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January 2024 Round Up

January 2024 Round Up

Happy 2024 everyone!

With some help, I've compiled a list of movies to watch this year. It's somewhat of a "greatest hits" list with the intention of filling the gaps in my pop culture awareness. Of course, this list is subject to change as there are a few movies that I'm excited for but unfortunately don't quite make the cut, like Poor Things and Godzilla x Kong. I'll add those movies to the B list, along with backups like Se7en, Rocky, and ironic watches like Disney Channel's Descendants As Told By Emoji and Madame Web.

This, along with my 20 book reading goal has inspired me to publish monthly round ups. These round ups will contain reviews of the movies and books I watched/read that month, and perhaps, even a few of my favorite photos.

That's the plan at least. I'm tossing around the idea of writing higher quality essays analyzing excerpts and scenes, but for now, I'll keep it simple and we'll see where this goes.


R.F. Kuan

If I had to choose, contemporary fiction would certainly be my favorite genre. Within that, my reading gravitates more to character-driven stories as opposed to plot-driven ones. Because of this, I recently mistook contemporary fiction to be a genre focused on fictional people and their relationships, when more broadly, it explores the cultural, social, and political climate of the present.

By that definition, Yellowface by R.F. Kuan is an apt work of contemporary fiction. It is a satirical first-person narrative that exposes the absurdities of the modern publishing industry and comments on online fame and hate through the compelling story of June Hayward, a struggling young author, who finally achieves literature stardom after publishing the unfinished work of Athena Liu under her own name after Athena’s tragic and sudden death.

What I enjoyed most about Yellowface was the challenge of engaging with an inherently untrustworthy narrator. Over the course of the story, readers become invested in June’s facade. As her success and moral failings pile, I found myself reading less for June and more for the plot. Does she get away with it? How will she get caught? Who is sending her online threats? However, with a first-person narrative the plot is inextricable from June herself. So although readers know June published Athena’s manuscript as her own, under the narrator‘s spell, you become less convinced of your own righteousness.

After reading a few scathing Goodreads reviews, it’s apparent that enjoyment of Yellowface hinges on this spell. If you can’t bear June Hayward and if you’re not interested in the plot to see if there is justice, I imagine Yellowface is a tough read. Aside from my personal disinterests of themes of technology in my books, my biggest critique is the loss of nuance towards the end. Throughout the book, R.F. Kuan interestingly poses a question of who owns a story and who is allowed to tell it. However, I found that as June further disintegrates from her guilt and anxiety, she becomes increasingly unsalvageable, demonstrating racial prejudices that seem too on the nose. This descent detracts from the nuance of racial diversity in publishing and dehazes the position of moral goodness that was balanced well in the first 2/3 of the novel.

In all, Yellowface is an engaging story about the modern publishing industry and social media told through the lens of an irredeemable narrator. Although, there were moments I wish ideas were addressed with more nuance, the story still leaves much room for discussion.

I give Yellowface 3.5 stolen memoirs out of 5.

The Name of the Wind

 Patrick Rothfuss

This year, I hope to expand my literary taste a bit more, and after polling a few friends and coworkers, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss was a good place to start within the world of fantasy. If you count YA fantasy like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, this is my reintroduction to fantasy, but even so, it has been several years since I’ve experienced world building and magic systems. And it’s these two factors where The Name of the Wind shines.

Written as a telling of an epic tale, The Name of the Wind is mostly a foundational, yet captivating, origin story for Kvothe, the mighty protagonist. It sets up the world, introduces readers to Kvothe, and to sympathy, a grounded and science-esque magic system. Compared to my other reads, the Name of the Wind doesn’t follow the classic story arc and opts more for a fluid epic structure. Yes, it’s a story of Kvothe and his heroic deeds, but it’s just as much about the world he lives in.

Consequently, the Kvothe’s characterization leaves much to be desired. Kvothe is a gifted child who despite for a few formidable events, rarely loses. Perhaps this is more of a commentary on the genre, it’s hard to write a hero story without taking inspiration from the hero arc. I don’t have many other books to compare this to, but it may be a similar issue to Shonen manga/anime which often receives the criticism of telling the same story.

Regardless, I specifically read The Name of the Wind to be engrossed by the fictional world, and I finished more than pleased. Under the glow of my bedroom lamp, I was often a reading well into the night, reawakening the joy of reading I thought faded away with adolescence. It reminded me that not all books have to expand your world or spur existential thought, they can simply be fun.

I give The Name of the Wind 4.5 sympathy lamps out of 5.


Ridley Scott

One of my goals with this movie list is to refine my film palette. Of course, movies are for entertainment, but I don’t imagine the storytelling in Godzilla vs. Kong will help my art. I don’t have intentions of screen writing, but a story is a story, and perusing some of film’s greatest hits will are bound to yield some great ones. Unsurprisingly, with Alien first crossed off my list, I didn’t have to wait long.

Alien, not to be confused with Aliens (the sequel to Alien), and certainly not be confused with Life, an oddly similar space horror movie starring a different alien life-form (and Ryan Gosling), follows a space crew recently awoken from cryosleep, tasked with exploring a planet. After one member is attacked by an alien, the crew struggles to stay alive once the alien begins hunting them on their voyage home.

I hope I’m not just pandering to the IMDB score, but Alien just felt like a perfectly constructed horror story. The setting was appropriately sized, a confined spaceship to trap our characters in. The pacing was spectacular, many scenes pulled you in with silence or with deliberately slowed beats, just to surprise you with a perfectly timed jump scare. But best of all were the designs and special effects. The alien designs were so grotesque you had to groan and the deaths were so horrific that you had to avert your gaze.

Incoming spoilers. The chestburster scene is a prime example of Alien’s mastery of horror. After crew member Kane had an alien removed from his head, the crew celebrate with a meal. It’s lighthearted—the crew are laughing and jabbing at one another as they pass bowls around a table. Suddenly, amidst conversation, Kane begins coughing and heaving, obviously under severe pain. He start convulsing, so the crew try to hold him down on the table as he thrashes and screams. Then, there’s a burst of blood from his chest and everyone pauses, but just for a beat, until there’s a disgusting crack as his chest expands in the center. And like a fist punching through, there’s a shower of blood as the alien screeches to life. Emerging from Kane’s exposed innards the a baby alien swivels into frame with its slimy and snake-like body. Phallic in shape, it lacks facial features other than a mouth with a full set of pointed teeth. It’s truly horrifying.

I give Alien 5 horrific deaths out of 5.

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