Not Just Books: October 2020

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

TV Show: “The Great British Baking Show”

It’s back!!! I was very concerned that like many of my favorite shows, this was going to be delayed and/or cancelled this year because of The-Pandemic-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named. I swear, it’s trying to ruin everything! But not the happy, British baking fun times! Instead, the show created their own little baking bubble where everyone remained together throughout filming and were thus able to film a pretty standard season. We’re only a few episodes in, but it’s great as always. My husband and I always pick two favorites to win and see who comes out on top. I’m 2 for 1 so far (there were seasons where neither of us got it right), so I’m hopeful my picks come through again so I can maintain my lead!

Netflix Movie: “Enola Holmes”

Of course I watched this movie. It’s like it was practically made for me. Sherlock Holmes re-telling? Check. Millie Bobby Brown? Check. Superman? I mean, Henry Cavil? Extra extra check! This was such a charming little movie. The acting was all superb. It leaned into the quirkiness of its concept, and of course, historical mysteries are always my jam. It’s the kind of thing where my biggest criticism of it is why it couldn’t have been longer? Like a mini series or something! But alas, all good things and such. Perhaps they’ll do a sequel? They definitely leave it opened ended enough to support that. But knowing Netflix….*sigh*

Movie: “A Knight’s Tale”

I loved this movie when it came out. It was a go-to for me and my sister when we were younger and wanted a feel-good romantic comedy to watch. Sadly, she owned the DVD and cruelly took it with her to college. So it had been quite a while since I had seen it and I was thrilled when I saw it pop up on Netflix. Of course, watching it now is a bit bitter sweet, all things considered. But it’s still such a fun ride, if you get past the sadness. And also so weird! I want to be in the meeting where someone pitched this movie to producers. A medieval story about a knight, but with a bunch of modern music and anachronisms every where. Very weird, but it worked!

Kate’s Picks

TV Show: “Evil”

Oddly enough, it was my mother, a woman who doesn’t care for horror as a rule, who told me I should watch this show. Perhaps it’s not that shocking, given that she was a HUGE fan of shows like “The X-Files” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and “Evil” definitely harkens a bit towards shows like that in a lot of ways. It follows Kristen, a forensic psychologist, and Acosta, a man studying to be a Catholic priest as they go out, by orders of the Catholic Church, to investigate potential demonic and supernatural events to see if the Church should perform exorcisms and other rights. In lighter hands it could have been a feel good CBS show, but it’s dark and hell and can give a serious case of the creeps to its viewers. Even this self professed nonbeliever. I love Kristen, I love Acosta, and I love their companion Ben, a tech whiz who is there to find hard scientific evidence (played by the HILARIOUS Aasif Mandvi). Also, the always unsettling Michael Emerson is there to play a potential demon who wants to throw wrenches into the teams work.

Netflix Show: “The Haunting of Bly Manor”

Honestly, they had me at a creepy version of Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home” in the trailer. Well, also at the fact that this is the next Mike Flanagan famous haunted house story adaptation. Based on “The Turn of the Screw”, “The Haunting of Bly Manor” has updated the classic mind twisty story of a governess and her charges in the isolated countryside. Much like “Hill House” before it, “The Haunting of Bly Manor” takes themes from the source material to tell a new story, in which a Governess takes a position at the Country House Bly Manor watching a man’s niece and nephew, and starts to experience strange things. Flanagan and the others expand upon this, with new characters, an updated timeline, and some twists that make it all the more intriguing. Plus, creepy creepy moments and unsettling ghosts galore! It’s the perfect Halloween watch! But be sure to have tissues handy. I spent the last half of the series bawling on and off.

TV Show: “Canada’s Drag Race”

I was VERY happy with season 12 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, and knew that I was going to be craving more drag show content as the year went on and my need for levity remained in midst of everything else going on. Well never fear, because The Great White North has its own offshoot drag competition! Enter “Canada’s Drag Race”! While it’s officially part of the RuPaul brand, instead of Ru and the usual set of judges, we have a three judge panel (consisting of Stacey McKenzie, Jeffry Boyer-Chapman, and “Drag Race” alum Brooke Lynn Hytes), a rotating host, and a group of awesome Canadian Queens ready to fight for the crown. I love seeing the drag cultures of different countries from around the world, and I also liked the stripped down and organic feel of this first season (a stark contrast to a now VERY regimented and commercialized U.S. “Drag Race”). Plus, all the Canadian references are just wonderful (including an “Anne of Green Gables” inspired look in episode 1). I hope that we get more of this in the future!

Not Just Books: September 2020

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

TV Show: “Lucifer” Season 5

After many Covid-related delays, the first half of “Lucifer” season 5 dropped in late August. I think it probably took me like two days to binge it? In most ways, it’s everything one would expect, which is both good and bad. The cast is, of course, still excellent and the show doesn’t hesitate to lean into the silliness of its own concept. However, the longer it has been on Netflix and the more it has dived into its own supernatural storylines, the aggressively episodic approach to much of its storytelling seems to feel more and more out of touch with where the show itself wants to go. Maybe part of that feeling has to do with the fact that season 5 has been split into two parts which further weakens the serialized elements that are present. I think the second half is set to come out sometime in early 2021, so we’ll see how that plays out. I’m still enjoying the heck out of this, either way.

Video Game: “The Witcher III: Wild Hunt”

Perhaps foolishly, I decided recently that I needed a new video game to immerse myself in. I’d already played through “Skyrim” a few times and with the sequel seemingly stuck in development for….forever, I turned to another super popular fantasy franchise. I still haven’t gotten around to watching the Netflix show for this game/book series, though my love of Henry Cavil is never-ending. So it will be interesting to play this game through and then compare it to that show whenever I do get around to it. I’m still barely into the main plot line, but I’m enjoying the familiar-feeling open world concept and so far the plot and dialogue have been interesting and engaging. I’m now mostly feeling guilty for starting this without my husband…

Movie: “The American President”

So, politics…yeah, they’ve been a thing. And whenever I feel like I’m beginning to become overwhelmed with pessimism regarding politics, my go-to is usually a re-watch of “The West Wing.” But at 7 seasons long, that’s quite the commitment, so this time around I turned instead to its predecessor and inspiration: “The American President.” Re-watching this movie, it’s so clear the connections between these two. Mostly, it’s the clever dialogue and the supremely idealistic imaging of what politics, and the White House in general, could be. The lovely romance at its heart is pretty swell, too.

Kate’s Picks

Movie: “Bill and Ted Face The Music”

I have been a huge, huge, HUGE “Bill and Ted” fan ever since I was about six years old and saw “Excellent Adventure” randomly. When I found out that they were going to make a third one with Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter coming back to play their roles of Ted and Bill, I was ecstatic that I would finally be able to see a “Bill and Ted” movie in the theater!!…. And then COVID found another way to ruin something. But I went for the VOD option at my house, and my gosh, it was everything I needed. In this long awaited third film, Bill and Ted are now middle aged, and still haven’t written the song that is supposed to bring synchronicity to the universe. When Rufus’s daughter Kelly comes to tell them that they need to do it now, they start a new time traveling adventure… But along with that, their daughters Billie and Thea go on their OWN adventure through times in hopes of helping their dads. It’s sweet, it’s wholesome, it’s everything 2020 needs to make it a little gentler. And yes…. The Grim Reaper is back.

