Posted in TV

“Big Little Lies” Finale

We all knew the end was nigh, but the end of this series still brought me sadness- this show has been a dramatic and intense journey, and I know it had a finite life, but it still makes me melancholy. The ending was everything I expected.

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Just to start at the beginning, Celeste lying on the ground as Perry beats her, her in her underwear and him fully clothed, is a powerful image. Her going to her therapist shows that in the beginning of this episode, Celeste knows that she is going to leave her husband. Her finding out that her son is the bully that has been turning the school upside down is just another slap in the face, but it makes the most sense  Max observed abuse in his home, by his male role model. Jane and Ziggy being vindicated is just a side effect, and Renata’s redemption is easy to swallow she apologizes to Jane and accepts the truth with grace.

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Jane gets closure in this episode, she discovers the identity of her rapist, and defends Celeste from him before he is pushed to his death by Bonnie. All of the women trying to protect Celeste is also important we see these different women, all moms but fundamentally so different, banding together to guard one of their number from a force of evil because Perry is evil in the end. He isn’t a good father, or husband, or a provider, he is, unequivocally, a monster. And he gets the end he deserves.

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The singing was one of my favorite bits, because (aside from the great voices- wow!) it does remind us that the posturing doesn’t end with the women on this show- the guys are just as much drama. In fact, I would argue that the physical threat the husbands present to each other is more worrying than the social threats the women actually carry out. The aggression the husbands, specifically Ed, Nathan, and Gordon, display toward the women and each other, is alarming. Leaving out entirely the central conflict between Perry and Celeste, Gordon threatens Jane and Madeline, Ed and Nathan threaten each other on multiple occasions. Ed and Nathan are openly hostile, which is understandable, they are both insecure. Ed feels insecure in his relationship with Madeline, and Nathan feels inadequate as a father to his oldest daughter. It makes sense that they display animosity to each other, but the violent aspect of their quarreling is disquieting.

Overall, Big Little Lies has been a triumph. The leading ladies are all established actresses, but I think the kids and Kathryn Newton (Abigale) just made a great resumé builder, and can definitely write their own tickets for the next few years. Alexander Skarsgård was incredible, although I don’t know that he will ever be able to play a sympathetic role again. I see some awards in the future, and at least one of them better be for the music, because oh my god was it amazing.

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Side note: I just realized that Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley last worked together playing mother and daughter in The Fault in Our Stars in 2014. Woodley, at 25, is playing a very challenging role at a young age. I’d assume, as with Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, that Woodley is playing Jane as slightly older than she is in reality. Assuming Jane was 21 when she was raped by Perry, as she met him in a bar, she’d be twenty-seven in the show, which is only two years older than Woodley. I’m going to let myself believe this, since the alternative is that Jane was raped at nineteen and became a mother at twenty, which feels somehow worse. The rest of the actresses in the show play slightly older mothers, all but Kravitz are over forty, and having Woodley, who has played primarily teen roles, work alongside them only emphasizes her youth and vulnerability. That is to say, it works.
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Posted in Movies

“Lego Batman” is Better

The commercial success of The Lego Movie was almost certainly going to be followed by a sequel, but The Lego Batman Movie was unanticipated, by me at least. Will Arnett is hilarious, and his part in The Lego Movie was highly entertaining, and it seems like intellectual property should prevent this, but nope. And now that I’ve seen the movie, I’m actually pretty floored.

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Unpopular opinion: I dislike Batman. He’s kind of bad at being a superhero, and the guy is in serious need of therapy. I have a lot of other reasons, but the bottom line is that Batman is mostly uninteresting to me. More popular opinion: I hated Man of Steel 2. I tried to watch Batman Begins but it bored me so much that I had to give up on it. I’m usually a completist, but it was genuinely so long and so dull that I just turned it off. Batman in general doesn’t interest me much, but I was such a fan of The Lego Movie that I decided I needed to see it, and it was a riot. Batman is funniest at his most self-aware, and this movie is remarkably good at poking fun at itself.

