Sunday, August 2, 2015

Series - Summer Lovin': Week 7


Welcome back, my darling friends, to another installment of our Summer Lovin' series! I hope that as we've expanded our repertoires this summer with television, books, movies, and webseries that you've gotten the opportunity to check out at least one of the things we've mentioned for yourselves! Every week, I send out an email thread to our writers, detailing the information for the post itself and every week, when the writers communicate back and forth, at least one of them is intrigued by the content another is writing about. I've checked out movies and books because of the suggestions by our writers and I hope you all have too (at the very least, some of them have!)

Before chaos dominates all of our lives again in the form of fall primetime television, let's take another week to kick back, relax, and talk about what we're lovin' during the summertime. Joining me this week with sunscreen donned, beach chairs unfolded, and drinks in hand are:

  • Newest addition to the Just About Write squad and tiny, adorable human being, Mer!
  • Constant Twitter companion and girl whose Funko collection I envy: Deena
  • Road-tripping across the country and STILL writing, the amazing Lynnie!
  • Lovely and talented writer and rocker of red lipstick, Rae
  • Reigning queen of Rosewood and possibly A herself (EVERYONE IS A SUSPECT THESE DAYS): Megan Mann
  • Sweet human being, talented writer, and my X-Files guru, Lizzie
  • Pink lipstick aficionado and one of our newest writers, Maddie
  • Name twin, soul sister, platonic life partner, and precious sunflower Jen
  • My favorite person in the entire world who is not Joel McHale: Jaime Poland
Let's do this!

What Jenn's lovin': If You Feel Too Much

Why she's lovin' it: "Perhaps there's still time, time for things to turn around, time for us to be surprised. Perhaps there's still a lot of beauty to be found here, and good people too. People to love and people who will say we're not invisible. Perhaps there's everything we need. So if you feel as if you feel too much, well then you are not alone. May these words find you like a friend."

And thus begins Jamie Tworkowski's first book titled If You Feel Too Much. I've talked about this already before, but To Write Love on Her Arms has a special place in my heart. It's partially because the organization's roots are in Orlando and therefore I feel tethered to it to a way that's completely nonsensical but also no less impactful. My sister and I were extras in the To Write Love on Her Arms movie. I've read about the organization a billion times before. I've heard its origin story. The stories I haven't heard, though, are those of its creator and founder. In this book, Jamie compiles his story -- from before the organization began to the present -- through emails, poems, notes, and mementos. What's so beautiful about If You Feel Too Much is the focus on hope, amidst the seemingly hopeless times. Jamie doesn't shy away from his struggles in his writing. His pieces are poetic, whether it's a blog about Father's Day and communication or a letter he wrote to himself in the midst of an extremely difficult break-up.

Why I'm lovin' this book already is pretty simple, actually. It's because it's real and it's honest. We pretend to have our crap together so often -- we put on masks so that other people will think we're all we should be. We feign happiness when inside we're really crumbling. Jamie is human and therefore he doesn't have all of the answers. He doesn't know, sometimes, the right things to do or say, especially in the face of such deep and dark brokenness present in the world. But he's always honest. That's what's so refreshing about his stories -- there's always this glistening, golden thread of hope and of honesty and of speaking the truth even if that literally means saying: "I don't know what to say." To Write Love on Her Arms was an organization that was founded on the very notion that we need other people in our lives. We need to believe we matter and that our story matters. We need to believe that so that we can help other people tell their stories truthfully, too. That's the only path to healing, really. Sharing your broken pieces with others. Sharing because we're not alone.

Even if you don't buy If You Feel Too Much, look up the blog post Jamie wrote so many years ago about Renee Yohe -- the MySpace post called "To Write Love on Her Arms" -- and read it. It's an amazingly wonderful story included in a really compelling book.


What Mer's lovin': UnReal 

Why she's lovin' it: I've never really been into the whole "guilty pleasure" TV watching. The Housewives franchise never did it for me, I've never watched a Kardashian show, and I gave up on The Bachelore/ette years ago. But UnReal. Oh man this show. There's so much to love about it, I could go on and on (and I have!) It's by women, about women, for women. So right there, I'm hooked. But then once I actually started watching I realized how much more there was to it; how much deeper it goes. It's dynamic and engaging and gritty and unapologetically soapy and fun, while still being just a bit trashy and guilty pleasure-esque. It gives us what everyone loves - a behind the scenes, insider look at some of the most popular "reality" shows. But the kicker here is that while it's inspired by true events, and is helmed by a woman who used to work on The Bachelor, it also has the creative license afforded to a piece of fiction. So the viewer gets an in-depth look at the scandalous truth behind a reality dating competition, as well as the fun and drama and over the top-ness of a Lifetime show.

