The Arts Desk’s weekly picks for movies, books, music, television shows
Book: “Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty
If you are a fan of the hit HBO show “Big Little Lies” (which if you read my last Culture Corner article you would know boasts a “stacked cast, incredible editing and possibly the best title sequence of all time”), the book opens a new door to the BLL experience. The novel is strikingly similar to the show with a few key differences. It is set in Moriarty’s native Australia and a few characters are axed, but besides that, very similar. Rather than comparing them, the show and book work together in a way other adaptations do not. There were specific moments in the miniseries that felt empty, or a little unexplainable. With the aid of the book, those gaps are filled. The characters you love in the show are given a much more in-depth motive: their actions and reactions make more sense. This is especially obvious in Jane (played by Shaline Woodley), whose character was the least developed in the show. If you haven’t watched yet, the novel is a fun, easy read that keeps you engrossed from the first page to the last. It might be because it was the first book I read in maybe nine months, but reading “Big Little Lies” was an experience that stayed with me.
Movie: “Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed” Dir. Raja Gosnell
If I had a time machine I would go to the night “Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed” premiered in theaters and watch it the way it should be seen—on the big screen. The 2004 film is perhaps the only good live action adaptation ever made. Following the events of the first movie, Mystery Inc. is almost torn apart by a scandal that tarnished their name. Through the course of the movie, they take down monsters and explore their group dynamic. If you suspend your criticism and embrace the campiness, it really is so good. The set design and outfits are amazing, some standouts are the bright pink and orange 70’s inspired interior of the gang’s office and Velma’s forever iconic orange leather jumpsuit. It’s so well cast. Despite being high profile actors in a children’s movie, they really gave it their all. Everyone matches their 2-D counterpart perfectly, especially Mathew Lillard’s Shaggy and Linda Cardenelli’s Velma. It outshines its predecessor while making you laugh and feel genuine emotion. I predict in at least 10 years it will be added to the Criterion Collection. And please, if you have the time, take a moment of silence for the third live action Scooby Doo movie we never got because this one absolutely bombed.
TV Show: “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Recently, the final season of Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” aired, and I was able to look over the show in its entirety and try to comprehend what it was. Over the course of its four seasons, we watch the antics of Kimmy’s life in NYC through a cartoonish and absurd lens. Kimmy Schmidt’s strongest asset is utilizing a type of comedy that is completely unique to the show. It teters the line between and silly and completely unhinged. This is only pulled off by its amazing cast, who fit their characters so well it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing them. Even though sometimes it feels like they put a quota on jokes per minute, the humor stays with you. I often find myself revisiting specific jokes (like the season four opener where they changed the theme song’s lyrics to “Little girl, big city this is the show now/little girl, big apple, it’s a fruit that’s bigger than people”). The show fluctuates in quality, sometimes losing its footing and diving headfirst into truly terrible takes (there is an episode that tries to take on cancel culture that gives me physical second-hand embarrassment). But throughout its four-season run, it never stopped being truly funny and entertaining.
Album: “Ungodly Hour” by Chloe x Halle
I am incredibly lazy, to the point where making playlists is too much effort. When I want to listen to music, I click on an album and skip. Sister duo Chloe x Halle’s “Ungodly Hour” feels more like a curated listening experience than an album. Each track is engrossing, from the more upbeat dance songs (“Do It” and “ROYL”) to the slower, intricately produced tracks (“Don’t Make it Harder on me” and “Ungodly Hour”). It’s hard to define the gene of “Ungodly Hour” because Chloe x Halle have the rare artistic ability to take pieces from various types of music while having it remain cohesive. They utilize their voices as instruments. Older sister Chloe grounds the songs with her strong, controlled vocals while younger sister Halle’s floats atop the tracks. You can hear the meshing of their artistic abilities; the dynamic produces unique music while keeping the sound uniform. The production is what takes their music to the next level, and it is heightened knowing how involved the sisters were in the process. One of the album’s best tracks, “Tipsy” was produced solely by Chloe. Not only is the music amazing, but through promotion, the duo has proved they are the best performers on the scene right now. They have given live performances on various shows, each time with new elaborate sets and outfits all fitting within the constraints of pandemic performing. Chloe x Halle’s “Ungodly Hour” has a song for any occasion. Nine months in and I can confidently say this is the best album of the year.
LIVVY MULLEN — firstname.lastname@example.org