would have been able to create such an honest and very human television show. As of this writing, the first 9 episodes of the fourth season have been aired and viewed by me, but there are 4-5 episodes remaining to air throughout January and February 2020; nevertheless, this was a wonderful show. I must especially commend the first season, which, on its own, I applaud as a brilliant, intelligent, and important work of art—and it was aired for people on nation-wide primetime!
  4. Castle Rock, Season 2 – Sam Shaw & Dustin Thomason
    1. Being a big Stephen King fan, I was greater excited for this series to premiere last year, and I was deeply satisfied with the first season. It was original but riffed upon King’s work while it also contained one of the most heartbreaking, depressing, and eloquent hours of television ever committed to film: Sissy Spacek’s episode, “The Queen.” And to add an additional nod to King’s work, the entire first season ended on a rather Creepshow note, which was chilling, intriguing, and brilliant. Come to find out, many people wanted more King-centric aspects than the first season offered; enter Season 2! Season 2 has Annie Wilkes of Misery fame as it’s central character, as well as the house from ‘Salem’s Lot. Somehow, Season 2 managed to fulfill the desire of the fans who complained about Season 1 and managed to satisfy me, who loved Season 1. Season 2 struck the perfect balance between crafting the original and utilizing the source material, and is deeply satisfying for that. I hope there will be a third season, but, at the same time, I kind of also hope that that would be the final season, like a set amount of story to be told, and they manage to do it properly without boringly drawing out the series. At any rate, I recommend this series to any horror fan.

AUTHOR BIO:: dom schwab is a reader/writer of poetry/prose. dom is gay, GQ w/ no pronoun preference, a vegetarian, and lives in Chicago. dom’s most recent work has appeared in Zoomoozophone Review’s female/non-gender-conforming Issue 5, Boscombe Revolution Issue 3: Revolution & Gender, and JunkYard Kool, an anthology presented by Kool Kids Press.

April 24, 2020 4:21 pm

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