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!)

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Hiatus! (Were you surprised? I wasn’t surprised.)

Even though this has been going on for most of this year, I’ll go ahead and make it official: Films and Coke is on a hiatus indefinitely.

It’s the usual: school stuff (holy shit, the IB is not a gentle mistress, I’m sweating WWI and crying logarithms) and no time for anything. I would probably blog here and there but I don’t remember the last time I saw a film (two, three weeks ago?), all the while my TV watching has dried into bursts of Modern Family when showering.

I’d promise I’ll come back when summer vacation starts/next year starts/next year’s exams are done–but honestly, life just looks to be getting more and more hectic and I don’t want to make any more promises. And I’m feeling more and more crappy about not saying anything. Any further posting, if it happens, will be irregular; until then, I’ll be reading your blogs and enjoying the second-hand experience.

It’s been awesome, thank you all! I hope to meet you all on the other side.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

1I’m quickly becoming a fan of naps. They are fantastic, especially if I get to climb under the warm covers in bright daylight peeking through closed blinds, turn to a dark wall and put some music on and sigh blissfully at the thought of others having lessons while I’m home having a nap. Dark rooms are for sleeping, not napping and five-minute naps are pussy naps; yet I took one today.

At some point during the third endless lightsaber battle scene of the horror film Jupiter Ascending I blacked out. Don’t worry, though — as I woke up, there were still people in the cinema. And that shit show went on for 30 more minutes.

The film probably wants to be Star Wars with an immigrant girl from Chicago but fails so fast you don’t even have time to blink. One of the most demoralising things is how explicitly and quickly it’s made clear all humans are ignorant cattle (not Kunis though, she is the queen or some shit). Films that establish how inferior the human race are are usually good at it; here, you just feel you’ve been shat on. The chick meets her destiny, a half-dog eyeliner-wearing Channing Tatum, and what follows is a painful, embarrassing attempt of an adventure where time feels to be moving in slow motion, so when meaningful I love you looks are exchanged in what seems to be 10 minutes into meeting, any hope of the film being being funny-bad turns into a-gun-to-my-head-bad. Extensive amounts of fake mythology and pretty visuals are usually not a bad thing but it’s too much and too little at the same time and everything ends up in a dull blob. So details like the breath-taking outfit the girl queen has as she saves the world become impossible to appreciate. A hundred and seventy-six million dollars was spent on this stinking pile of garbage. Think how many kids could pay off their college debts with this.

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I considered a ‘x things I hate about Jupiter Ascending’ post about the horrible Russian, the cringe-worthy stereotypes, how Mila Kunis acted worse than I ever thought possible, about the underdeveloped… everything… but mostly plot, characters, background and structure, the utter lack of chemistry between any of the characters, the atrocious writing, the terrible battle scenes, how overdramatic every scene was, the idea that using the word “gene” as many times as possible explains everything, the stupid last name of the goddamn great dynasty, and the whole film was like a mash-up of great films put together by a greatly incompetent mixer, but in the end, there are only so many synonyms for ‘horrible’ and I kind of wanted to share the nap thing. I went to see this with a friend (and the joy of spending time with her was 100% of the reason I didn’t walk out) and by the middle, we were both so horrified that we couldn’t even make fun of the film.

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I did like the ending. The jury’s still out on if maybe it came from joy of the film finally being over, but I think I also appreciated how sweet Kunis was and how pretty that rooftop was.

A quick peek into tumblr told me terrifying things: people actually liked this film. So I’ll go all out and say: no, there were no redeeming qualities for me. I though Eddie Redmayne was ridiculous, any hidden meaning gets lost in how awful it is to simply go through the film, it’s overly long and I still want to punch a wall for not reading up before and wasting any of my time or money on this shit. Don’t see it. Official recommendation.

Whiplash (2014)

1 copyWhat is up with the 2014 film trend ‘let’s make you little shits in the cinema as uncomfortable and disgusted as possible’? I adored Gone Girl, Foxcatcher, Nightcrawler and Whiplash all in depth but jesus, when did it become a prerequisite for a fantastic film to have people walk out from the film (I had literally never seen that happen at a screening of an American film before) throughout and making you feel like you’d rather crawl out of your skin than stay in yours because you will never be able to wash the filth off?

People are putting down Boyhood so often, but if I had to choose between Boyhood or any of the four other films, I’d choose the first in a heartbeat. It made me feel nice and fuzzy inside and was a fantastic watch. Begin Again was another lovely film — sure, not as much excitement, but super enjoyable, and none of the disgust.

Never in a million years would I put down JK Simmons’s powerful portrayal or the nuanced work of Miles Teller (good for him for getting better roles, by the way!) but where I would ordinarily become crazed about the cool film and the great music, I had to keep my mouth shut as I left the cinema, just not to throw up. For once, I was glad about spoilers — the utterances of ‘Whiplash is Black Swan with a male lead’ had prepared me for some of it.

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I had to think for minutes before starting this paragraph, because honestly — all I remembered from the film was the disgust. There was something else, too, though. The structure was so interesting, I couldn’t keep up with it! Right after the film, I thought that all storylines but the drumming had been rushed and incomplete, but now I am thinking that it was very clever — we got to see Andrew’s perspective, right? So we saw how little everything else meant for him. The dinner scene was as excruciating for the viewer as it was for him. So the structure, even if it made me feel like I was completely lost most of the time, actually worked well in the film’s advantage. It was exhilarating, really, to have no idea what is coming next — only thing is that it took me too long into the film to learn to let go of trying to guess, and just go with what is on screen. I still would’ve liked to have seen more beginning, though, because whatever Andrew went through, I can’t help but to wonder what was before that.

I also have to mention that Whiplash has the best trailer I have seen in ages. It is so well crafted. Feverish, spectacular — all the words work. For the film, too, probably, I just don’t have the stomach for the 2014 horror films posing as blockbusters. Oh, Whiplash was exciting alright. But at what cost?

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Me whenever thinking about Whiplash, honestly.


Personal note: I know I spend more time apologising than writing posts and coming by your blogs, but I greatly underestimated the weight of the IB, my course in school, which has me study 6-7 hours after 9-hour school days. Blogging has been out of the question. (I’m writing this review at 1.30am after having worked on my English essay and it’s Friday — well, Saturday now.) And the time that’s left I’ve spent freaking out about some pretty terrific news — can’t say much about it yet, but it’s made me smile often and randomly throughout the past few days. Things are tiring but pretty damn great.