Aside from the simple pleasure of watching a show that has an interesting premise, what I love about UnReal is how well done it is. The writing is great, the cast is solid, and the characters are flawed but strong and worthy of the viewer's support and affection. The show doesn't shy away from dark storylines - they've dealt with eating disorders, addiction, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and suicide - yet it manages to balance the heaviness with romance and wit and humor. Surprisingly, I don't tend to watch a lot of TV in the summer. But UnReal had me hooked from the first episode, and I'm already sad to see it go after this week's upcoming season finale. I'm looking forward to seeing how they wrap up the current storylines, and even more excited to see what happens in season two!


What Deena's lovin': Penny Dreadful

Why she's lovin' it: Before this week, I had only seen one episode of Penny Dreadful, and for some reason, I couldn't get into it. Either that, or I was interrupted somehow and just never got around to finishing that first episode. I'm not really sure what it was, but this was turning out to be a show everyone was crazy about and I just... wasn't. Fast forward a few months to last Saturday, and I made a spur of the moment decision to buy the first season. A friend kept telling me I just needed to watch it, and I felt I hadn't given the show enough of a chance. I binged the entire first season (granted, it was only eight episodes) the first day, and then immediately jumped into the second.

It's hard to put my finger on exactly why I like Penny Dreadful, because there are so many reasons. The cast is magnificent, to say the least, and the story is so strange and compelling that you just have to keep watching. I've always been a fan of horror and the supernatural -- I basically grew up on it. The strangeness of it all was one of the main things that drew me to the series. Demons, witches, and the idea of something dark residing inside of us all... it's so twisted at times that I can see why people might not care for it, but what can I say? I like twisted, especially if twisted also comes with such beautifully written characters. I would be lying if I said it didn't give me chills at times. The episodes flew by for me, honestly, and now, as I sit having finished the last new episode until what I guess will be sometime in 2016, I have a giant Vanessa Ives and Ethan Chandler-sized hole in my heart. WHY CAN'T THEY BE HAPPY?!?!?


What Lynnie's lovin': National Treasure

Why she's lovin' it: The only thing more soothing than Nicholas Cage being Nicholas Cage is a unicorn quietly napping in a bed of flowers next to a gently bubbling brook. Cage is at his Cage-ist in National Treasure. For those of you who haven’t seen it, the premise of the movie is archaeology meets treasure hunt. The good guys have to find the treasure before the bad guys make a profit. Cage takes it beyond the simple formula of “Let’s hunt down the riches and be awesome!” He brings his trademark deadpan humor and that mysterious twinkle in his eye, where you’re not really entirely sure what he’s thinking. Is he thinking about dinner? The money he’s going to make from the treasure? How much he loves history? Riley’s sass? It’s hard to tell.

Another thing that set the movie apart for me was the writing. The dialogue was always on point. No lines were wasted. Everything mattered to the plot, and I loved the interactions between the characters. The banter was cute, and the historical facts they included around the not-so-historical facts were interesting. It was a sneaky way of teaching kids, young and old, a thing or two about the tapestry of the foundation of America. Boromir (Sean Bean) is also the villain in the movie. He matches Cage with his own little knowing twinkle; he adds in a devilishly handsome smirk for style. He plays the foil well.

The cast, writing, sets, and cinematography were all on point. It's fun from beginning to end. National Treasure takes the adventure seriously, and it, with the help of Cage, Riley, and all the sass, soothes me straight to my soul.


What Rae's lovin': Yes Please

Why she's lovin' it: I want Amy Poehler to be my cool aunt, my best friend, and my girlfriend. She is so smart, wise, and funny, I could scream (with admiration and joy, of course). I devoured her book Yes Please on a beach vacation, which is just about the perfect place to read it. It’s funny, of course, but it’s also real and full of great advice, especially for women trying to figure out their next steps, whether that is after college, a new job, a marriage, a baby, or a divorce. Amy created her own life by doing things her way, and in her book, she reveals that things aren’t always as sunny as they seemed. She shares her hard times, and that is something I appreciated the most. If Amy goes through periods where she feels like her life is a mess and she looks terrible and she doesn’t get anything right, and if she can come out of those periods to still be the upstanding human that she is, that means there’s hope for me, too.

