Category Archives: 2017

3 Snakes (but really films) on a Plane

I spent most of July in the U.S. It was my first trip out of Europe & I wasn’t really expecting much. I stayed at a local university, our dorm located two blocks from the White House. I was blown away by the city. I don’t think I’ve ever loved travelling anywhere more. My three weeks in D.C. were brilliant.

But do you know what else is brilliant? VIRGIN AIRLINES. Holy shit. The farthest I’ve ever travelled is London to Athens, and while they had a big screen everyone could watch Spiderman’s Homecoming (fun because I absolutely loved it) on, nothing compares to having films straight out of the cinema in front of you. For a glorious 7 hours. It’s now over a month since that beautiful day but since I watched more films there than I had in 2018 combined, I figured I’d write down what I thought. Mind you, I’ve not read reviews of any of these.

The Greatest Showman

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We have the radio on in the office I’m interning in over summer, and all through June, every single hour, This is Me would come on. Sometimes twice. This type of prolonged exposure changes you. In the end, it became a part of me. The film itself — I loved it!! It felt like a fairytale. It was just a ton of fun, and drama, and singing, and what’s wrong with any of that!! When the notorious This is Me actually came on, it moved me to tears. The cast was so great throughout, even if the Zendaya/Zac Efron storyline (and Rewrite the Stars, another classic on rotation our office radio) were underwhelming. An absolute highlight was the scene with the laundry lines was incredible. All in all, I felt like I straight up needed this; something simply fun, heartwarming, and a little bit inspiring.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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Holy SHIT. I’ve seen this on the top of everyone’s lists and Oscar buzz all around, but was still blown away. That’s how you tell a story. From the writing to the cast to the pacing to the visuals. . .take these f–king Oscars, all of them.1 (Mind you, I’d not checked this year’s Oscar winners — the farthest I got was reading up on Brittani’s predictions.) It reminds me this rare format I’ve encountered — where it feels less like a classic rollercoaster structure, but where things start to get better and just as your heart starts to heal, they tear you back down, and so on, breaking your heart and giving you hope, just to f–k it all up in five minutes. I can’t believe how funny they made it. Definitely the best film I’ve seen this year (not that it’s competing against many).

Black Panther

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Watching this after Infinity War was such a change of pace! Seeing Martin Freeman anywhere than Sherlocks f–ks me up. Everyone else in the cast killed. I’m definitely giving it a re-watch, but even my truncated view (I kept falling asleep because I’d been awake for about 30 hours by this point) showed that this was awesome — the ‘bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from ships because they knew death was better than bondage’ line haunts me because it wraps up Killmonger’s character — and a whole bigger phenomenon — in just one sentence. It’s not my favourite Marvel film but I don’t think that’s the point–the cultural significance of this is far greater. I’m also so thoroughly impressed how they let women take charge all throughout, even if T’Challa and Killmonger were men.

On the plane back, I was travelling Norwegian and the film selection was underwhelming on the whole — but they had The Shape of Water! I managed 10 minutes and fell asleep. I woke up as we landed. RIP. Anyway, what did you guys think?! (Would love it if you linked to your own reviews!)

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1 OK, I am of the belief Academy Awards don’t matter — theoretically. In practice, I’ve grown up with them, they’re still exciting, and ‘Oscar-worthy’ means something different to me than literally winning Oscars. So please bear with me as I try to resolve this internal conflict.

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Top 6 series I binged in 2017 (and top 6 I’m excited to binge in 2018)

(note: so WordPress is shrinking the gifs in this post—not sure why, but please bear with it while I try to figure this thing out!)

So after I finished Designated Survivor, I woke up to all ten seasons of Friends available on Netflix. I’ve never seen it from the beginning, but a ten-season show, 25 episodes a season? I like a challenge. It got me thinking—I love watching shows for hours on end, old and new, so here’s a much deliberated list of the best things I couldn’t stop watching last year.

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6 from 2017

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6. Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad blew my mind when I first saw it, but I’ve not watched it again ever since it ended—watching individual episodes out of context felt awkward. So I took a week in November and rewatched it all. It’s still glorious. Was it always kind of. . .racist though?