Netflix Show: “Cobra Kai”

So I watched the first few episodes of “Cobra Kai” when it premiered on YouTube a few years ago, but couldn’t justify getting YouTube Red to finish out the series. Which pained me, because I loved the continuing stories of “Karate Kid” characters Johnny and Daniel. So when I found out that Netflix got the rights to it, I was ECSTATIC. “Cobra Kai”, as I’ve mentioned on here before, follows Johnny, the bully from “Karate Kid” whose life hasn’t really gone very far, and his journey to reopen the Cobra Kai karate studio, this time attracting misfits and weirdos. Daniel, the hero from the movies, is living a GREAT life now… but is stuck in the past. When they meet up again, old rivalries start up once more. What I love most about this show is William Zabka’s new take on Johnny, and showing how a lot of his worst characteristics are and were the result of serious childhood traumas and baggage. Plus, this show is wildly funny, and the new karate students, especially the sweetheart Miguel, are charming as hell.

TV Show: “The Vow”

Will I ever get enough NXIVM content? It seems that I won’t, because even though I’ve listened to podcasts and read books about the cult, I am now obsessed with the HBO docuseries about it. “The Vow” has actual footage from the likes of Keith Raniere and his creepy minions in action, and follows former members who had deep ties to the group until they started to realize that something was very, very wrong. The most interesting aspect of this is that the footage is something you wouldn’t expect from an expose like this, but the people who made it had been documenting the group and its members before everything hit the fan and Raniere, Alison Mack, Nancy Salzman, and others were arrested for sex trafficking. It’s super interesting being able to see these primary source interviews of some very manipulative and dangerous people.

Not Just Books: August 2020

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

mv5byjk0mtgzmmqtzmy2my00nme5lwexngutyjzknta3zdkymtjixkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkxnjuynq4040._v1_uy268_cr00182268_al_Movie: “Palm Springs”

I’m a sucker for “Groundhogs Day” type stories, so this was movie was sure to appeal with its premise of two people caught up in a time loop at a wedding. The fact that it’s at a wedding makes it all the better, for, other than a few exceptions, weddings are often really crazy things. Some people are at their best, sure, but many others are often at their worst. So add in two messed up individuals who have literally nothing to lose and some pretty funny stuff is on hand. The movie also introduced a few different concepts that I hadn’t seen before in time loop stories, so that made it fun. There were moments where it erred a bit too far into the “stupid comedy” that I don’t usually like, but for the most part, it was a really funny, enjoyable time.

mv5bnza5mjkwyzmtngy2ms00ywrjlthkntktotnmmzdlzje3y2ixxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymjkwmzmxodg40._v1_uy268_cr00182268_al_Netflix Show: “The Umbrella Academy” Season 2

This is one of those rare beasts where I think I ended up liking the second season even better than the first! I mean, the first was so wackadoo that it took a bit to really settle into what it was trying to be. This time, you’re prepared for all the ridiculousness and great soundtrack. Add in a new time period of the 1960s, a new set of Swedish assassins, and all of the usual family drama in a family made up of superheroes with serious daddy issues, and you’re in for a romp! I still think Ellen Page is probably the weakest link in this show, which is too bad because she also gets top billing. But overall, the cast is really great and all have excellent chemistry. Like the first season, though, it does end on a cliffhanger and as of now, there’s no word on whether Netflix has renewed it for a third season. Don’t you dare, Netflix…

mv5bntc1ytexn2ytzwq2ms00mwqzltkwmwqtmdy3odexndm2mgqwxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymzu3mtc5ote40._v1_uy268_cr40182268_al_TV Show: “Alone”

During a daze of post-long-day-with-a-toddler TV browsing, my husband and I found the 6th season of this survival reality show on TV. I think we both went into it fully expecting to mock the crap out of it for an episode or two and then turn it off never to be thought of again. Several days later…we’ve pretty much gone through the entire season and are on the lookout for ways to get our hands on the earlier seasons (side note: it’s so weird how Netflix randomly gets late seasons of shows like this instead of the first one, ugh). Both my husband and I love camping and consider ourselves fairly knowledgeable about the outdoors, but what makes this show fun is how clearly well-versed the contestants are in survival tactics. Unlike “Survivor,” this show really is only about people alone in the wilderness having to get by. You absolutely HAVE to know how to hunt/snare/fish and build a really good shelter. Plus, film yourself while doing it, since there are no camera people out there. If you like survival shows, this is definitely a fun one. Warning: there’s lots of hunting, so be prepared for that.

Kate’s Picks

mv5bmdllmwrjnwmtm2u3ny00yjawltlhntgtothjztc2ymi2zmrmxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyodkzntgxmdg40._v1_TV Show: “Perry Mason”

Am I familiar with the original “Perry Mason” stories of yesteryear with Raymond Burr as the relentless and successful lawyer? Nope! Am I familiar with the fact that Matthew Rhys is a hottie and I also like courtroom dramas? Hell yes! My parents were the ones who told me to give the new “Perry Mason” on HBO a look, and boy am I glad I did. While some people think that the idea of giving Mason a gritty reboot was a bit silly, given that I have no reference point for the mythos it worked out just fine for me. Mason is working as a Private Detective in 1930s Los Angeles, and his friend, lawyer E.B. Jonathan (played by John Lithgow) hires him to help on the case of a kidnapped baby who ended up dead. As Mason investigates, he also has to deal with his own personal demons that have been brought on because of his time in WWI. As Mason digs, he finds connections to the local police, the wealthy grandfather, and an Evangelical Church, headed by a woman preacher named Alice who swears she can work miracles. To sweeten the deal of this show, Tatiana Maslany plays Alice, and boy oh boy is she excellent. This is a dark take on the classic character, but I, for one, was hooked.

220px-eurovision_song_contest-_the_story_of_fire_saga_posterNetflix Film: “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”

Sometimes you just need a fun, goofy, lighthearted movie to lift your spirits. And when my husband and I decided to give “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” a shot, we were very happy to realize that it was just what we needed. This earnest and cute comedy follows Lars (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams), two Icelandic musicians who have dreams of performing in Eurovision. When a twist of fate gets them a spot in the competition, their dreams are just within reach… but Lars’s desperate need to win makes him blind to Sigrit’s feelings for him. Ferrell is back to his classic comedic act, but it’s McAdams who really shines by bringing goofy charm, and some genuine pathos, to Sigrit. Plus, the music is awesome, AND look for Dan Stevens as a flamboyant Russian contestant who may be getting between Lars and Sigrit. If you want fluff with great music, check this one out!mv5bm2jiyzq0otatzjzhmy00mjixltgzmmitmdaxn2jhnzbmmjzmxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymdm2ndm2mq4040._v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_

TV Show: “Why Women Kill”

Some of my fondest memories from college were when my friends Tom and Prerna would come over on Sundays to watch “Desperate Housewives” so we could get our trashy TV on. While the show eventually fell out of my favor (the time jump is where I can pinpoint it all going wrong), I did miss guilty pleasure TV. Well lucky for me, Marc Cherry has a new trashy show on CBS All Access called “Why Women Kill”! It follows three couples, all who live in the same house in different decades, and the secrets they keep, the lies they tell, and the eventual murders that one of the members of each couple may commit. While all of them have interesting storylines, it is Lucy Liu’s Simone whose story I love the most. In the 1980s she is the spoiled and sarcastic wife of a wealthy man…. and it turns out that he’s gay. Seeing her maneuver the secret along with trying to feel desirable again is quite fun… especially since she and Jack Davenport, who plays husband Karl, have delightfully bitchy banter. Soapy sudsy dialogue and an addictive mystery, it’s at the level “Desperate Housewives” was when it was at its best.

