Sunday, June 25, 2017

Summer Lovin’ -- Week 23

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We're back again with another fun Summer Lovin' installment. I don't know about you, but Netflix has taken up a lot of my time on the weekends now. It's been really fun getting to catch up on movies and shows while my favorite series are on summer hiatus. There was a lot to love this week for our staff members, so let's dive in! Joining me this week are:

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What Jenn's lovin': Moana and Trolls

Why she's lovin' them: Between last weekend and this weekend, I watched Trolls for the first time and Moana for the second time, because both are on Netflix. I'll talk about why I'm lovin' both of these animated hit films individually but really it boils down to this: they're fun and have catchy music, while also delivering some pretty powerful messages.

I initially saw Moana in theaters and really enjoyed it. The songs were incredible (hi there, Lin Manuel-Miranda — keep creating things because you're dang amazing at it), and the scene where Moana sings "I am Moana" literally gives me chills every time I hear it. The ensemble swells, and the hero's journey is reignited. But what I really enjoyed about Moana was that it was a film about a young woman finding herself by looking to her past. It was so beautifully done, and I really love that there was the chance to tell Moana's story and the story of Polynesian culture because I got the chance to learn a lot. This wasn't a love story, which is a departure from typical Disney — and for the record, I'm totally a fan. The love story in this movie was between Moana and her destiny. She learned who she was and what she was created to do. Her passion for her island and her people was the crux of the film.

If you haven't seen Moana yet, you really need to do so ASAP.

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I watched Trolls for the first time recently and was actually pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. A lot of famous celebrities voice act in the film, including Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick who take starring roles. I'll always love Justin Timberlake but it was fun to see a departure for him in playing the gloomy and cynical Branch. And Anna Kendrick was flawless as the perky, eternally optimistic princess Poppy. The music in the film is fun and upbeat, but the highlight is the duet to "True Colors" between Timberlake and Kendrick. The film's silly, comical numbers are punctuated by heartfelt ones — whether it's the story of Branch's childhood or this particular duet. Even if you're an adult, you can get something out of Trolls — messages of friendship, happiness, and loyalty abound. We all need to hear those sometimes.

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What Ashvini’s lovin’: “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi feat. Daddy Yankee

Why she’s lovin’ it: I just want everyone to know (who doesn’t already know) that “Despacito” did not originally have Justin Bieber featured on it. And up until a few months ago, “Despacito” wasn’t taking over the U.S. yet. I’m making this clarification for myself but mostly on behalf of all of my Spanish-speaking friends and their resounding belief that Bieber doesn't deserve the attention that he’s getting for this hit, especially when he doesn’t even know the words. I apologize if you do, in fact, prefer the Bieber version. It’s a fine song, just not the one that I know and love.

I first heard “Despacito” in mid-January. One of my roommates is a devoted fan of Latin music, so I tend to hear all of the number ones before they hit the states. This song was one of those number ones. Of course, I already knew who Daddy Yankee was. Daddy Yankee is responsible for some of the best nights I’ve ever had; if “Gasolina” starts playing when you’re around me and my friends, it’s going to be safer for you to move out of the way. Also, tracks like “Shaky, Shaky,” “Limbo,” “Nada Ha Cambiao,’” and “La Rompe Corazones” (to name a few) are simply bangers and I suggest you all let loose to them.

The first chords of “Despacito” remind me of Flamenco music: intense, all-feeling, raw power weaves through. The guitar is soothing and striking enough to entrance those who choose to listen, and Fonsi’s voice is molten lava flowing off of his tongue; he can’t keep the words in his mouth, but he savors the way the words fall off, burning with desire, rich with craving for love, to take it slowly in the rhythm of his feelings for the one he wants, needs. Daddy Yankee’s verse just kills, absolutely. If I were a skilled enough dancer (or a dancer at all), I would chest-pop to his part over and over again. He somehow manages to pull off slow, dance-y reggaeton, which is impressive, while I’m scrambling to keep up with him singing “pasito a pasito, suave suavecito, nos vamos pegando, poquito a poquito.”

I generally always feel the need to shake it to the music, but this song kind of just amplifies that need. If anything, “Despacito” proves that Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee know how to construct and execute an addictive piece of music. It also makes a fun summer song, that should be played on repeat until you drive your friends crazy. If they haven’t lost their minds by the end of the summer, you haven’t played it enough yet. Take it from me. Whatever you do, just listen to the original version of this Latin pop hit. It’s electric and oh-so satisfying. Also, if you want to learn the Spanish to sing along with the duo, here you go. Enjoy!

What Rebecca’s lovin': Orange is the New Black's new season

Why she’s loving it: Warning: spoilers are included below!