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The Lego Batman Movie makes Batman just as angsty and and as much of a loner as he’s been previously, but it’s just so funny to watch him do his own thing while his companions try to make him understand how insane he is. As the audience, we see Batman’s irrationality- but it’s funny, not frustrating. The supporting cast is a triumph- as previously stated, Rosario Dawson is always a win. Ralph Fiennes as Alfred is just gold, and Michael Cera performs an extremely Michael Cera role while being way more sympathetic than Batman is. The rest of the voice talent is first-class, and there are some real stars who you might not have recognized, including Conan O’Brien, Mariah Carrey, Jonah Hill and Ellie Kemper. Zach Galifianakis as the Joker is obviously the movie’s best character, frankly better than Jared Leto’s Joker in the epic failure Suicide Squad. The chemistry with the villains is flawless, and ultimately, I’d like to see more movies like this one.   lego lego batman the lego batman movie GIF

Posted in TV

“Big Little Lies” Episode 6

Things keep chugging along in Monterey, where our three favorite moms (and Laura Dern) are confronting their problems in spectacular fashion. Episode six does not disappoint, bringing us some more revelations and an awkward dinner party that ends in vomit. Let’s dive in!

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Maddie and Ed finally are addressing their marital problems, which mostly are within the context of their lack of passion, or Maddie’s lack of passion, to be specific. Ed does the good-guy thing, which makes me like him more. The dudes on this show (at least the ones who aren’t adorable six year-olds) are pretty lousy, but out of the lot Ed is the decent one. He cares about the needs of his partner, and is devoted to her. Ed doesn’t confront issues well, but that’s a two way street: Maddie confronts the problems of everyone but herself. I think it’s pretty clear that they’re going to stay together, and Maddie isn’t going to tell him about her affair. The conversation between Maddie and her daughter is metaphorically resonant, because it takes place outside, not in her room at her dad’s. I think it’s important that Maddie tells someone. In telling Abigale about something she’s not proud of, Maddie makes herself vulnerable. Watching, we as the audience see that, despite all of her prickliness, Maddie is all soft spots. The relationship between Maddie, her ex, and their respective spouses has only soured with their reconciliation dinner, but the drama of the final episode will hopefully make them forget their squabbling. Abigale’s behavior is a misguided teen’s cry for attention, and it works. I think that by the conclusion of episode seven, Abigale will be moved back in with her mother.

Shailene does herself proud in this episode. The sex talk with Ziggy is a great moment of parenting, where Jane was clearly caught off guard but explained everything in a way Ziggy could understand. Jane’s tension with Maddie this episode was a bit rough, but it served its purpose. Being honest with Maddie is a big part of Jane’s journey, she’s learning to be honest with herself and her friends. Saxon turning out not to be Ziggy’s father and Jane’s rapist tightens things a bit- we’re going to learn his identity, the identity of the murderer, and the murdered, in one episode. That’s gonna be one packed hour. I thought her trying to make things good with Renata made sense, but Renata is still just a blindingly unsympathetic character.

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She’s worried about her kid, but she has no concern for anyone else. True, Jane does attack her, but Renata has been provoking Jane and socially humiliating her son. Jane is the one we feel for, because she’s by herself, she’s doing her best, and she apologizes when she’s wrong. Renata also says she’s sorry, albeit gracelessly.

Big Little Lies hbo shailene woodley adam scott reese witherspoon GIFOf course, this is really another Celeste episode. Nicole Kidman got the meatiest part on this show, despite the intensity and complexity of the other characters. The scenes with the therapist continue to be pitch-perfect, and you can slowly see Celeste understanding the true nature of her marriage. When she looks around that new apartment, you can see her placing twin beds for her twin sons, boxes of Legos and toy guns and dinosaurs. Celeste only truly accepts that her marriage is a hostage situation when Perry threatens her life, and that’s when she knows she has to do what her therapist is telling her.

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The music in this episode is maybe even better than it’s been- the production on this show is really fantastic, some of HBO’s best. I’m sad that it’ll be over next episode, but I anticipate a very satisfying finale.

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

“Dear Hank and John” A Comedy Podcast About Death

Dear Hank and John is a podcast by duo Hank and John Green, also known collectively as the Vlogbrothers of Youtube fame. They began the podcast in mid 2015, and have been releasing them weekly ever since, with some brief intermissions and occasional guest hosts replacing either brother.

I came to the podcast since my job requires a lot of manual labor that is relatively mind-numbing, and requires some sort of soundtrack to make tolerable. As such, I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts and have plowed through hundreds of hours of audio in the last year. I have been a vlogbrothers subscriber since 2012, and I started listening to the podcast a month or two ago. I have since listened to all eighty-five episodes of the pod, and it’s very engaging.

