This holiday season was a weird one. With not much to do and three extra days not to do it, binging a new series on Netflix or getting lost in a good podcast wasn’t so much an option as it was a necessity. As always, the team at A&E took full advantage of the well-deserved downtime to discover some new favourites in TV, music, and books. Here’s the best of what we liked this winter break.
Your Name Engraved Herein, Tasmin Chu
Set in 1980s Taiwan during the lifting of martial law, director Patrick Kuang-Hui Liu’s/Your Name Engraved Herein [ 刻在你心底的名字] explores themes of shame and desire from the eyes of A-han, a student at an all-boys high school who finds himself falling in love with a new transfer named Birdy. Both A-han and Birdy must decide between staying together or growing apart in an atmosphere dominated by violence, religion, and patriotism. Its moments of physical vulnerability remain firmly grounded in quotidian settings of shower stalls, classrooms, and train cars. It’s also beautiful. The visuals of the film took me right back to attending Catholic school in Taiwan: The omnipresent scooters, the blue-green mountains, the topography of water and light. Despite its tenor of repression and secrecy, this film bursts with an intimacy that feels startlingly fresh and real.
“Driver’s License”, Deana Korsunsky
I used to think that only throwback masterpieces like “American Idiot” and “Mr. Brightside” could catapult me into angsty teenagehood regression. “Driver’s License,” Olivia Rodrigo’s new single, proved me wrong. The High School Musical: The Musical: The Series star released what could only be described as a certifiable banger, a break-up ballad speculated to be about her co-star, Joshua Bassett. The tapestry of background drama details, however, only punctuates the impeccable vocals that Rodrigo brings to the song. From the soft notes of her opening lyrics to her chilling belting in the chorus and bridge, Rodrigo captures bittersweet, unfiltered heartache. A wistful ode to lost love, “Driver’s License” has every right to its triumphant reign on the top of the charts.
Just Kids by Patti Smith, Anna Chudakov
Patti Smith’s autobiography Just Kids delivers an immersive experience into the lives of starving artists in New York in the ‘70s. On her journey of artistic self-discovery that progressed in tandem to her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe, Smith shares intimate details of her life from her teen pregnancy to living at the Chelsea Hotel. The story of how Smith and Mapplethorpe’s devotion to art and to one another sustained their strenuous climb to success is embellished by conversations with legends like Jimi Hendrix, and simultaneously marred by the loss of loved ones. Just Kids leaves you feeling warmhearted, inspired, and gives you newfound appreciation for the work of artists in Smith’s era.
Memorial by Bryan Washington, Jackie Lee
In his debut novel, Memorial, Bryan Washington writes of families born and made, bonds rekindled and lost, and histories passed down from parents to children. Benson and Mike, a working-class Houston couple, are set to reevaluate their deteriorating relationship when Mike departs to Japan to visit his dying father, leaving his mother, who has only just arrived from Tokyo, and Benson as reluctant roommates. Washington’s voice is stark but beautiful, depths of meaning rippling underneath lines that blend dialogue and inner voice. A poignant story contoured with intersections of class, sexuality, and race, Memorial ponders how we communicate and care for one another, and what it means to be home.