Amy spoke of sexist encounters at work in a way that makes me feel like I’m not crazy for feeling that way too. She handles those moments the best way she can while recognizing that she wasn’t as steely as she wanted to be. (Me too, Amy.) Her lists of advice are spot-on, and her good heart shines through on every page. I’m grateful she pulled back the curtain on her life, and I’m a little more inspired after having read it. Am I ready to take risks and live like Amy does? Yes please.


What Megan's lovin': In the Flesh

Why she's lovin' it: It's been four years since the rising of the zombies and science has found a way to treat the undead. Kieren Walker was among those who passed away, came back a year later as the virus spread and ate the living as a means of survival. Now he's been treated for his condition and is about to head back to his home, equipped with contacts and neutral makeup to re-assimilate back into society as best he can. But it's not that easy. His sister was part of the HVF, an organization created to take down "rotters" and his parents don't know how to deal with his coming back to life, especially in their small village where people aren't that understanding. Not only does Kieren have to deal with the pressure of being a zombie in a town of the living; he also has to face the reasons that lead to his passing and the people who he hurt both before and after.

I watched the original three episodes of this when it aired on BBC America in 2013 and immediately fell in love with it. They released six more episodes last year before canceling the show and they were beyond amazing. I was really sad to hear that they weren't continuing on with the series. It gave me the same feels as when they cancelled The Fades (yeah, I'm still bitter, BBC) and it's not the good kind of feels. I was happy to find the two seasons at my library so I could re-watch this great series.

What makes it so great is that it's not your typical zombie series. It's not about the virus spreading or what it's like at the height of the outbreak. Instead, it's about what happens when they've found a treatment for it, how the undead have to deal with their second chance at life and also what that means for those around them. It's a very fascinating look at how everyone deals with the unknown and how intense the emotion really is. It's 100% worth watching even if you're not super into the horror/zombie genre. You'll totally fall in love with these characters. Ugh. Why must BBC cancel everything I love?!


What Lizzie’s lovin’: The 100

Why she’s lovin’ it: You know when you open up Netflix, click on a show, look at the time and say: "Okay I’m just going to watch one episode and see if I like it"? Of course you do; everyone’s been there. ... I’m not quite sure if everyone’s been in the same place about six hours, later holding a bag of chips and asking themselves why the sun is coming out, but I was. This was me last weekend. Because once I clicked and chose to watch The 100,  I could. not. stop.

This show has absolutely everything. Intrigue. Fighting. Danger. Family. Politics. Epic love. Dirty-looking actors running around. Drama. Oh, and did I mention epic love?

Usually, to fall in love with a show, I have to fall in love with a relationship. It doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship, I loved the Lorelai/Rory relationship enough to faithfully stick with seven seasons of Gilmore Girls, for example, but there has to be a relationship that speaks to me. One that leaves me wanting more.

Hello Bellamy. Nice to meet you, Clarke.

In love. I’m serious. IN love. And you know the good thing? I’ve caught up on this epic series early on, so I’ll be watching live for the amazingness that’s sure to come. The foundation has already been laid. The journey is just beginning. So, if you haven’t been watching this show… what do you mean you haven’t been watching this show? Why not? Go. Go watch. Stop reading my words, even. They don’t matter. The show does. Go, go, go.

For all of you smart people who are still here (I assume you’re already fans), I have two questions: How come no one told me I had to get with the program earlier, and how am I going to survive until 2016?


What Maddie’s lovin’: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Why she’s lovin’ it: Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice is my favorite novel and I have watched a variety of adaptations, however no adaptation has made the characters more alive for me than the web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (or LBD for short). I know that is a pretty big claim to make, but after rewatching it more than two years later, I stand by my statement. And after rewatching it, I once again have a lot of feelings.

So here’s the premise: Hank Green and Bernie Su created a vlog-style web series that is both a faithful adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and an inventive modern re-telling of the story. When it was being told in real time, fans also got to enjoy social media accounts of the characters that furthered their stories across Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest. The way Green and Su modernize this story is so incredibly inventive, and the actors' performances are amazing.