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Hank and John (or John and Hank, as John prefers) have awesome chemistry, and hearing them talk to each other directly rather than through alternating video blogs is weird, but they have a really entertaining back-and-forth. They also manage to be both serious and silly, which is a hard spectrum to nail, and they clearly enjoy making the show together and talking to each other. The brothers dispense what they refer to as dubious advice (and it usually is) for the first forty minutes of the show, and then for the last ten or fifteen they talk about their personal interests, Mars and the British football team AFC Wimbledon. The beginning of the show starts with light banter, and John reads a nice short poem. There are a lot of inside jokes in the community Hank and John are part of, but the show has inside jokes inside the inside jokes.

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I personally enjoy the pod so much that I use it as white noise when I do work, or walk around. I would very much recommend it, it’s definitely one of my favorite talk-y podcasts at the moment. You can find it wherever podcasts are dispensed.

Posted in TV

A New “Series of Unfortunate Events”

Like anyone who grew up and came of age in the early two thousands, I read A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket in elementary and middle school. The books, a hit, were adapted into a so-bad-it’s-good Jim Carrey showcase entitled A Series of Unfortunate Events. Personally, I enjoyed watching the movie, but I wasn’t really thinking of it as an adaptation of the books. When I watch a movie based on a book, I lower my expectations. I mostly think of the book as a suggestion- I know that’s how Hollywood sees it.

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So the Jim Carrey movie masquerading as A Series of Unfortunate Events was widely considered a failure, which is too bad because failed movies tend to deter future similar movies. But, through the magic of Netflix, we received an almost version of A Series of Unfortunate Events in the form of an eight-episode miniseries. Neil Patrick Haris is, like his character, a flawless scene stealer. The children are remarkable, especially for such complex roles, and the supporting cast is just phenomenal- Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket is just criminally good. Honourable mentions to Aasif Mandvi and K. Todd Freeman, who were just so book-accurate.

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There are a lot of ways that I think that the Netflix adaptation is a lot stronger than the books- there are characters of color whose races were never specified in the books, there are gay characters who are specifically established as gay. Obviously, in television foreshadowing and plot pacing has to be different than in books, so we may get answers we weren’t expecting. The opening sequences are hilarious and give every episode a little special something. I could go on forever talking about the aspects of the show that I think are brilliant, but I’ll just say one more thing: The decision to introduce the Quagmire siblings and their parents in the first season is genius, and Colby Smoulders and Will Arnett are a perfect and tragic red herring.

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In terms of the second season, it has been announced that it will consist of ten episodes, and cover the next five books- Austere Academy to Carnivorous Carnival. Supposedly, season three would tackle the final four books, but considering how much longer and more complicated the books get later in the series, I hypothesize that they will have to make more than two episodes to cover the last two books, so perhaps season three will be ten episodes as well. The production team and writers have definitely proven themselves with season one, so I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us in future seasons. Season two has an anticipated release in 2018, but it’s likely that the producers will choose to film the entire rest of the series back-to-back, due to the children not remaining children forever. Let’s hope it continues to impress us all with its unfortunateness.

You can read a letter from Mr. Snicket here, explaining the very fraught direction that this very frightening decision has pushed us all in.

Posted in TV

“Big Little Lies” Episode 5

So this was an eventful episode! Car crashes, flashbacks, road trips, oh my! Got to admit, I had more problems with this episode than the last few, but it was definitely important, and moved things along in the direction I think we all know they’re headed.

My favorite character moment of the episode goes to Celeste- you can see her close off as the therapist begins to ask questions she’s not okay with. When the therapist asks why she stays with him, she sees herself comforting Perry after he assaults her. Seeing his “remorse” is her justification for staying with him. She makes all kinds of excuses, his being a good parent, his love for her, his staying by her side. But even Celeste doesn’t seem to believe what she’s saying. The scenes with the therapist are genius, and I think they’ll be further explored in interesting ways in the next two episodes. The most pragmatic part of the Celeste scenes was her greeting Perry at the airport- he cries, kisses her fiercely, and their kids look on. It’s another reminder that she’s still trapped, not done quite yet.  Big Little Lies shailene woodley reese witherspoon nicole kidman zoe kravitz GIF

The Madeline subplot feels kind of contrived- like, okay, there have been some hints that the director guy has a thing for her, but aside from her passion for theater, we’ve seen little indication that she has interest in him. I can see her losing control and using someone who clearly desires her , but I’m not sure she’d leave the affair unresolved- Maddie’s an anxious person. The car crash is a catalyst for the spouses to start asking questions, and to put Madeline back on track in the life she wants for herself, or seems to. Her marriage is pretty glass house-y, so we’ll see how this develops further. My hypothesis is that either she and Ben will break up as a result of her affair, or nothing will happen and they’ll continue to live in an uneasy, semi-satisfying relationship. I feel like this subplot was created to give Maddie more to do outside of her problems with her daughter, her ex, and his new family.