I feel like I’m the only one who really liked this season of OITNB. Perhaps it’s because I prefer character-driven stories over plot-driven ones, or maybe I just have really bad taste; either way, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the inmates so intimately in such a short period of time — especially Suzanne and Taystee, whose actresses deserve all the awards for their performances.

Whereas other seasons cover weeks and months, season five lapses only three days as the prisoners of Litchfield take guards hostage and institute a prison riot in an attempt to get better living conditions and justice for their friend Poussey Washington, who was tragically and needlessly murdered by a guard at the close of season four. I still take an issue with how her murder was handled. The murder of black individuals by law enforcement is something that definitely needs to be discussed, but choosing Bayley to be the murderer has a whole slew of issues, which I won’t get into here since I’m focusing on the show’s newest season. But I will say that realistically, Piscatella had the capability (and as we now know, the tendency) to murder unarmed inmates. He should have been the one to do it, not Bayley, whose scenes this season were absolutely heartbreaking.

A lot of this season was hard to watch, from Pennsatucky falling in love with her rapist and seemingly moving in with him, to Piscatella kidnapping Red and her crew and cutting off Red’s hair, to seeing Suzanne have a mental breakdown and be subdued with medication that left her catatonic, to Piscatella killing an inmate at his previous job for raping and beating his boyfriend. And although he got what was coming for him and I will not be mourning him, Piscatella’s death was also inexplicably difficult for me to watch. But I think this season was critical in terms of character development. We also needed a full season dedicated to the riot; it would have been impossible to condense all of that into a few episodes without eliminating the crucial character development we saw take place throughout this season.

I really look forward to seeing how the inmates and MCC will deal with the aftermath of the riot next season. I need to know that Maritza and Flaca will be reunited, that MCC will give into the prisoners’ demands, that Bayley will face prosecution, that Daya will be okay after turning herself in for Humphrey’s murder, and especially that those remaining in Freida’s secret bunker will all make it out alive.


What Erin’s lovin’: Gillian Anderson as Media (American Gods)

Why she’s lovin’ her: There are many things I love about American Gods, but nothing more than Gillian Anderson as the Goddess of Media. It takes enormous talent to play an other-worldly character that embodies dead celebrities, and a god who is all-powerful, yet vulnerable.

Anderson disappears into these pop culture disguises so completely, but the essence of Media is still there. With a gentler approach than the other New Gods (except when she knocks your teeth out by blowing you a kiss), Media relies heavily on the art of persuasion. She uses her appropriately themed appearances and charming manner to get her way, and to get others to fall in line (whether they are in her camp or not). The personality behind the facade comes out when she doesn’t get her way. There is a bit of a pout and defensiveness that emerges. If it’s Wednesday rejecting their rebranding pitch or Easter switching loyalties, Media is not going to be happy, and we will all know about it. Anderson does this in a subtle way, so much so that you almost miss the moments where Media’s true nature seeps out. With Wednesday and Shadow, she dropped the high, flirty voice of Marilyn to give them a threatening warning: “We’ll be telling this story, Shadow. Tell it however you’d like or don’t like.” Easter’s defiance caused genuine hurt to surface above the good-natured and easygoing quality of Judy Garland’s Hannah Brown.

It defies logic, really, that Anderson is able to craft this character of Media with certain personality traits, but keep a strong sense of mystery, too. We know she’s been around for a long time — not as long as the Old Gods, but enough to have seen some things and to know even more. Media seems to not really work for Mr. World, but collaborate with him for their greater good. Like the show-stopping characters she manifests as, she doesn’t let him steal her spotlight. You can tell he values her talents and power, even looking to her for validation on his scene-ending line: “It was a good line.” She treats Technical Boy like the petulant child that he is, but also sees and appreciates his role on their team. She scolds him when he needs it, but then will stand beside him as a united front.

As if Anderson’s ridiculously outstanding acting abilities aren’t enough, we get to see her in remarkable makeup and costumes, and appear in jaw-dropping scenes. “I’m as colorful as the story I’m telling.” Media likes a good cohesive theme. She chooses her characters to best get her message across, and she doesn’t skimp on the spectacle. She comes to Shadow as Lucy Ricardo on a television screen to explain a little of her back story. “I’m all sorts, Shadow. The screen’s the altar. I’m the one they sacrifice to. Then til now. Golden Age to Golden Age.” She dazzles Shadow by stretching the screen ratio with her bare hands and switching to technicolor for dramatic effect. Media takes the androgynous form of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust to reprimand Technical Boy, complete with a rad glam-rock track playing in the background. She peppers in lyrics from Bowie’s catalog to get her stern point across. As Marilyn, she really gets to put on a show. With a click of a retro looking device, she paints the walls with rockets and rainbows and unicorns, and makes a big splashy presentation that you’d have to have the resolve of Odin to resist. Media crashes Easter’s Easter party in her Easter Sunday finest, including a fancy Easter bonnet “with all the frills upon it.” She uses dialogue and lyrics from Easter Parade so seamlessly in her conversation that it comes off completely natural.