Ashley Clements truly embodies Lizzie Bennet. This version of the character is truly what Lizzie would be like in modern times. She is incredibly charismatic and simply delightful to watch. In the beginning of the series, you see Clements exercise her comedy chops as she tells Lizzie’s story in both her own voice and sometimes costumed theater of other characters.
 
She has great chemistry with all of the cast, and that is what makes Lizzie's character development so compelling to watch. As we see Lizzie fight with Charlotte, support her Jane through heartbreak, comfort Lydia through her majorly feels-inducing scandal, and fall in love with Darcy, a vulnerability shows up on screen that makes this literary icon seem like a real person. Clements makes Lizzie Bennet come alive and it is a joy to watch.

And then there’s Daniel Vincent Gordh, y’all.  His character comes in as -- per Lizzie -- someone with the social skills of an agoraphobic lobster. But Gordh then adds a depth to Darcy that I don’t think many young actors would be able to give the role. He has gravitas, dry humor, and major cases of heart eyes. In short, Daniel Vincent Gordh made me fall in love with William Darcy all over again. He is my Darcy now, and I know that might be a bit controversial, but Firth or MacFadyen never gave me feels like this gentlemen did.


When Clements and Gordh are on screen, it is magic. Their chemistry is off the charts. The story may be centuries old, but when watching it, you seriously start shipping Lizzie and Darcy all over again. Episode 98 still makes me flail just as much rewatching it as two years ago. In a world of reboots and remakes, it is very seldom to see a love story being given new life quite as well as LBD does.

I would be remiss to not point out the excellence of the supporting cast. Julia Cho and Laura Spencer are delightful as Lizzie’s support system and best friends, Charlotte Lu and Jane Bennet. Mary Kate Wiles gives so much more depth to Lydia Bennet than we get to see in most adaptations as we see her shine like a star and then crash and burn. Another delight is that this adaptation lets the audience get to know Gigi Darcy better, mostly in part to Allison Paige’s portrayal. Also, the comedy we get from Maxwell Glick’s Mr. Collins and Craig Frank’s Fitz is pure gold.

This series is brilliant and such a fun binge. If you are a Pride and Prejudice fan, you must watch it, and if not (you should be) this is such an amazing story to watch unfold. For real though, just watch it.


What Jen's lovin': Sense8

Why she's lovin' it: I binged Sense8 over the course of two days and now I'm having a lot of Sense8 feelings. For any interested in watching the series -- you won't understand the first five episodes. The show is an elaborate spiderweb of plot and characters. It connects eight completely different characters, in several different countries. They see one another on the streets, in their bedrooms or actually embody one another. Not to mention, eight character names can be difficult to remember.

What I learned is, we aren't suppose to understand Sense8 in the beginning. We are suppose to feel lost and confused. We are meant to consistently ask, "What the heck is going on?" because that's what the characters are feeling. Once I allowed Sense8 to become a sensory experience by letting the the stories wash over me like a lazy ocean wave, only then did I start to understand the show.

What's fascinating about this series is how different it is. It's almost like a series of vignettes. The cinematography is unbelievable. You are transported to different countries without the hassle of airplanes or the bother of passports. You travel by thought. It's spectacular. It also makes the story incredibly fast-paced and exciting. Buckle up. You are in for a wild ride. And the emotional component is equally complex as it is simple. These eight characters are merging into one being and yet, they still retain their separate identities. Each character has something to bring to the table. Some insight, or skill or life lesson the other character lacks. When they appear to one another or embody each other, the point is often to contribute the essence of who they are to help their fellow Sense8. That's a pretty astounding commentary on the human spirit.

When Capheus is about to be killed by the Superpower gang it is Sun who embodies him and kicks some serious butt. Sun is the strong, but silent, champion kickboxer from Seoul. Nomie the brillant hacker teams with Will, the Chicago cop, to help free Riley. When Lito is struggling about being honest about his sexuality, in fears he'll lose his acting career, it is Nomi, a trans woman, who appears to him to help him through. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. It goes on and on. Each Sense8 character saves another in their own unique and special way.

