2019 in lists: concerts & shows, theatre, books, movies, TV

(A work in progress…)

Concerts, Shows, Theatre, Exhibitions & Words

  • Sasha Velour’s Smoke and Mirrors, the Enmore Theatre. See review here.
  • Jane Siberry in concert at the Camelot Lounge, Sydney.
  • Jane Siberry hosting Songwriters in the Round at the Estonian House, Sydney.
  • Bent Burlesque, Seymour Centre
  • Confessions of a Mormon Boy, Giant Dwarf.
  • West Side Story, Handa Opera: A classic musical, maybe my favourite, on a huge stage, colourful, with beautiful singing and acting and dancing. Loved it.
  • Heaven and earth: Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, Art Gallery of NSW.
  • Jonsi and Alex: Riceboy Sleeps, Sydney Opera House: It’s such a complex work, built up with so many sounds and layers, I never expected to see it performed live. I found it incredible.
  • John Grant, with Brendan McLean, special guest, the Metro.
  • Once, Darlinghurst Theatre.
  • Love is a Drag, Tim Draxl, Sydney Cabaret Festival.
  • Reuben Kaye, Sydney Cabaret Festival. Shockingly funny, filthy, witty AND he greeted each of us to the theatre with a hug. Uh-mazing.
  • Kim David Smith, Kim Sings Kylie, Sydney Cabaret Festival.
  • Caroline, or Change. Hayes Theatre: There were some great moments in the musical and wonderful performances, but I found it confusing. There were also some terrible moments (clichéd) and not a lot happens. I expected more from Kushner and Tesori.
  • Sydney Contemporary 2019: To be able to wander around the see some of the world’s best contemporary art while sipping a negroni. Unbeatable.
  • Jandamarra – Sing for the Country, Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
  • HMS Pinafore, Hayes Theatre.

Books

  • Lily Brett’s New York (essays). My review here.
  • André Aciman’s Call me by your name (fiction). My review here.
  • Ali Smith’s How to be Both (fiction). My review here.
  • Chris Somerville’s We are not the same anymore (short fiction)
  • Jonathan Coe’s Middle England (fiction)
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold (fiction). My review here.
  • Daniel Arsand’s The Lovers (fiction)
  • Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s Fleishman is in Trouble (fiction)
  • David Foenkinos’ Delicacy (fiction). My review here.
  • Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments (fiction)

Movies

  • Three Identical Strangers: A pretty interesting documentary about some terrible incidents (triplets, as well as twins, separated for scientific observation).
  • Roma: The kind of film that if it were an arthouse film, I’d be raving about to tell friends, but since it’s the possible best picture at the Oscars, I think, ‘Is this overhyped?’ It has beautiful scenes yet at times almost seemed too simple and rambling to me.
  • Brooklyn: Finally caught this, on Netflix. I thought it was a beautiful, beautiful film, a meditation on living between cultures and countries, and Saoirse Ronan has this luminous beauty and charisma, a bit like Cate Blanchett.
  • A Star is Born: I’m not sure why this film didn’t grab me. I did like Lady Gaga’s performance, very natural, and found something interesting about Bradley Cooper’s character that he created in his voice and mannerisms, but its treatment of the themes of creativity, fame and jealous relationships was all a bit expected.
  • Isn’t it Romantic?: I have a soft spot for Rebel Wilson, and thought this movie fluff was a fine way to pass a weeknight in front of Netflix.
  • If Beale Street Could Talk: From the director of Moonlight, this was an interesting mix of romance and social history with beautiful acting (and people) and a soundtrack to die for. I found the pace a little slow and would have cut half an hour but I really did like it.
  • Shazam!: Hmm, top film in the USA right now and most of the critics loved it, with a few outliers. I just couldn’t find my way into the story, there are some good bits, but it was too juvenile before it descended into the regular smash ’em ups of regular superhero films.
  • Avengers: Infinity Wars: I had to catch up before seeing the big finale and I have to say I thought it was pretty good. The fight scenes make sense (unlike those of Shazam!): they generally had a logic of what the powers were and how they could be used. It’s fun to see such big actors playing … superheroes.
  • Avengers: Endgame: Likewise, I appreciated the slow, quiet start, the attempt to create emotional bonds with the audience but without overdoing it, and with good moments of comedy (Chris Hemsworth really does a good job with this). It was LONG with a LOT HAPPENING but enjoyable.
  • Rocketman: I liked this, maybe even more than Bohemian Rhapsody. It was fantastical in the right sort of ways.
  • Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts: Possibly only for fans of Rupaul’s Drag Race. I think Trixie is very talented and very watchable and engaging: but it delved so little into what made him tick. The film was not as smart and deep as its subject.
  • Nae Pasaran: Astonishing Scottish accents and a surprisingly uplifting film about Chilean solidarity from the Scottish workers at the Rolls Royce factory in the 70s. Much more engaging than it sounds!
  • The Farewell: I found this film touching and engaging. Star performances by Awkwafina and the woman playing her grandmother. Even though my Chinese cultural background is different to the one in the movie, I found so much of it relatable.
  • Late Night: My standards drop while on a plane (i.e. I just want to be entertained) but I was really entertained by this. Gently tackling racism and sexism on late-night TV and comedy in movie form, the performances, by Emma Thompson and others, brought the material, already fine, up a notch. 
  • Deadpool: A surprisingly funny superhero film with rhythm and verve.
  • Fighting with my Family: An amiable story about the true-life rise of the British wrestler Paige to the ranks of the WWE.
  • Booksmart: I wanted to like this more than I did, but it was amiable. Whether a stereotype of an American high school, a send-up or a celebration, I just don’t relate to it.
  • Almodovar’s Pain and Glory: Remember when his films were about labyrinths of passion and how sex and death can be seen to combine (Matador). Or about the law of desire? Now, his main theme was about his bad back and his body’s ailments. God, I feel old.