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5. Sherlock

I had a lot of free time over the winter break and at one point, clicking ‘next episode’ every 22 minutes became too much of a struggle. I also love rewatching British series after moving here—it was so cool seeing them do their thing at places I’d been at before! (I know it sounds nerdy but it’s cool, I’m Estonian.)

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4. Stranger Things

I don’t know how anyone watches this without binging. I had a nice weekend day planned, made a nice breakfast and decided to enjoy it with an episode of Stranger Things. And eight hours later. . .no regrets. The first season was the journey of a lifetime.

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3. Brooklyn Nine-Nine

I’ve loved Andy Samberg since my crush from when I was 14-ish introduced me to the Lonely Island—but there’s so much more to love about this series! Brooklyn Nine-Nine follows Two and a Half Men and How I Met Your Mother as my whenever, wherever show. Only twenty (-two) minutes for lunch? Time to hate-watch Gina. Can’t sleep? Put it on, you’ve memorised every episode and it’s like a lullaby.

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2. Dear White People

I watched this over a weekend in the summer. I’d never thought about anything in that show. It’s so well-written, hilarious, and the episode-per-character format keeps it fresh (bingeable) throughout. And Logan Browning, the lead actress, is absolutely wonderful (even if I could’ve sworn she was Kat Graham from the Vampire Diaries over the first ep.)

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1. Master of None

I’M SO HAPPY AZIZ WON THE GOLDEN GLOBE!!! Master of None is one of the best series I’ve ever seen, and definitely the best one I saw last year. Parents, the second episode of the series, may be my favourite episode of any show. I feel like I had a whole spiritual awakening watching it—Aziz exudes enthusiasm, curiosity, honesty, hope—and in a world where Brexit has been evoked and Trump still has Twitter, I think we can all use Dev Shah. I only watched it because I finished rewatching Parks and Rec and I didn’t know what to do with myself but I’d never watched Master of None before because I just couldn’t see him leading a show. It’s an enormous pleasure to admit I was so wrong.

Honourable mentions: Parks and Rec, Rick & Morty, House of Cards, Modern Family, Bojack Horseman

6 for 2018 (I cheat a lot with this)

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6. Mad Men

5. Black Mirror

4. Blackish

3. The Handmaid’s Tale

2. The West Wing & Veep

1. The Sopranos & The Wire

Honourable mentions: Fargo, The Killing (Danish), The Honorable Woman

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What do you think? Any other recommendations for me? (There’s an insane amount of procrastination hours to fill for the reading I have ahead this term.)

Series Review: Designated Survivor

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I took off my glasses for this speech, guys — like a Prez!

The American people deserve this.

In the age of Trump and Weinstein/Spacey, I think lots of us can appreciate Tom Kirkman. We start with terrorists blowing up the Capitol during the State of the Union address, killing everyone in the government, except for the ‘designated survivor’, making Kiefer Sutherland the new President. Thrilling, right? Yet, after the novelty wears off, we’re left with clichéd dialogues (or worse yet, monologues) and filler subplots. The show seems to be only as good as the main plot line — the great conspiracy against the White House — because the characters aren’t interesting enough (their little family is so boring — the only thing that happened was an adoption scandal that may just have been the dullest plot line yet) and the political intrigue, uh. . .

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smile and wave – the First Lady is such a let down, but I think Robin Wright’s just spoilt me

The systematic way the show goes through issues isn’t anything novel or interesting, and President Kirkman’s moderate stance on everything says nothing, or worse, marginalises these issues. ABC gives you 40 minutes for the show? Kiefer Sutherland will fix the confederate statues issue in a cool 10!1 The morale seems to be that if only the old white guy in the White House was a good, down-to-earth guy, almost everything could be fixed easily, because his good-natured charm and wit will just bring everyone together. It’s naive, and the implications are dangerous.