Jane had an eventful episode- her PTSD is really well done, but I feel like she needs to be seeking help outside of emotional runs on the beach. Her biggest priority is being a good mom and taking care of her son and herself- and not dealing with her PTSD is hurting them both. At this point, I’m pretty convinced that Ziggy didn’t hurt Amabella- there’s some other culprit at play here. Maybe it’s her dad? Eh. I need more data. I’m having problems with Renata Klein. I just don’t think any reasonable woman would treat another mom like that, even one who she thinks is responsible for the child who is hurting her daughter. I also feel like Renata is another example of the hysterical Jewish mom, which is a trope I would like to see die. Sure, she’s right to be concerned about her daughter, but Jane is being a better mom. Jane took her son to a child psychologist, who told her what she needed to know. She trusted her son, and confirmed what he told her with as much science as you can. All Renata is doing is yelling at anyone who will listen, her husband, her daughter, the school’s administration and Jane. That’s just not productive behavior.

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Side note, where did Jane get all that pot? Maybe she is getting treatment for her PTSD. I get her driving down to confront her potential attacker on her own. The women going with her was a nice idea, but this is something she was always going to do on her own. Whether or not he was truly her rapist, Jane’s reaction to him shows that she’s not done dealing with her assault.

With only two episodes left, the show has a lot of threads to tie up. I don’t think we’re going to find out the murderer and the murdered until the finale, but the dissolution of Celeste and Perry’s marriage and Jane’s rapist have to be revealed in the next two episodes. Hopefully, we will be getting more of the great stuff we’ve been seeing so far, and it will be resolved satisfactorily. We’ll see in tonight’s episode . . .

 

Posted in Books

“Fangirl” By Rainbow Rowell

You’ve probably heard of Rainbow Rowell (yes, that is her real name) YA novelist taking the world by storm, even if you haven’t had the pleasure of encountering her writing. She is the author of five novels, but Fangirl is something special. It was published in 2013, and I read it the summer after my freshman year of college. It’s about a young woman named Cath, who goes off to college with her twin sister and has to adjust to major life changes with this new phase of her life.  

Image result for fangirl rainbow rowellRowell writes dynamic, fluid characters who don’t conform to archetypes. A good writer can make you love a character, but a great one can make you identify just a bit with each one. Refreshingly, the main focus is on Cath and her sister Wren, not their romantic subplots. Fangirl explores the deep complexity of sisterhood, jealousy, feelings of inferiority, and emotional isolation. Their differences are explored throughout the novel, as we see them starting at the same university and living separately for the first time. The twins  experience a lot, and the ways that they grow and change make them better.  

Fangirl emotionally impacted me because parts of the story felt so true to my life. I struggled through my first year of college, and it was reassuring to read about someone similar. Cath didn’t always feel like me, but her experiences felt like mine. Cath has realistic burdens, from troubled relationships with her family to her desire to escape into a fictional world. As in reality, conflicts go unresolved. Not everyone is unscathed, but life goes on. 

Another reason this book is important is the portrayal of mental illness. Cath and her father suffer from different neurosis, and it isn’t simple, because illness isn’t pretty. There is no quick solution to their problems. Importantly, Cath is loved, despite her issues. She still deserves love. That’s crucial, because people think that if they show the part of them that is vulnerable and imperfect, they won’t be seen as worthy of love. Cath learns that opening herself up can be painful, but rewarding.  

Cath will make you laugh and cry in the same paragraph, in the same sentence. I was hesitant to read Fangirl, but I’m so happy I did. I promise, if you pick it up, you will be too. Rainbow Rowell in general is great reading, she has a few books for adult and some YA novels. Eleanor & Park and Carry On are young adult novels. Attachments and Landline are for adult readers. I have read them all, and I can say that they only improve upon rereading. I can definitely recommend all of them for discovering your inner fangirl.