Life Choices: 5 things to check out this week

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Books to read, stuff to watch, and songs to listen to this week. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — This week, watch a documentary of the most infamous film shoot in the Philippines; read books about a Hermit Kingdom, and real and imagined monsters, listen to a song about a missed chance for a lifetime of love; and binge watch a hilarious show about the travails of teenage girls set in Northern Ireland.

BOOK: “Lovecraft Country” by Matt Ruff

If you haven’t been on this side of the woods, H.P. Lovecraft’s works have been the cornerstone of horror literature for their globular, tentacled (and sometimes formless) monsters from outer space that turns people insane. He’s also known as a scathing racist. Matt Ruff’s book turns these all on their heads to give Lovecraft’s monsters and his racism a spin and tell interconnected tales of systemic racism in 1950’s America while having some good old pulpy fun. “Lovecraft Country” starts when Atticus, his friend Letitia, and uncle George, who publishes a book called “The Safe Negro Guide,” very much like the actual Green Book, have to travel through Jim Crow America to look for his missing father, but it seems that a shadowy organization called The Order Of The Ancient Dawn, his father's captors, has nefarious plans for Atticus. “Lovecraft Country” is a heady mix of secret societies, ancient rituals, weird monsters, and real life monsters (police violence looms large in the book). It’s a brisk read, thanks to the “Twilight Zone” style mystery structure. Read it in time for the HBO adaptation, which comes out August 16.

Buy “Lovecraft Country” here.

DOCUMENTARY: “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse”

“We were in the jungle, there were too many of us, we had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane,” so said filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola about the making of “Apocalypse Now,” a film with a history so steeped in tales of infamy and insanity that it warranted a film for itself. Coppola’s wife Eleanor shot footage during 238 days of principal photography here in the Philippines, when the country was propped as a stand-in for Vietnam in the movie. Over the course of the shooting, Coppola has replaced actors, killed a water buffalo, and eats up his own sanity all for the sake of completing this "passion" project. Elsewhere, his actors do drugs, typhoons ravage the sets, and Ferdinand Marcos Sr., even sends in 18 helicopters for the film’s use. But “Hearts of Darkness” is more than fodder for movie gossip, it’s a piece of history that links the self-aggrandizing of Hollywood egomaniacs and Marcosian flair for the titanic.

Stream it on Mubi.

GRAPHIC NOVEL: “Pyongyang” by Guy Delisle

Nothing significant ever happens in Guy Delisle’s “Pyongyang,” an account of his two-month stay in the capital of North Korea in 2001, when he made cartoons for a French company. But “Pyongyang” is a wry observation of a society that is often dismissed as detached from reality. Delisle’s grayscale artwork reduces the city into clean lines, spaces, and shadows. As a tourist, he is shown the magnificent parts of Pyongyang: the palatial grand terminal, giant statues, and the seamless efficiency demanded by the regime. Delisle chooses not to verbalize his judgments about the country to his guide and interpreter and instead leaves them for the readers — he knows his place as an admitted “foreign capitalist.” His drawings feel a little cold, depicting a city where stasis both exists and not, but the accompanying commentary is another thing.

Buy “Pyongyang” here.

SONG: “Lifetime” by Ben&Ben

“You know what happens to feelings that are buried? They grow,” one Ben&Ben fan wrote in the comment section of the video “Pagtingin.” Going by the name of “Anne Jou,” she told the story of how, for eight years, she was in love with her high school best friend but didn’t tell him because she was scared of losing their friendship. “We didn’t know that if only one of us dared to make a move, a lifetime was waiting for us,” Anne wrote. The story kept the band, apparently, up all night and ended up making a song about it during quarantine. The repetition of “Was there a lifetime waiting for us?” hangs like a spell in the air, an unknown future that, in itself, is a parallel universe. “Lifetime” cuts deep and its sparse arrangement lets this pain float on, washing you away like a good dream.

Listen to the song here.

T.V. SHOW: “Derry Girls”

The production of the third season of the hilarious — an understatement, if I’m being honest — Northern Irish sitcom “Derry Girls” is currently on hold due to the pandemic, but bits and pieces of the show have shown up here and there. First was the Comic Relief sketch with the show’s leads — Saoirse Monica Jackson (Erin), Louisa Harland (Orla), Nicola Coughlan (Clare), Jamie-Lee O’Donnell (Michelle), and Dylan Llewelyn (James) — with special guest Saoirse Ronan, and, most recently, the announcement of the publication of the book “Erin’s Diary,” the very diary that sparked the chaos in the show's pilot. The book contains Erin’s (Jackson) version of everything that’s happened so far in the first two seasons, written in her wry, dramatic teenage voice that incorporates teenage troubles and the actual The Troubles, the 30-year sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland. It’s amazing how “Derry Girls” manages to tackle 90’s teenage concerns — boys, love, homosexuality, popularity, Take That — while The Troubles hangs in the air. The show brims with an array of interesting characters, from the girls (and the ‘wee’ English lad James) themselves to their parents, a handsome priest, an acerbic headmistress, to a grandad (played by Ian McElhinney or Ser Barristan Selmy in “Game of Thrones”) who nurses an absurd level of hate for his son-in-law. "Derry Girls" is perhaps the best teenage show right now.

Stream the show on Netflix.