Progressive policies are plot devices — as evidence that Kirkman cares, he really is a good guy, but the show won’t stand by it. In one of the most honest moments in the show, Kal Penn is offered Press Secretary (a step up from his speechwriter position) as the government’s dealing with rampant Islamophobia, and he’s straight up told that yes, we want you there because you’re Muslim. Very little of this kind of consideration is portrayed after. The rest of the cast is largely white, everyone’s straight and the diverse characters feel tokenistic. Designated Survivor portrays a future where the old status quo is restored almost immediately, and it’s never debated again.2 Worse, it refuses to deal with anything that could take more than an episode to neatly wrap up, and so misses out on the complexity that could take the series to the next level.

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the famous toad mentioned in the footnotes. a majestic creature

What bothers me most is the way Kirkman (and ‘the American people’, a phrase he says so frequently it’s a drinking game on its own3) leaps into his role. After the first couple of minutes in the pilot, he never shows any doubt about his seemingly inherent right to be President. It’s the pinnacle of the inconsistent tone so natural to the series. If he really is as (a) kind, (b) reasonable, (c) thoughtful, (d) honest as the writers want us to believe he is, where’s his internal battle? He’s so adamant about representing the people, so when does he struggle with never having been elected, not for his HUD Secretary position, and certainly not for Prez / Leader of the Free World, in terms of policy and leadership? He never even thinks about resigning. Seems that neither Kirkman nor Designated Survivor is consistent enough to give us the nuance of hesitation.

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the Prez’s advice trio. these are the characters that, for very little reason, steal your heart

Designated Survivor rings of what previous series have done, but between boldly killing off characters, Breaking Bad style, and uncovering villains like Scooby Doo, the twists often feel less like daring and more like bad writing. Loose ends are explained by ooooooh mysterious, and revelations never end up being show-stopping. My fault for looking for House of Cards 2.0 (god I miss it — f— you Kevin Spacey) but this never lives up to the intrigue. . .or the production. The music is so general, it reminds me of all the soundtracks the films I used to rent on VHS in the early ’00s with my mum, and which I thoroughly enjoyed. (I was about 7-8 years old, and Nicholas Cage starred in every other film I watched).4 It starts off with promising storylines, but lacks the wit to go through with them (like Wells’s English boyfriend). It also hasn’t yet found the right balance between touching and soapy (a heartbreaking story of Kirkman’s friend who has to turn down Chief of Justice because of early on-set dementia vs. open-heart surgery on a baby in the latest midseason finale).

What’s cool about this though is that I finally googled Kal Penn and — how cool is Kal Penn?!! He’s worked in the White House on-and-off between making films, worked on Obama’s re-election campaign, has taught at UPenn, raised over $850,000 for Syrian refugees in response to a racist Instagram comment directed at him, won Celeb MasterChef and donated his winnings to refugees, supported Bernie, and he is one of the best characters and actors in this show!

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the lady on the right – Maggie Q – led the most interesting part of the first season. not sure what she thinks she’s up to this season

In the end, I’m too attached to stop watching — Agent Wells (Maggie Q) would do well with a spin-off as long as we could leave DS behind, and most of the main characters grown on you (with a notable exception of the Prez’s family). Kirkman himself is quite lovely and likeable. Not his fault that the writing’s flawed! It’s not a bad series really, it just feels watered down. It’s not House of Cards. It’s not Parks and Rec. But I’ll tell you one thing. It’s good enough to binge in just three days, if the alternative is writing essays that count for 100% of your module grade.

And finally. . .those posh English accents piss me off. Stop hiring Australians. When will we see a Mancunian lawyer or MI6 agent?!! That’s all I’m asking.

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1 In ample time for an additional 10 minutes of an FBI love story, 15 for the outbreak of the Avian flu and an absolutely glorious 5 minutes for a plot line where an Amazonian frog is named Hylidae Kirkmanus.
2 Whenever I think about this, I start thinking if I’ve gone so left that neutral good won’t do it for me anymore.
3 Along with taking off his glasses and huffing ‘My God!’ after someone shows him something or starts working. Like he’s fucking reverse Horatio Caine. NO ONE WITH GLASSES DOES THIS. PEOPLE WEAR GLASSES TO SEE, NOT SO THEY CAN TAKE THEM OFF TO SEE THINGS. Honestly, ABC, fix this and the entire show improve so much already.
4 Invariably terrible films, I might add. (But provided me with happy memories, so thank you Nic Cage!)