Not Just Books: July 2020

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

mv5bzta5n2i4njatmgrhzc00ywvllthjmtctyzjiy2uwmzezmtdixkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkxnjuynq4040._v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Netflix Show: “Next in Fashion”

Yet another fashion competition show! I have an obsession, and the continuous quarantining/social distancing isn’t doing anything to help me break out of these habits. I’m not sure how I missed this show when it came out on Netflix earlier in the year, but I sure was pleased when I discovered its existences. And as much as I love Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, I’m pretty sure this managed to make a much more enjoyable viewing experience on a tiny percentage of the budget. It’s much more humorous, down-to-earth and approachable to regular viewers. The hosts are hilarious and don’t take themselves too seriously, and it’s easy to become attached to the contestants. I was also really pleased with the winner of this first season, so that’s always a bonus!

mv5bmguwzjlimtatnzaxzi00mwnilwe2nzgtzguxmgqxzjhhndrixkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynju1nzu3mze40._v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Movie: “Knives Out”

I’ve finally gotten my husband to watch (re-watch for me) all of “Supernatural.” All 15 seasons of it. But with that much of one show to binge, we also have evenings where we definitely need a break. So, when browsing Amazon Prime, one night we discovered this movie. I had remembered a lot of people raving about it last fall, but never got around to watching it myself. We went in thinking it was a comedy, which in some ways it was, but more just of wacky/quirky storytelling sort. Instead what we mostly found was a very suspenseful murder mystery. I was so tense throughout this entire thing! But I still enjoyed the heck out of it, and with its star-studded cast and story full of twists and surprises, it’s definitely one to check out if you haven’t already!

mv5bodcyntm4mjuwof5bml5banbnxkftztcwnte5mjc2nw4040._v1_uy268_cr90182268_al_TV Show: “Legend of the Seeker”

This show came out several years ago and only ran for two seasons. I think it was a bit ahead of its time for trying to adapt a classic fantasy  book series (Terry Goodkind’s “Sword of Truth” series) into a TV series and was definitely still adhering to the Sci Fi Channel standard where fantasies can’t be taken too seriously and must always contain an element of cheese. But I still really enjoyed it and it’s a nice show to return to during stressful times. It has a good mixture of drama, comedy and high fantasy. Plus, it has a lovely romance at its heart that comes to a satisfying conclusion after its two seasons conclude. Not to mention, the leading man isn’t bad to look at though I wish they had just let him use his native Australian accent since the American one can be a bit strained at times.

Kate’s Picks

unsolved-mysteries-reboot-netflix-theme-songNetflix Show: “Unsolved Mysteries”

So even though I’m sure it would have been right up my childhood and teenage years alley, I never really watched the original “Unsolved Mysteries” when it was on the air. I’m sure my parents knew that my anxious nature couldn’t handle it. But I ended up seeing episodes through re-runs and streaming as an adult, and when I found out that Netflix was rebooting it I was THRILLED! The basic premise of the show is still there, covering strange cases of unexplained deaths, missing people, and the otherworldly, but now it has taken out some of the cheesier elements and has one main focus per episode. There are only six episodes thus far, and who knows when they’ll add more given COVID-19, but the new “Unsolved Mysteries” hits exactly where I want it to. Even if there is no Robert Stack this time around.

8ldhjc3hx29nkk0bfgayzkiwqwnHBO Max Show: “Search Party”

Oh how long I waited for “Search Party” to come back! I was worried that it wasn’t going to happen, as it had been a couple of years since Season 2 ended on a cliffhanger, where our protagonist Dory (Alia Shawkat) was arrested for the murder of her former lover Keith… right after she had killed April, a woman who was blackmailing her about Keith’s murder. So when HBO Max picked up the show and dropped all of Season 3 at once, I binged binged BINGED. “Search Party” is still awkward, funny, and dark as hell, and the best thing about it is that we’ve been able to watch Dory transform over the seasons, from meek and aimless millennial…. to full on villain. John Early’s Elliot is still my favorite as he remains his shallow, overdramatic self, but it’s Dory’s attorney Cassidy, played by Shalita Grant, who brings a fun new dynamic to the series as another shallow hipster… but with ethics and a moral center nevertheless. Can’t wait to see what happens in Season 4, as it ended on another cliffhanger.

hamilton-poster-disney-plusMovie Musical: “Hamilton”

We were those people who finally stopped waffling about getting Disney+ specifically because of “Hamilton” dropping on it. While I saw the stage show when it came to Minnesota a couple years ago, both my husband and I were very excited to see the original Broadway cast in all their glory performing for streamers everywhere. While it’s true that “Hamilton” isn’t completely historically accurate, and that creator Lin Manuel Miranda took some liberties here and there, it cannot be denied that this show is a once in a generation powerhouse of creative genius. And frankly, during this time where so much seems hopeless and despairing, having a fluffy pick me up can be really helpful. Suffice to say, we greatly enjoyed watching it on July 4th weekend.

 

 

Not Just Books: June 2020

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

mv5byzayodllngutmzy1ms00yzrllwe4mzctmzjknzazngu5nzllxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtqxnzmzndi40._v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_TV Show: “Top Chef”

I’ve probably watched all of the seasons of “Top Chef” by now. It’s probably my favorite cooking competition show (not counting “The Great British Baking Show”) due to its low emphasis on drama between the contestants and typically high quality competitors. This season was even more fun as it was an “All Stars” season, so several of my favorites were in the mix. I had one particular favorite that ended up making it all the way to the end, though sadly not winning. But I was satisfied with who did end up winning and enjoyed the run overall. Restaurant Wars is always a fun set of episodes, and it was interesting watching a show that partly filmed in Italy that had to put up disclosures that it was filmed before Covid hit the country.

mv5bodq0ndhjywitytmxzi00ntk2lwizndetowziywyxzjc2mtgxxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtqxnzmzndi40._v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_

Movie: “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” 

Naturally, during this stressful time, I think we’re all looking for some light-hearted distractions. I’d been wanting to check out this comedy for a while, and now seemed like the perfect time. I’m pretty picky as far as my comedy movies go, but the preview for this one definitely sparked my interest. Not to mention my love for the 90s Robin Williams version. And I was super excited to see the way that that movie was drawn in and referenced here. I hadn’t been expecting it to really tie back to that movie as much as it did. I think the updates on how the game has adapted for modern kids was very intriguing, and it’s definitely one of those things that appeals even more to those who play video games themselves, like I do. The cast was fun, though Dwayne Johnson definitely stole the show. I’ll have to recommend it to my Mom since she pretty much loves anything “The Rock” does.

mv5bmtiymte3mta2n15bml5banbnxkftztcwmju3ntg1mq4040._v1_uy268_cr90182268_al_TV Series: “Medium”

And on a darker note….I also really enjoy crime procedurals. As long as the cast is good and the mysteries intriguing enough, I’m on board to binge my way through season after season. And given how much I hate trying to find something new, the longer a show’s run, the better! So I’d been mentally saving this 7 season show for desperate times, and here they are! I’m about finished with season 2 and really enjoying it. Some of the episodes have been way darker than I had been prepared for, and those have been a bit tough to deal with. But the lovely representation of Allison’s children and loving husband are always just the right balance to the darker nature of some of the mysteries. I’ve also really liked how creative the show has been with its premise, a medium working for the police. It could have become a very tired concept pretty quickly, but so far the show has been able to keep adding fresh angles to it.

