That’s Entertainment

At the end of every year, I like to make a visit to a little site called Blurb.com. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s basically a place where you can upload, print and publish professional-looking books. They can be a variety of styles, sizes, hardcover or soft – and at the end of each year, I like to print a copy of my year in blogging. I’ve only been seriously blogging since the latter part of 2009, so the books I have to date may not be the most substantial, but I think 2010 is going to be one I’m excited to add to the shelf. It’ll be a record of an absolute rollercoaster of a year, of new experiences, of firsts, of hopes, dreams, goals, challenges, reflections and observations – but I also want to make note not just of thoughts, but of the day-to-day. Things that filled my days, music I was passionate about, TV that rocked my world, books that changed my life, things that made me laugh so hard my face hurt, words that touched my heart, and moments I want to hold onto forever. Moments that made me feel lucky to be alive. That which inspires passion is important to chronicle. So, some of the things that blew me away this year include:

Creative genius

I’m not a big movie-goer. The thought of going to the cinema fills me more with panic than excitement, and sitting through two hours of having my chair kicked, being distracted by the glare from other people’s phones, and leaving with my wallet $25 lighter isn’t generally my idea of a good time. When it comes to visual entertainment, I’m more a stay-at-home kind of girl. This year has been full of incredibly imaginative movies and TV that have just made me feel proud to be a human being, including the epically intelligent Ashes to Ashes, a series following a gun shot, present-day police officer waking up in the mid-eighties, trying to figure out if she’s gone mad, dead or alive, in a coma, or literally back in time, the finale to which was probably the most intelligent piece of screenwriting I’ve ever witnessed and kept me mesmerised, and firmly on the edge of my seat. Movie-wise, it was the year of special effects and 3D glasses, and the detail in films like Toy Story 3 and Legend of the Guardians was simply breathtaking.

Literary brilliance

Almost a year ago, I made New Year’s Resolutions, and one of them was to get back into reading. I seem to have gone from reading books every day to reading blogs every day, and though I still make time for brain food (I have an entire shelf dedicated to back issues of Psychology Today and Discover magazine), I want to get back into the habit of Real Books. At the beginning of the year, I read Audrey Niffenegger’s follow-up to The Time Traveller’s Wife, Her Fearful Symmetry, and though wildly different, I loved every part of it. Ghost stories amongst a backdrop of my favourite city, Doctor Who references, two parts imagination, one part wonderfully creepy, this novel had me thoroughly captivated from the start. Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked was an enjoyable, lighter read following dysfunctional relationships and a lifelong quest fuelled by musical passion, I finally got on the Lovely Bones bandwagon, Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth completely changed my life, and currently, I’m savouring the final Harry Potter book so I can finally see it on the big screen!

Spine-tinglingly talented musicians

I loved Mumford and Sons the moment I first heard them, and seeing them perform an intimate venue halfway across the country, playing songs that stirred my soul, while proclaiming how humbled and honoured they were to have sold out in a country they hadn’t released any music to yet. Knowing that every person in that space had discovered this incredible music through word of mouth, and became so passionate about it they queued out in the cold and bought so many tickets they had to move venues was just refreshing, and the atmosphere of being a part of something so amazing was just electric.

2010 was also the year of the ‘nu-folk’ movement in the UK, with bands like this taking centre stage, coupled with banjos, mandolins and accordions. Suddenly, countryfolk were as popular as the Black Eyed Peas, and the masses were exposed to real musicianship and literary lyricism. A girl of 20 by the name of Laura Marling exploded onto the world stage with the album I Speak Because I Can – a stunning collection of heart-wrenching, poetic songs tales that delve into haunting stories filled with beautiful words and melody; sounds ranging from the frenzied, supernatural, old-world gypsy-esque “Devil’s Spoke” (with the fabulously determined “all of this can be broken, take your devil by his spoke and spin him to the ground“) to the beautiful “Rambling Man” (“beaten, battered and cold, my children will live just to grow old, but if I sit here and weep, I’ll be blown over by the slightest of breeze”) reminiscent of Joni Mitchell. The epic “Hope in the Air” is pure, chilling, sumptuous storytelling at its absolute finest, and continues to give me goosebumps with every listen (“our hearts are small and ever thinning, there is no hope ever of winning, so why fear death? Be scared of living“). Not all is high drama – if you’re looking for something to play your sweetheart one cold winter’s night, try “Rest in the Bed“, and allow beautiful words to express a sentiment of love (“there lies a man of my heart, a fine and complete work of art, here, I his woman, his home, and his heart, and proud to be playing that part“).  If you’re hooked by haunting melodies, exquisite lyrics and truly intelligent musicianship, don’t hesitate another second before adding this to your collection.

Entertainment this year was pretty fantastic, I must say, and 2010 was filled with great, clever imagination from all sides. Here’s hoping next year’s just as stimulating, inspiring, and impressive – full of things that make you proud to be a member the human race.

What were some highlights of the entertainment world for you in 2010?

Intelligence FTW!