Watching my favorite actor portray an all-powerful goddess who inhabits these iconic characters was thrilling, to say the least. For her to do that on an incredible show where the source material is just as incredible results in a perfect storm of prime television viewing.


What Hope’s lovin’: Once and For All by Sarah Dessen.

Why she’s lovin’ it: I’ve been reading Dessen’s novels for a long time, so when she released her first one in two years, I was pretty excited. My favorite of her novels is firmly The Truth About Forever, but I’m never disappointed in any of her stories. The stories and characters have a way of sucking you in, and Once and For All is no different. I had just finished school for the summer and after months of reading literature non-stop with deadlines, I wasn’t planning on immediately rushing into a book. But once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.

One of the most surprising things about this novel is how it juggles two love stories and two summers for the same character. Dessen balances them in a way that makes you truly invested in both narratives. I’m very glad that she wove the one story — the one that could have simply been backstory located somewhere within the first chapters — in with the present-day one. As the narrator, Louna, says, she can’t handle telling the story all at once, and I think this was the perfect way to handle it. It’s a little confusing at first, until you understand what’s going on. Then you get to watch Louna’s perspective, emotions, and character growth unfold in interesting and contrasting ways. The main love story, however, is my favorite.

The wedding planning business was an entertaining concept for this book to revolve around, providing some of my favorite scenes. Dessen really uses the wedding business to play with the binary opposition of cynicism and optimism. Louna has a little bit of both — disenchanted by both tragedy and being witness to countless weddings, but still hopeful that some people, although not herself, will get happy endings. Louna’s mom and William are both cynical (and hilarious) as well, and the addition of Ambrose, perfectly optimistic and random, into the mix brings about delightful scenes.

An aspect of Dessen’s novels that I’ve always admired is how she draws her characters and their dynamics. In each of her books, Once and For All included, she crafts a group of characters who are unique, detailed, and multi-faceted, with their own vivid personalities and quirks. It’s because of this characterization that the narrative progresses in the compelling way that it does. The dialogue comes to life and flows so naturally. I haven’t read her work since her last book came out, and it occurred to me now that I’ve learned a lot about writing dialogue from reading her books.

The only thing lacking is a longer conclusion, but I always have this issue with books I truly enjoy (although, the Barnes & Noble edition features an epilogue that brings in characters from Dessen’s past books, which was sweet). Funny, heartbreaking, and beautiful — this book was everything I expected from Dessen and more.

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What Jon's lovin': Cancelled Too Soon

Why he's lovin' it: While last week I talked about the excellent 80s All Over podcast, this week I'm taking a look at podcast that's set within a realm way more familiar to this site. I've only discovered this podcast recently, but Cancelled Too Soon is slowly becoming one of my favorite podcasts to listen to.

The podcast follows film critics William Bibbiani (CraveOnline, Blumhouse, IndieWire, etc) and Witney Seibold (CraveOnline, Blumhouse, and various other sites, in addition to hosting the B Movie Podcast with Bibbiani) as they tackle various TV shows that either lasted a single episode, a few episodes, or one whole season (as of this writing, Galatica 1980 has just been discussed).

As they go through the various shows, they analyze the episode(s), the show's history, and determine whether the show was "cancelled too soon" or if it could have lasted a while longer (in these scenarios, Bibbiani and Seibold discuss where the show could have gone should it have gone beyond one season.

What makes this podcast so much fun to listen to is simply the history behind each show, and the two hosts' massive enthusiasm towards each one. Both Bibbiani and Seibold show genuine love and passion toward the show... even if the show (*coughPoochinskicough*) isn't exactly the greatest. Regardless, the true love that they have toward the material is clearly evident.

It's also intriguing just to learn of shows that you never knew existed. Television history holds just as much interest to me as film history does, and the shows that are talked about fascinate me.

Shows like Lookwell and Bucky O'Hare and the Toad Wars, among so many others (as I mentioned previously, still working through the podcast to catch up so I haven't been able to see all of it yet) are fascinating to listen, mainly due to the obscurity of the shows themselves. Discovering these gems, similar to how I discover long-lost 80s films thanks to 80s All Over, is a real treat. Uncovering hidden areas of history become intriguing as the podcast progressed.

Even though I am not that far into the podcast, Canceled Too Soon is becoming one of my favorite podcasts to listen to. This can be attributed to the learning aspect regarding the shows, and the immense enthusiasm both Bibbiani and Seibold have for the content — regardless of the shows' quality.

If you would like to support the show, you can click on the podcast's Patreon page here. In addition, the two DO take requests for canceled shows so if you have a show you want to request, you can email the podcast at

Sound off in the comments below and tell us what you're lovin' this week!


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