Kate’s Picks

mv5bodqxmmi3zgqtogrlny00mzi3lwe3zmitowrjm2i2yjqyyzgzxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymzi2mzyynzi40._v1_uy1200_cr17106301200_al_TV Show: “Kim’s Convenience”

If you thought that there was only one delightful CBC comedy to watch on Netflix, do I have news for you! It was just recently that I had heard of “Kim’s Convenience”, a sitcom about a Korean-Canadian family running a convenience store in Toronto. But in need of light and cheerful content, I threw it on one day and then was immediately hooked. The Kim family are all very charming and multi layered, with Kim Sang-il and Kim Yong-mi running the store and their children, Janet and Jung, living their lives as children of immigrants who are trying to have independence from their parents. I find all of the characters sweet and endearing, even when they are sometimes making poor, or at least misguided, decisions. Overall, despite some of the mild dysfunction like many families have, the Kim family is easy to root for, and the show is both notable for taking on an immigrant story as well as the witty comedy that comes with it.

the_lovebirds_posterFilm: “The Lovebirds”

I saw the trailer for “The Lovebirds” during one of my last endeavors to the movie theater before COVID-19 sent us all inside, and I had wanted to see it. So while I was bummed that the movie theater experience wasn’t going to happen with this film, I was stoked when Netflix picked it up! Leilani and Jibran are a couple that is starting to fizzle out, and right as they break up they almost immediately hit a bicyclist… And then another man hijacks their car, and runs the bicyclist over. Now Leilani and Jibran, worried that they will be blamed for the murder, go on their own journey to find out who the bicyclist was, who the murderer was, as to try to clear their names. And what they find is a madcap set of events that had me laughing basically the whole time. Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae have great chemistry, both romantic and comedic, and the romantic comedy aspects and tropes are twisted about with some noire-ish tropes as well. If you want a romantic comedy with a little bit of quirkiness, this is the one to check out!

web_largecoverart_series_snowfall_540x796TV Show: “Snowfall”

And now we ditch the light hearted content on my list for something completely different and super dark. We take a deep dive into the first big crack epidemic in the 1980s Los Angeles, and how it damaged communities, ravaged lives, and showed hypocrisy of the United States Government and its supposed War on Drugs. “Snowfall” is a crime drama created by John Singleton, director of “Boyz n the Hood”, and it follows dealers, cartels, and CIA agents and how they all play a role in the drug trade. “Snowfall” is violent and unrelenting, and also a little over the top, as some critics have pointed out, but I definitely enjoy the indictment that it is making against corrupt systems and how they fail to protect vulnerable communities, even throwing them under the bus when it suits them. “Snowfall” feels very personal when it comes to the story of Franklin, a Black teen living in South Central who deals drugs to get by, and stumbles into an opportunity to deal coke for an Israeli drug lord. Franklin is very clearly just trying to make ends meet and to keep him and his mother above water… and then he discovers a new drug that guarantees repeat business. Contrast that with the CIA dealing drugs to fund the Contras and you have a stark juxtaposition. “Snowfall” is a tough watch, but I’m hooked.

What non-book media have you enjoyed this month?

 

Not Just Books: May 2020

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

mv5bnzuxzjrlymetmtvkoc00ymu3ltlmmtktnwy4m2i3ztvjowmxxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymdm2ndm2mq4040._v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Amazon Prime Show: “Making the Cut”

As I’ve highlighted “Project Runway” in the past, it’s clear I have a thing for reality fashion competitions. I held out for quite a while on the more recent seasons of “Project Runway” due to Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn leaving the show. But the pair left to create their own show teamed up with Amazon. Overall, I like it. But I do think that it probably released at an unfortunate time with all the C19 stuff going around. The show definitely errs towards the more expensive side of fashion and the budget is clearly over the top. It makes it all read a bit strange in the current times, but that’s hardly the shows fault. I’m not sure how I feel about all of the music choices, as well, as I often think it’s kind of distracting. But Heidi and Tim are as charming as ever, and the contestants are enjoyable. It still feels as if the show is finding its footing, so I’ll be curious to see if it’s renewed for a second season and if/how it would be tweaked for that. My main takeaway is that I now think Naomi Campbell should be a judge on ALL the fashion TV series.

OneSheet (Page 1)Move: “Son of Rambow”

My husband suggested this movie the other night when we were browsing around trying to find something to watch. It’s been kind of tough lately as neither of us have been in the mood for anything too dark or heavy. He had watched this movie back when it came out, but I had never heard about it. It’s a very sweet, quirky British comedy about two boys growing up in the 80s and making a home movie called, obviously, “Son of Rambow.” The child actors are very good, and there’s a hilarious French kid who kind of steals the show at times. Overall, it was just the kind of heart-warming movie we both needed, and I highly recommend it as a family movie if you’re looking for something of that sort.

mv5bntu5m2zjnwitmjgwyi00zmmwlwiynmitmwjhogi5y2y4otfjxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtawmzm3ndi3._v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Web Series: “Some Good News”

John Krasinski is charming as heck, so it’s no surprise that his web series “Some Good News” took off like wildfire. It was one of those perfect marriages of a good idea, great time, and a perfect host to pull it off. It seems a simple enough idea, but there’s no denying about appealing the idea of a show that features only happy and uplifting stories is in a time when you can barely open a web browser without being bombarded by travesty. It doesn’t hurt that Krasinski has a whole host of celebrity friends he can call upon to pop in for surprise visits. As a perennial fan of “The Office,” the few episodes that included visits from random cast members were some of my favorites. But there’s stuff in there for everyone. In fact, the show ended up being so popular that Krasinski sold it to CBS All Access where it will continue to live. We’ll see how well it holds up in that format and over time, but I’m happy enough with it even as a flash-in-the-pan event that came at just the right time.

Kate’s Picks

cad0ee8eb3fd943d3c588bf372f3a5eaTV Show: “The Sopranos”

Since I have been spending more time at home due to the pandemic (though let’s be honest, with an infant at home I wasn’t really going out during the week anyway), I decided that I needed to start tackling shows that were on my TV Bucket List. The first on the list was “The Sopranos”, the show that is credited with being one of the shows that ushered in our current Golden Age of TV. For those who may not know, it follows Mafia Capo Tony Soprano as he navigates his work with the Mob, and the various dysfunctions within his family life. He does this by going into therapy to treat his anxiety attacks and depression. Is it dark? Absolutely. Is it fantastic? Also absolutely. I am glad that I am finally able to experience this show.

mv5botgxode5yjmtmje2oc00ytu5lwfmntgtztc5zjrkngm4zgjmxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynjq0mdqxotm40._v1_Netflix Show: “Giri/Haji”

Another show that involves organized crime, but this time it’s the Yakuza, and we’re on the side of law enforcement. Kind of. Inspector Mori Kenzo, a detective in Tokyo, is dealing with the loss of his brother Yuto, who was in the Yakuza and assumed dead by his family. But when a murder of a nephew of a high ranking Yakuza officer happens in London, gang leaders tell Kenzo they think it was Yuto, and a gang war looms on the horizon. Kenzo goes to London to try and find his brother, and meets a DC named Sarah, and a sex worker named Rodney, both of whom may be able to help him. This suspenseful and gripping show really had me hooked, and the themes of family, loyalty, and duty all came together to make it all the more high stakes.

the_queen_1968_movie_posterFilm: “The Queen”

No, not the Helen Mirren one! The documentary that shed light and insight into the drag pageant world! “The Queen” follows a drag pageant in New York with a focus on the Mistress of Ceremonies, Sabrina, as she organizes it. We also get to meet and get to know some of the contestants, such as Sabrina’s protege Rachel Harlow, and the now infamous Crystal LaBeija (whose completely appropriate rant about her final placement in the pageant and the inherent racial bias in the drag scene is LEGENDARY). There are also some really interesting looks at the social lens of drag in the 1960s, and how race and gender was received as well as moments of political candor (one contestant talks about trying to enlist in the military, but being turned away for being ‘too feminine’). Honestly, I came for Crystal LaBeija, but enjoyed the entire thing.