It’s no secret I’m a huge nerd. I’m a devout Trekkie, have Daleks in my kitchen, and a closet full of geeky costumes from conventions gone by. And I may or may not own a copy of the Klingon version of Hamlet.  (Keep reading! This isn’t a sci-fi post!) But there’s one thing I can’t stand, and that’s bad sci-fi – or ANY bad movies, or even TV shows. Like Star Wars.  Star Wars is full of aliens, robots and spaceships, all the elements that should make a geek’s dream come true.  So why can’t I stand it? Because it’s built for the mainstream.

We see it all around us: in music, it’s not intricate melodies, talented musicianship or well-written lyrics that are going to shoot you to international superstardom. Throw in a computer-generated beat, lyrics about promiscuity (or ones stolen from somebody else, originally written 20 years ago), a generic rapper and a pretty girl, and you’ll be guaranteed millions in sales, and played on radio stations and in clubs around the globe, sitting comfortably on wads of cash you made from the people who aren’t going to remember you this time next week.

It’s the same with movies – Star Wars is definitely on the top five list of highest-grossing movies of all time, and this week’s tops at the box office include something by the name of Furry Vengeance, full of bad writing, bad animation and animals defecating on people’s faces; The Backup Plan, a predictable romantic comedy short on, well, romance and comedy; and Nightmare on Elm Street, a recycled story with some updated effects, second hand material and cheap scare tactics that wouldn’t frighten my cat.

I like my entertainment to be clever, yet it seems that the mediocre continues to flourish and triumph.  Many sci-fi fans love both Trek and Wars, but I can’t class them in the same category.  Star Wars is an easy escapist fantasy that has nothing to do with actual science, and is undeserving of the sci-fi genrefication.  It was originally based on comic books, which are ultimately aimed at children, easy to digest, and requiring little in the brain department. It’s full of action, basic storylines, and good guys versus bad guys who swashbuckle their way through the galaxy blowing things up. Scare value is minimal, and is done in a family-friendly manner involving lots of heavy breathing and swishy black cloaks. In short: it’s fluff, just like the Hollywood blockbusters and hot-selling albums currently circulating amongst the masses.

I avoid horror movies, not because I’m a wuss (although that’s debatable), but because it all seems so futile. Costumes and special effects equate to smoke and mirrors, and often combine with poor writing, bad acting and some cheap thrills in the form of things jumping out of the dark, and I can’t really see the point. It’s completely far-fetched, and more than anything else, easy. As with so many things in life, many people gravitate toward things that don’t require as much effort.  With music, I’m devoted to talented musicians, masters of lyricism, and appreciators of the form. And, as you no doubt know by now, I appreciate what’s real.  They’re not on the Bestseller wall at HMV, nor are they on the weekly top 40. They’re not going to sell platinum records. But they’re going to ignite the senses and fill me with passion.  With blogs, I read the people who take the time to construct good pieces, full of interesting stories and a real sense of the person behind the screen, unafraid to wear their hopes and dreams, fears and victories, and hearts on their sleeves.

With movies and television, there’s no denying science fiction holds a very dear place in my heart. But as with any form of entertainment, it can be done sloppily, without thought to writing or storyline or ethics. Or it can be done brilliantly, scaring the audience with everyday situations, engaging them with witty dialogue, or provoking thought through morally ambiguous situations.

In the ‘60s, Doctor Who was the scariest thing on television. Aimed at both young and old, a child who could sit through an episode without retreating to the safety behind the sofa was the coolest kid in school. But with new generations come new expectations; what was scary fifty years ago isn’t going to hack it by today’s standards.  Today, I’m loving the shows and movies that provide genuine chills, not through CG monsters and fantasy, but through making the commonplace terrifying.  Watching the television when all of a sudden the TV host starts asking you if the life you’re living is even real. Every stone statue around the country actually a species of “Weeping Angels” ready to come after you and turn you to stone when nobody’s watching. Our irrational fear of the dark not irrational at all… The nature of human life, battling death (literally) and how one copes after death… Scientific – real, scientific genetic experiments going wrong, and the evolution of technology into holographic life forms and their “rights”, and government conspiracies, our defences failing and every child just… stopping… and being taken over. A parent’s worst nightmare.  (You can’t tell me that last clip isn’t terrifying!)

This stuff’s way closer to home. What’s really scary these days isn’t in the form of something in another galaxy, or another big screen axe murder. It’s not 3D movies that make you jump out of your seats – a reflex to the unexpected, not a sincere sense of fear. The intelligent shows and movies build upon some of our most basic fears – what’s hiding in the dark? What if science doesn’t have all the answers? What if everything we know is a lie? It works because it’s not something that could end as the credits roll up the screen. It leaves us with a fear that’s genuinely real, and verges uncomfortably on the cusp of possibility.  The clever shows also provoke thoughts that continue long after the episode has finished, questioning religion, existentialism, morality, the nature of time, corruption, philosophy and redemption.

I’ll take science fiction and intelligent dramas over Hollywood blockbusters and soap operas any day, which leave me thoroughly more inspired, thrilled, scared and entertained. If I’m going to spend a couple of hours on the couch – well, I may as well give my brain a workout, right?