Television

  • RuPaul’s Drag Race, All Stars, Season 4: A pretty weird season and I’d agree with the internet chatter. A weird ending with the double-crowning, chosen from pre-filmed clips.
  • Marvelous Mrs. Maizel, Season 1: Binge-watched on a long, plane ride. Enjoyable. The critics LOVE this show, but strangely, I couldn’t then get past the first episodes of Season 2.
  • Bron/Broen, Season 4: How I loved this show. The character Saga is unforgettable and I was captivated every time she was on the screen. But her counterpart Henrik was also fantastic, and the crazy puzzle plot, with all its red herrings, was enjoyable.
  • Tidying up with Marie Kondo, Season 1: I was fascinated about the cultural reception to this show, too much hostility I thought from those who didn’t like it, which had racial overtones. I myself loved it.
  • The Good Place, Season 3: I love this show.
  • My Brilliant Friend: It was great to watch this TV adaptation after the first of Elena Ferrante’s books in her Neapolitan series, which I loved so much. A very different experience, seeing what is imagined come to life, but mostly successful to me.
  • The Umbrella Academy: Husband liked this quite a bit, it just didn’t come together for me. The motivations of … everyone were simplistic and cartoonish. 
  • Project Runway S17: Loving the return of this season to watch talented fashion designers at work. I thought at the start it was a bit awkward with the new team but was willing to see how it went. By the end, I was convinced: they really did a good job on this, focusing on the fashion and talent (and not interpersonal drama) and the cast all fell into a really nice groove.
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race S11: Too many queens, too loud: have I overdosed on RPDR? In the end, I thought it was a really weak season for watching.
  • Survivor S38: I am not digging the ‘Edge of Extinction’ concept, combined with the returning players schtick; it’s thrown off the rhythm of the show and I still don’t ‘know’ the tribe members.
  • Leaving Neverland: A deeply disturbing documentary and I find it so hard to comprehend people watching these men and their families speak, and imagining that they made it up.
  • Killing Eve, Season 2: Some strange plot turns here. Husband thought it was even better than Season 1; I’m not so sure. Still: love the two leads and the style.
  • Game of Thrones, Season 8: Is it really over? We couldn’t help but watch it and there really was some amazing TV. But it felt rushed over all, with various huh? moments (and not in a good way).
  • Blown Away: A reality TV competion about glass-blowing? Awesome.
  • Stranger Things, Season 4: Hmm. Didn’t love this season, but watched it anyways.
  • Tales of the City: As an old fan of the books, I found it touching to revisit the characters and meet some new ones. Like the books, this isn’t high art: more of an engaging soap opera with characters that I have affection for. Lovely moments though, and the flashback episode was stunning.
  • Australian Survivor, Season 4: There is something in the Australian narrative that loves the theme of this and last season: Champions vs Contenders. It allows Australians to indulge in their idolation of sports stars, and the theme of the underdog at the same time. I hate it. It’s a boring and false narrative (contestants don’t care whether a champion or contender wins, they just want to win individually). But I still watch!
  • Handmaid’s Tale, Season 3: Ups and downs. As always, beautiful and striking images, yet I wasn’t sure about the script at times, where the characters didn’t act as I thought they would.
  • Fleabag, Season 1: Dark, dark, dark, this comedy. Original and outlandish and engaging.
  • Survivor S39: A fun concept but people are getting blindsided in a way that feels kind of random. I am waiting for it to kick in.
  • Drag Race Thailand: Wow. What a weird show. It really was an interesting cultural experience, a window into Thai culture and Thai drag, and very particular, using traditional materials for challenges, referencing national celebrities and ideas. The judges were trying to get more attention than the contestants. I need a break before I watch Season 2 of it.
  • Rupaul’s Drag Race UK: Just started watching it. Seems fun.
  • Queer Eye, Season 3, and Queer Eye in Japan: What’s not to love?
  • The Good Place, Season 4: Hurrah. A last season to tie things up. I wonder what they’ll do?

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