What have you been enjoying over the last month?

My Year with Jane Austen: “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” [2012]

mv5bmtg1otk0mzg4nf5bml5banbnxkftztcwotm3mtm5oq4040._v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Web Series: “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries”

Release Year: 2012

Actors: Lizzie Bennet – Ashley Clements

William Darcy – Daniel Vincent Gordh

Jane Bennet – Laura Spencer

Lydia Bennet – Mary Kate Wiles

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

I watched this for the first time a few years ago. It had been out for a while as “Emma Approved” was also up and concluded. I remember flying through both series pretty quickly and enjoying the heck out of them (and, for the first time, being really annoyed by all the YouTube ads that were breaking up my experience). So, to get a wide range of examples of Jane Austen adaptations, I wanted to include both of these web series in this year’s project.

Sadly, it doesn’t quite hold up as much a second time around. This isn’t a mark against it overall, just that I think it’s the kind of thing that is more of an “experience” watching the first time and less enjoyable the second go around where the limitations of the format begin to glare more when the novelty has worn off. But I’ll start with a few of the positive things that stood out this go-around.

First, I think the series is very creative, especially with the way it changed certain aspects of the original story to fit a modern setting. Woes about family finances become more grounded in talks about second mortgages. Different approaches to marriage become different approaches to career paths. Pemberley becomes Darcy’s media company and Catherine DeBourgh becomes a venture capitalist who is funding Mr. Collins’s own media enterprise. Lydia is a party girl and Wickham is a dumb jock. Even small things like changing Mr. Bingley’s name to Bing Lee are creative as heck. I have to imagine it was really fun writing this series.

Also, for the most part, all of the actors are well-cast and, while clearly distinctive from their book counterparts, they all fit well with the same basic personalities and storylines from the original. I’ll obviously talk about some of the big players later, but I’ll just add here that I particularly liked this version of Charlotte (the hilarious and practical behind-the-scenes counterpart in the production of Lizzie’s videos) and of Georgiana/Gigi (a fresh faced and bubbly presence who gets much more involved in the matchmaking side of things with regards to her brother and Lizzie than the original would ever have dreamed of).

However, this go-around, the story felt unnecessarily drawn out and was rather tedious during the middle portion. It takes a long time to even get to the first “proposal,” let alone everything that came later. I think a good number of episodes probably could have been cut and the series would have ultimately kept up its pace and rhythm better. I have to imagine that this was a lesson learned for “Emma Approved” which has a shorter run time even though it is based off the longer book of the two.

The series also struggled with some of its more serious moments. The actors all felt more at ease with the comedy than the drama and there were times where some of it seemed to slip in quality from the rest. It’s just the kind of thing that is going to play more naturally with a comedic topic. Once we get into the drama with Lydia, I was not only beginning to feel the length of the show again but started to become more uncomfortable watching it. Like the romance, it was hard not to feel voyeuristic about these more serious portions. Yes, my brain knew it was all acted out anyways, but the other part of me cringed for seeing these intimate moments of seemingly “regular” people.

Overall,  I think it’s well worth checking out by all Austen fans. Though I will say that for me, at least, it was an experience that didn’t hold up to a repeat. Which is totally fine! I still remember loving it the first time and anyone who hasn’t seen it and loves these stories will probably feel the same. I do remember liking “Emma Approved” better, so we’ll see how that does the second go-around.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

While the show is definitely bringing new twists to this story, I’m not quite sure how I feel about this Lizzie herself. Due to the nature of this story, her prejudice against Darcy does seem extreme to the point of rather obsessive. I mean, we’ve all met rude guys, but she takes it pretty far. And, overall, this Lizzie is much more cynical and judgmental of almost everyone around her than the version in the book. Elizabeth Bennett definitely jumped to conclusions, but she also seemed to generally treat people with a bit more kindness than this Lizzie. Again, the nature of this series, being a video diary for Lizzie, kind of sets her up for failure here. Most all of it is her talking about other people. And what are diaries made up of?

Yep, diaries = talking crap about a bunch of people behind their back. But when it’s a web series and that’s all you have…your heroine kind of comes off like a bit of a jerk to those around her. True, by the end of the series she does come around on all of this, but it’s still a bit much at times.

The worst was her fall-out with Charlotte. The idea is good, to exchange practicality about marriage with practicality about careers, with Charlotte not subscribing to Lizzie’s “go for the dream” job approach. But, like the problem I had with the 2008 version of “Pride and Prejudice,” this Mr. Collins isn’t that bad (at least not for a first boss, and we’ve all had bad bosses, so c’mon) and Lizzie’s reaction seems completely overblown. Even more so here than in other versions of this story.

Charlotte lays out her reasoning pretty clearly: her family is poor, she thinks much of career success is based on luck, and often a job is a job, something that you make a living doing. I mean…this speaks so much truth to my generation, a bunch of people who graduated from college with massive debts right into a recession where jobs were scarce and those that did exist barely paid.  It’s the RIGHT outlook! And, unlike marriage, a job isn’t meant to be forever. This is the exact sort of golden opportunity that you’d be stupid, and Lizzie is stupid for turning down! You start out with a company in a great position, and after a few years, leverage it into your dream job. This is just reality, and it has all the luck that Charlotte mentioned written all over it: just handed to Lizzie, and then Charlotte, on a gold platter for really no good reason other than a past connection and them being in the right place at the right time. And then Lizzie just tears into Charlotte over it. It’s pretty obnoxious, really. Granted, she does come around pretty quickly. But it’s a tough thing to recover from so early in the show. Not a good look for Lizzie.

I also had a few qualms with the acting itself. I think the actress was best in her comedy moments, especially the dramatizations of past scenes with her parodies of other people. But when the script called for more serious moments, be it the angry confrontation with Darcy, the sister squabble with Lydia and eventual reunion, and even the more serious parts of the romance…I just didn’t feel like the actress was really cut out for it. She tended to overact and her expressions and reactions felt a bit forced.