Even the relationships on Sense8 seem unique but balanced. Almost every permutation is represented - Lito and Hernando (gay), Nomi and Amanita (lesbian), Will and Riley (heterosexual), Kala and Wolfgang (interracial). However, the demographics are not the focus. The characters are. Nor can you point to any particular couple and say they are the leading love story. Each love story presented is as important as the next. Each love story is equal. Despite their differences, the single common denominator that connects each story is... love. In its purest and most devoted form.

Half the fun is choosing your favorite Sense8, which is nearly impossible because each character is so uniquely lovable in their own way. I think I settled on Will and Sun, but then again... the struggle is real. Don't even get me started on trying to pick your favorite Sense8 team (Wolfgang and Lito; Nomi and Will, Capheus and Sun, etc.).

When all the characters unite in one complete yet separate being, to save one of their own, the vision is complete. Eight separate characters acting as one seems as natural as air. You realize, as humans, we are all so vastly different and yet so completely the same. Sense8 finally makes sense.


What Jaime's lovin': One Direction's "Drag Me Down"

Why she's lovin' it: As anyone who’s ever had a conversation with me knows, I am a huge One Direction fan.  Like, huge.  So late Thursday night (late enough that technically it was Friday morning), when I saw a tweet from Liam Payne linking to their new single on iTunes, I immediately had to buy their new single.  And then stayed up for another hour and a half listening to it.

“Drag Me Down” is hopefully the beginning of a new era for One Direction, at least in the eyes of the public.  Fans have been able to see them changing for a while: making more mature rock music rather than the upbeat pop songs that first grabbed everyone’s attention.  Harry’s become a mermaid.  Half of them are covered in tattoos.  They’re long past “What Makes You Beautiful,” and have finally gotten to the point where someone in their twenties can proudly label themselves a fan.

So “Drag Me Down.”  Obviously, it’s their first single since Zayn Malik left in March, and the first taste of the album that will only feature four members.  And it’s good.  It’s really good.  And it’s such a strange mash-up of genres: there’s rock, and pop of course, with a little funk thrown in once Louis’ verse starts and then a lot of funk in the chorus.

One of the benefits of being a group, rather than a solo artist, is that you have multiple singers to choose from, so you can use them meaningfully.  This is something One Direction’s always done really well, particularly with Louis, whose voice is higher and lighter than the other boys.  Zayn is also a really notable example of this, because Zayn has the voice of an angel and can sing absolutely anything.  So by suddenly introducing Louis, it can add a whole new level of emotion.  Or by having Zayn do some runs, it can elevate the song or add energy.  But my favorite way they use their identity as a group is by repeating lyrics throughout the song, but having a different singer.  They do it a lot, but usually on a smaller scale: they’ll have a line or two in each verse match, or have the bridge match something from the first verse.  But “Drag Me Down” has exactly the same lyrics throughout; the verses are identical, and the chorus never changes.  The singers of the verses change, though, and since they all have very different, distinct voices, it means that each part of the song sounds different, despite having the same words.  It helps the song grow, but keeps the boys sounding united.

Taking that further, it’s so important to me who is singing what.  The thing with One Direction, as is the thing with any pop band, is that their songs kind of have a formula.  Not necessarily in overall sound, but in terms of who sings what.  If there were runs or high notes, Zayn was going to sing them.  Harry sings lead, or at least a bit more prominently.  Liam comes in throughout the song to anchor it.  There are exceptions, of course, and obviously Louis and Niall contributed hugely, but generally, those were givens about most One Direction songs.  But with Zayn leaving, and perhaps because of the new pressure to prove themselves as a foursome, they’ve had to change how they approach their songs.  So even as an avid and longtime fan, I can confidently say that “Drag Me Down” does not sound like a One Direction song, at least based on their formula.  Suddenly Harry is singing the high notes and the runs.  If anyone’s singing lead, it’s Niall.  And Louis’ the one who keeps popping back up to anchor the song.  It’s such a drastic change for them, and while the effect of that probably isn’t obvious or even really relevant for anyone who isn’t familiar with their entire catalog, it speaks to a huge change within the band and how they’re approaching their music.  Hopefully the rest of the album will continue in this vein, and prove that after five years, One Direction is still capable of surprising everyone, even their biggest fans.  (Also, um, how great are Louis’ “nobody, nobody”?  Best part of the song, right?)

That's what we all are lovin' this week! How about you all? Hit up the comments below and let us know! :)

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