On the other hand, I really liked the actresses who played Jane and Lydia. I’ll talk more about Lydia in the comedy section. Jane, however, was pretty solid. She’s sweet, kind of quiet, and a great interpretation of the book character into a modern woman. We only see her on and off, but she’s a nice balance to both Lizzie and Lydia.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

We don’t really see much of our heroes in this version. Bing shows up early enough, thinking the videos are just messages to Charlotte. I really like this interpretation of Bing. He’s charming, funny, and easy going. But! Importantly, he’s NOT an idiot. Yes, he does get lead around by his friends, but the series makes great efforts at the end for him to experience his own personal reflection and start making choices for himself. He drops out of med school, admitting he had only been doing it because that’s what his family wanted. And instead he was spending his time working with charities. Jane at first turns down his offer to follower her to NYC where she gets a new job. But after hearing about these moments of clarity on his part and his efforts to begin to make his own choices, she relents and the two are together at least. It’s a nice mini arc for the character, and it ties up some questions about his character quite nicely by allowing him to experience his own personal growth.

I mention this a bit more in the romance section below, but it’s really too bad that we don’t see more of Darcy until at least halfway through the series. Even Bing, we have a face to connect to the stories much earlier which goes a long way for how much we care about his and Jane’s storyline. But I do like the character a lot when we do meet him. His mannerisms are of the sort that it’s easy to see how Lizzie’s interpretations of his rudeness and coldness came to be. And it’s fun to see him loosen up gradually. I particularly liked the last few episodes after they’re together. There’s some fun nods to the book with a mention of his learning to be teased and dealing with Lizzie’s mother and father.

I also liked the way the show used career opportunities instead of proposals as the big kicks for each of the ladies. And through these moments, the heroes also had their moments to shine, with Bing prioritizing Jane’s work and going with her to NYC rather than asking her to stay, and Darcy, perhaps foolishly, originally asking Lizzie to work at his company. She is quick to point out the problems with this, but we also see how he plans to use his network connections to help her with her start-up.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

I really liked this take on Wickham. He’s only on a few episodes, but it’s enough to see how charming he can be. It’s also enough for the viewers, at least, to see what a complete idiot he is. He’s full on “dumb jock” through and through. Even Lizzie seems embarrassed by him at a few points. The adjustments to his storyline also work very neatly, switching out an estate for a full ride to Harvard, money that Wickham blows through in one year before asking for more.

His affair with Gigi is also a nice twist, with them forming a relationship and living together until Darcy shows up unexpectedly and proves that Wickham was only in it for the money by offering him a check to leave, which he takes and does. It’s nearly as traumatic as the elopement would have been in the book, but it serves well enough. The only thing that is a bit of a sticking point is that, given the current culture, while it may be embarrassing for Gigi, it’s definitely not the kind of secret that should affect her at all if widely known. It could be easily told and sink Wickham, and I sincerely doubt anyone would think anything bad about the poor girl caught up in it all.

The sex tape with Lydia is far more effective as a stand-in for the life-long horror he intends to bring down on her. The internet is forever, and that kind of thing, once published is almost impossible to put back in a box. It would have followed Lydia forever. It’s a pretty basic practice for most employers to run Google searches on their prospective candidates, so it’s easy to see how this would have had real, tangible effects on her ability to lead a normal life. And, in the end, she gets off way easier than the Lydia in the book. Doesn’t have to have anything to do with Wickham ever again rather than ending up married to the guy.

Lastly, Caroline is the other main villain. I really liked this depiction of Caroline. She’s much more cool and calculated in her manipulation, even hoodwinking Lizzie about her true character. Some of the early videos of her are particularly interesting as the viewer can see Caroline actively fanning the flames of Lizzie’s dislike for Darcy while Lizzie is completely clueless to this manipulation. And then, ultimately, Caroline is the one behind much of the Bing/Jane drama. She arranges a situation at one of her parties to have some drunk guy kiss and unsuspecting Jane right when Darcy is watching. With this in mind, it’s easier to defend Darcy’s interference: he legitimately thought Jane was pulling his friend’s chain. Caroline, however, is the true evil mastermind behind it all.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

Yikes, the actual romance in this story is by far the most awkward thing in existence. The format of the show is never more working against itself than in these parts. I just felt super uncomfortable and voyeuristic watching the final kiss and conclusion to Lizzie and Darcy’s story. The build-up to this moment is fine, but the actual kiss itself…oof.

I wish there had been a way of introducing Darcy earlier in the series. The way the story is presented, this isn’t really possible, but once we can actually see the interactions between Lizzie and Darcy’s, it’s much easier to feel invested in their relationship. Really, if this wasn’t a retelling of “Pride and Prejudice” which conditions viewers to put importance on the Lizzie/Darcy drama, much of the first half of the series would seem oddly focused on a character we never seem to meet. It makes Lizzie’s fixation and extreme dislike feel all the more strange. Sure, the enactments give us an idea of Darcy’s personality and the social interactions that put Lizzie off in the first place. But all of Lizzie’s enactments are clearly extremes of characters, so when you only have those to rely on for such an important character…It’s just hard to feel invested in any of it, without seeing their awkwardness together. But once he shows up, it’s much better. And it’s even better as we see them develop a tentative friendship with him even participating in some of her mini dramas.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Lydia is by far the funniest character in this series, especially in the first half of the show when she’s mostly just freely being herself , extremes and all. Once Lizzie starts pushing her to be more grown up and the Wickham drama comes in to play, it all gets a bit too serious almost. In the books what you loved about Lydia was also what you couldn’t stand about Lydia: nothing fazed her. Even in the face of social shaming and shunning, she never seemed to bat an eyelash about it and behaved the same way. Here, the story gets more much serious with how Lydia reacts to Lizzie’s perceptions of her, and even more so, the near miss she has with the sex tape.

But! In the beginning, she’s just hilarious. The actress brought a bunch of fun ticks to the character, with all of the hair flipping and camera poses. She also has a bunch of fun catchphrases, and it’s easy to see why she, of all the characters, ended up with some side videos in her own little series. I didn’t watch any of these for this re-watch, so I can’t speak to what those have to offer. But in a lot of ways her character is a breath of fresh air to the earnest and sweet Jane and the cynical Lizzie. She’s bouncy, bright, and ridiculous and brings new levity to all of her scenes.

I also really liked this version of Mr. Collins. While he is pretty ridiculous, he’s not nearly has intolerable as the character in the books. I really liked how he was always name dropping his VC (venture capitalist) Catherine DeBourgh. It was one example of the many perfect substitutions this series made for aspects of the book that wouldn’t work in a modern setting. Lizzie’s impressions of Catherine DeBourgh were also excellent, but only made me wish we could have actually seen the character on screen somehow!

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

Kitty becomes Lydia’s cat, “Kitty” who follows her everywhere. Mary is a cousin whom most of them seem to regular forget exists.

The movie “Bridget Jones’s Diary” exists in this world as one of the sisters mentions that Darcy’s name is the same as “that character Colin Firth plays.” So, Colin Firth makes it into even this adaptation, if only in name. It seems that the book “Pride and Prejudice” does not exist, however.

Mrs. Bennet has several plans to get Jane stuck over at Netherfield. One includes sending her over with a jello that, due to the rain, is sure to ruin her dress and force her to stay. Mrs. Bennet also arranges for home improvements which force Jane and Lizzie to stay there for several weeks.

Pemberley is the name of William Darcy’s media business, and he mentions it is named after the part of England that his family is originally from.

Caroline Bingley will make a reappearance in “Emma Approved.”

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

The Mrs. Bennet impersonations were by far the best.

In two weeks, I’ll review the first half of “Emma.” Yes, I know this is out of order, but my quarantine brain read this one first and I didn’t want to do either it or “Mansfield Park” a disservice by speed reading the latter and then trying to review the former months after I actually read it. So, it is what it is!

Not Just Books: April 2020

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

mv5botqymza1nzg4ml5bml5banbnxkftztcwntqxmtg4mw4040._v1_TV Show: “Miranda” 

I originally came across Miranda Hart in “Call the Midwife” where she plays one of the beloved midwife characters. And then more recently, she was one of the bright points in the new “Emma” movie as Miss Bates. So I was super excited when I strayed across this, her own show, while browsing Hulu. It was even more shocking to realize it had been around and my beloved Tom Ellis was the romantic lead (before his “Lucifer” days, as this is like a completely opposite character). They’re both just so delightfully lovable. And the humor is just the right brand of wacky British comedy that I like best. In particular, Miranda’s overbearing mother has a bunch of lines I’ll probably be, what I call, quoting (inside joke for those who’ve already watched!) for quite a while. Such fun!

facebook-share-default-04812acb25dba13239f3dbe52750ff0f4ae58cc52b5924e7cf6ffea5e1b8993d4f07bb5918b25cb9f8bb8f626f694e20e579f8eb50a43de1c1fd2fc1d6c81a60Phone Game: “Hearthstone”

I’m one of those people who played “Magic: The Gathering” for quite a while there. I never actually got into buying the physical cards, but I played the free Xbox versions quite a bit for a few years. Hearthstone is essentially the “Magic” equivalent for your smartphone. There are pay-to-play options, but it’s quite doable to play a bunch of this game without spending any money, something that’s a must for me with phone games. If you have any interest in extremely geeky card battle games, this is definitely a fun one to check out.

p17483205_b_v8_acTV Show: “Project Runway”

I definitely was one of those people who swore off this show once I learned that Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn were leaving. But, quarantine folks, it calls for desperate measures! So the other week I started watching…and then binge watched the two whole seasons that I missed. And, I came around. I still prefer Heidi and Tim, but Christian Siriano, especially, grew on me as the new mentor. He doesn’t try to be Tim Gunn and has his only little pet-peeves and things he focused in on. He also wasn’t an overwhelming presence, which was my initial concern when I heard he was taking over that role. Karlie Kloss is also fine as the host. She doesn’t add that much, but she’s also not a distraction. I also really liked the winners of both seasons with these two, so that’s always a plus!

Kate’s Picks

happy_death_day_posterFilms: The “Happy Death Day” Movies

It probably comes as a surprise to absolutely no one that one of my comfort activities is to watch horror movies. Well, horror movies that purely entertain and don’t make me uncomfortable. One of my favorite horror movie series of the past decade is the “Happy Death Day” Duology, in which a young woman named Tree is living the day she was murdered over and over and over again in a “Groundhog Day” like time loop, hoping that finding the killer can stop it. The original, “Happy Death Day” is funny as hell and very creative, and the second one, “Happy Death Day 2 U”, manages to expand upon the mythos without ruining anything. And the biggest reason I love these movies is Tree herself. Tree is a subversion of the ‘Final Girl’ trope, as when we meet her she isn’t very nice, and breaks all the ‘rules’ of surviving a slasher movie. But Tree grows and changes as her story goes on, without losing her edge. She’s the best Final Girl since Sidney Prescott. I love these movies so freaking much.

harveybirdmantitleTV Show: “Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law”

I almost shrieked when I saw that this was streaming on Hulu. “Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law” was a huge favorite of mine during the end of it’s run. I was in college, I subsisted on Adult Swim, and “Harvey Birdman” was up there with “Venture Bros” and “Metalocalypse” for favorites. It’s essentially Birdman, a Hanna Barbera character, reimagined as a lawyer, representing other Hanna Barbera characters for committing various crimes (that more often than not riff on the character’s schtick. Think Shaggy and Scooby getting busted for pot, things like that). It takes clips from old shows and mixes it with new footage to make something weird and hilarious. Gary Cole plays Harvey, and other cast members include John Michael Higgins, Paget Brewster, and Stephen Colbert. It’s so snarky and funny and kind of nostalgic. And filled with lawyer humor, a humor I am VERY familiar with.

pic1900075Card Game: Sushi Go!

So Serena and I have been doing our best to keep in touch during quarantine. One of the ways we’ve done that is by playing online adaptations of various card and board games on boardgamearena.com with our husbands. My favorite of the games we’ve been playing is Sushi Go! It’s a card game where you basically collect sushi dishes for points. It’s simple, it’s really cute (as the sushis all have little faces and stuff), and the only downside is that it’s making me crave sushi during a time where sushi isn’t as easy to come by.

Not Just Books: March 2020

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

mv5bogriodezm2qtotuyyi00mwrlltg4mzmtzgi0ymuznwuymjq0xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymda4nzmyoa4040._v1_sy1000_sx675_al_Movie: “Emma”

I had it all planned out. My husband and I were going to delay our Valentine’s celebration until March and then make a whole day of it with dinner and a viewing of this, the latest feature film adaptation of a Jane Austen novel. And then COVID-19 struck, the ruiner of all good things. So instead I ended up watching it in pieces at home while trying to wrangle a very mobile one year old. Not quite the same thing. Overall…I’m not quite sure what I think about this? I’ll have to re-watch it at some point when I can focus more fully. I know that I enjoyed Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance a lot, and I thought the costuming and set design were excellent and offered up something unique and new compared to other Austen adaptations. But as for the story itself and its take on several of the other main characters, I was a bit less satisfied. I think Knightly was too young and his friendship/relationship with Emma was not sufficiently set-up to make the payoff as satisfying in the end. Mr. Churchill, for all that he appears on the poster, felt like almost a non-entity. And overall I think the comedy angle, while very good at moments, also overwhelmed the heart of the story and sometimes even the heart of Emma herself. Kate also watched this one, but we haven’t discussed it yet. I’m excited to hear her take!

cards-promo-300x300-1Online Game: Trickster Cards

My family are all huge card players. I mean, my sister and I were playing since we were in single digits and it’s a shock if any family get-together goes more than 30 minutes before someone suggests we play pinochle or bridge. But, again, raging pandemics have hit hard on things like this. Luckily, one of my aunts discovered this online card site where you can form games with people and set up times to play. It has video chat options which makes it all the better. My mom, sister, said aunt and I now have weekly standing dates to get together and play pinochle. Obviously not a complete replacement, but I’ll take what I can get!

mv5bnjzknzy4m2itowy0ni00y2vilwe1njitotiyyzzjmzg5m2e1xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkxnjuynq4040._v1_sy1000_cr006751000_al_TV Show: “Locke and Key”

I started watching this show kind of on a spur of the moment basis. And then suddenly I had finished it all within two days! I’m pretty sure Kate has read the original graphic novels it was based on, but from what I do know of them, I’m pretty sure this is quite different. For one thing, it’s definitely not as dark as I think the originals were. Instead, it’s more of a “Stranger Things”-like family adventure with elements of fantasy dashed all over it. The Locke family, after a great tragedy, move back to an ancetstral home that has been abandoned for years. While there, the three kids discover magical keys with fantastic abilities. Of course, there is also a big bad out to get the keys and a bunch of clueless (or not so clueless??) adults running around getting in the way. I really enjoyed all of the younger actors, which can sometimes be a sticking point for shows like this. There was also a great balance between the real-life challenges that many young people face (moving to a new town, dealing with grief and fear, meeting new friends, etc.) and the fantasy elements that slowly play a bigger and bigger role in the story. Again, I’ll have to ask Kate what the original was like, but for fans of “Stranger Things” or “Chronicles of Narnia,” this is definitely worth checking out!

Kate’s Picks

81s8etnyprl._sl1500_Video Game: “Animal Crossing: New Horizons”

This pandemic has been ramping up my already present anxiety like the dickens. But lucky for me I had the foresight to order “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” before everything went to hell! The “Animal Crossing” games are already super chill and laid back, and the new one for The Switch is even more so. Or perhaps it just feels more so. Regardless, I’ve been enjoying building a town, fishing, catching bugs, building things, and visiting friends on their own islands. For the unfamiliar, the basic premise is that you are a new villager on a remote island (with a few other villagers) and you can build up the community with very low stakes attached. Things change from day to day, and the open sandbox format means you can do pretty much whatever you want. It’s been a true saving grace during this quarantine period.

1fgprxwpkfxhmfsnsus8dtgNetflix Show: “Tiger King”

I was familiar with the, um, “eccentric” zookeeper Joe Exotic before Netflix dropped this new true crime documentary series. “Last Podcast on the Left” had referenced him and his murder for hire plot he allegedly tried to carry out towards nemesis Carole Baskin. So when I went in I was thinking that it would be fine, but wouldn’t tell me anything new. I was SO. WRONG. “Tiger King” is one of the craziest Netflix docuseries I’ve ever seen, with a bunch of unstable weirdos who own big cats at the forefront. Now I knew that Joe Exotic was a nut. But honestly, I came away more concerned about just about everyone else in this series than I was about this guy. From cult like leaders who lure in teenage girls to drug trafficking kingpins to a missing husband (WHO MAY HAVE BEEN FED TO A BUNCH OF TIGERS), “Tiger King” has EVERYTHING. Truth is stranger than fiction, guys, and this one will probably make you say “WHAT?!?!” over and over and over again.

91aofmfmzwl._ri_TV Show: “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

It’s springtime, which means that “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is back! I can’t believe we’re on season twelve, and while I still contend that the show’s quality hasn’t been the same since it moved to VH1, RuPaul and the queens always bring me back for more. This season has been promising, though I do have to mention that it hasn’t come without controversy. One of the contestants, Sherry Pie, was exposed for predatory behavior, as he would pretend to be a talent scout and solicit explicit videos from unsuspecting men under guise of an ‘audition’. The good news is that once this was exposed, the show officially disqualified her, and has put a disclaimer ahead of the episodes noting of this. A tricky situation to be sure, but I think it was handled as best they could in fairness to the other queens. Who are a super talented bunch this time around. I have my favorites already, and I can’t wait to see how far they go!

What non-book related things have you enjoyed this month?

Not Just Books: February 2020

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Joint Pick

mv5bmjazymq4ntutmgvjos00owrhltlmyjktzdlkztk2ogq2yje5xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyodkzntgxmdg40._v1_TV Show: “Picard”

We are both “Star Trek” people, and like many it’s safe to say that “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is our favorite series of the franchise. One of the many reasons is because of Captain Jean Luc Picard, Patrick Stewart’s iconic leader of the Enterprise. So when it was announced that Picard was getting his own show (called “Picard”, appropriately), we were both pumped. It takes place a couple decades after the end of “TNG”, and shows a retired Picard trying to live his life after Star Fleet, and his controversial exit from the organization. But when he encounters a mysterious stranger, he finds himself drawn back into the messy politics of Star Fleet, a potential conspiracy, and a dangerous rescue mission. Not only does Stewart come back, we also get to see Data, Riker and Troi, and Seven of Nine. It’s a dark show, but we are both greatly enjoying it.

Serena’s Picks

mv5bmja3odmxmzm5nf5bml5banbnxkftztgwmdm1nju0ote40._v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_TV Show: “Bones”

Emily and I used to watch this show quite a bit while we were in college. We even rented a bunch of seasons from Blockbuster…so, yeah, we’re old. But at some point or another, amidst all of the vast amounts of shows available, I fell off the wagon for this show. The other side of the coin of all these different shows is the exhausting effort of trying to weed through it all to find a next thing. And finding myself at that point, it felt like the time was right to go back to this show and finish off the last 3 or so seasons I had missed. It’s a fairly standard procedural forensic show that gained much of its popularity on the chemistry between its main characters, Dr. Temperance Brennan and FBI Agent Seely Booth. By the point I fell off, the two characters were married and had a child together. But I was happy to see the show continue well past this point as it proves that it’s not only OK to have you main couple romantically pair up (avoiding the 10 year saga of will they/won’t they ala “Friends” which is also exhausting), but that your show can continue to succeed and be interesting after this point.

mv5bmtk1nzkymtuyn15bml5banbnxkftztgwntm0nzm2ode40._v1_Mini Series: “The Night Manager”

My husband and I watched this mini series over a couple of nights. He had already watched it, but I, for some reason, had never gotten around to it. I haven’t read any John le Carre, a very esteemed spy thriller author who’s book the show is based on. But again, my husband has and had really loved most of them. For me, the stellar cast was the main point of interest. Obviously Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie are excellent, but I also always love Olivia Colman in whatever she does. Between all of that talent, and a tense story of a hotel manager who, through various circumstances, ends up going under cover into the inner workings of a weapons dealer, I was on the edge of my seat throughout most of this show. If you like spy thrillers or have read le Carre’s work, this is definitely a mini series worth checking out.

Kate’s Picks

pokemon-sword-and-shield-legendary-625x352-1Video Game: “Pokemon Sword and Shield”

As someone who has loved Pokemon since she was a tween, I was very excited to try out the new Switch Pokemon games, “Sword” and “Shield”. My husband and I got each other the games for Christmas/Hanukkah, and I was able to dive back in this past month after taking a break post holiday down time. Both “Sword” and “Shield” take place in a whole new region of the Pokemon world, this time seemingly based on the U.K. Not only are there brand new Pokemon (some of which do, admittedly, verge on the ridiculous), there are a lot more side things you can do outside of catching and training Pokemon. Not only can you trade and design Trainer cards, you can change your character’s outfits and hairstyles, and you can also cook recipes for your Pokemon! I’ve enjoyed getting to know my Pokes a little better in this game.

mv5bzwewztcynjctmjazzc00zgu0lwixywqtmdawmmu1nzq1zjq3xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyodk4otc3mty40._v1_uy1200_cr9106301200_al_Prime Show: “Hunters”

Hunting down and killing Nazis who have infiltrated American society? Sign me the fuck up. This new show is part historical fiction, part spy show, part action movie. The premise is simple: in the 1970s a number of Nazis have come to America and are hoping to establish the Fourth Reich. It’s up to a rag tag group of hunters to track them down and kill them before their plan can succeed. The story is thrilling, clever, and chilling, and the cast is superb. Al Pacino plays a holocaust survivor in charge of the hunters, Carol Kane is an older member of the group, and both Lena Olin and Dylan Baker are a couple of the Nazis in hiding, and boy oh boy are they terrifying. Throw in Jordan Peele as a producer and you know you’re going to have a subversive and well thought out story with a lot of emotional prowess. Also, given the recent rise in vocal white supremacy, it’s a cathartic, if not sometimes difficult, watch. But content warnings abound: the anti-semitic and racial violence is VERY hard to watch.