Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Review

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The other day I finished work early and came home to find some way to relax. I chose, most unusually for me, to sit and watch the entire first season of the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I’d only heard of the series recently and figured that my Netflix subscription could due to be used for something contemporary instead of all the old reruns I watch when grading papers.

Released on March 6th, this show is a Netflix original and created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. The star of the show is Ellie Kemper, who I knew from Bridesmaids and The Office, and Tituss Burgess whose name was familiar but I couldn’t place; he’s from Broadway primarily. The premise is that Kemper’s character, Kimmy Schmidt, along with three other women, were kidnapped 15 years ago by ‘the Reverend’ and led to believe that they had survived the end of the world. At the start of the series they are rescued, and the first season chronicles Kimmy’s transition back into the real world.

Considering the fact that I watched the whole season in one sitting, I would say that my overall opinion of the experience has to be positive. I found it funny and the short episodes (22-28 minutes) make for quick subplots that are easy to digest. I don’t particularly think that there’s a lot of rewatchability to the show; I was thinking of recommending it to my mom but I’d have to watch it with her and I don’t really want to sit through it again. I’ll still recommend it though.

As with many shows written by Tina Fey I found some of the jokes severely lacking in humour and a lot of the subplots they used were extremely worn out cliches. I’d even go so far as to say that the show is built on cliches, the fresh and interesting aspect is someone who has been removed from the world for 15 years trying to deal with them. There’s sort of a stereotype bingo that you could play: gay New Yorker that wants to be on broadway; rich woman who’s insecure about her marriage; teenage girl who hates her privileged life. Somehow these characters still manage to be interesting, so at least something is being done right. However, the role Tina Fey wrote in for herself in the last 2-3 episodes is absolutely grating. It really took me out of the story.

I’m afraid I’ve sort of painted a negative picture here, when that’s not what I took away from the story. It’s pretty funny and I think the dialogue is great. Carol Kane as Lillian, the landlady, is amazing and I want to see more of her character in the next season, if it gets made. It’s certainly got its share of problematic content but there’s some real good stuff in there too. Ellie Kemper is a great comedic female lead and I’ll look forward to seeing her in more roles after this.

Giving it a 6.5/10! No harm in giving it a watch. Let me know what you think!

Book Review: Rat Queens (Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery)

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I had been hearing things for some time about this comic, Rat Queens, and more importantly I had been promised at every turn that I would absolutely love it after the first compiled volume came out last March. A few weeks ago I finally bought it and after one of the slowest shipping experiences possible (I blame my remote city, not Amazon), it arrived. Couldn’t have been a better day, as I was wiped out after a day of thesis writing and needed something to cheer me up. I am delighted to report that it did the job admirably.

The first volume of the comic, whose story is written by Kurtis J. Wiebe and art is done by Roc Upchurch, is a compilation of the first five issues of the series. It chronicles the badass antics of the titular squad of mercenaries, andrat-queens-vol-01-releases from the first page you know the characters are trouble. It takes place in a world familiar to D&D and fantasy fans, but infused with the gritty lady combat of Sucker Punch and an imaginary Joan Jett soundtrack (or was that just in my head?) But it’s not right to compare the series with other franchises, really. It brings enough to the party on its own.

The characters are great and we get a tantalizing look at everyone’s backstories in this volume. The dialogue is so, so important in comics with their limited space, and not only does Rat Queens do a great job of establishing a unique voice for each character, but the pacing works extremely well and the story doesn’t stagnate. Did I also mention it’s funny? And filled with amazing women? Yeah, I kind of have a book crush.

Volume 2 is coming out at the end of April, but if you can’t wait that long then the individual issues are available here, or at your local comic book store, if they know what’s good for them. Let me know what you think if you give the series a try. I’m already looking forward to giving it another read.

Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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I may be a little late with the party in watching this movie, but I knew how much I would like it so I was saving it for a day when I could use a pick-me-up. I finally watched The Grand Budapest Hotel last week and was absolutely not disappointed.

I’m already a fan of Wes Anderson movies so you know I’m going to harp on the colour palettes and the symmetry of the shots. I had been skeptical about the pepto-bismol pink filter I was seeing on photosets from the film but the colours absolutely enhance the experience. With such a dialogue-driven movie I think the need for a standout atmosphere is greater than ever and drenching the sets in the sunset-Floridian colours was a neat approach. And of course the symmetrical shots are so beautiful. The two ski lifts passing each other mid-air comes back to mind in particular. Just lovely.

I’ll admit I couldn’t remember Ralph Fiennes’ name until the credits were rolling. What a great performance, though.The_Grand_Budapest_Hotel_Poster Tony Revolori as Zero was also very good, I was really pleased whenever they gave additional depth to his character. It would have been easy for him to be overshadowed by Fiennes’ character, no doubt. Saoirse Ronan (who has the loveliest name) was a delight on the screen but definitely did not have a big enough role. On the whole the story was dominated by men, which I didn’t find to particularly detract from the film but it could have benefitted from some really strong female roles. Anderson tends to shy away from writing those, however. Very funny performances from Adrian Brody (who I can only see as Salvadore Dali after Midnight in Paris) and Willem Dafoe.

The story-within-story tradition is an old one (I’ve been dealing with it in my thesis writing) and sort of works well here. It takes a few minutes to be dragged into the layers, before you forget how many narratives you’re immersed in until they all wrap up in the end. The movie did really well at the Oscars this past weekend, which I definitely think is deserved.

I’ll give it an 8.5/10, and definitely recommend it for anyone to enjoy (even though you should have seen it already!)

Music Review: Catfish and the Bottlemen, “The Balcony”

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I just recently checked out the first album by Welsh band Catfish and the Bottlemen. The Balcony was released back in September 2014 in the UK. It just had its US debut this month, which I presume is why I am just hearing about them now!

Signed to Island Records, you can definitely hear the influence of producer Jim Abbiss (who you might know from his work with the Arctic Monkeys and Kasabian) in this album. I find it a little reminiscent of AM, but also a lot of early Kings of The_Balcony_Catfish_and_the_BottlemenLeon; listen to ‘Rango’ and I think you’ll have to agree, at least in a musical sense – and the vocals do keep reminding me of a less sexually-saturated Alex Turner. It’s a good combination that gives the feel of having perhaps heard the song before, but it still is fresh enough to enjoy. ‘Kathleen’, the first single, was pretty hot last year and I think got quite a bit of radio play, so it’s definitely familiar.

Lyrically I find the songs pretty interesting, and there’s clear regional influence in the language used — “She deffo didn’t like that” in Pacifier’ and talking about Leeds in ‘Fallout’. Not to say that North Americans won’t understand, just that the lyrics are more colloquially British and it’s pretty charming. The music videos too do nothing to hide their origins, which I imagine does them some favours with the US market.

I think my favourite track from the album is ‘Fallout’. It’s uplifting in a way that I’m finding very suitable for the bleak grey winter days that we’re having in St. John’s. I’m trying to imagine whether I’d like this album as a whole for summer listening (the ultimate test, whether or not I’ll blast it in the car on the coast with the windows down) and I think ‘Fallout’ would convince me to do so. For the time being, it’ll sure help get through the winter blues.

Podcasts I’m Listening To (January 2015)

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This month I added a couple of new podcasts to my regular rotation. Here’s a quick rundown of what’s on my iPhone these days that I recommend!

1. the memory palace (http://thememorypalace.us)
This podcast is a series of short stories, ranging anywhere from 2 to 15 minutes. They come out pretty sporadically but there’s a good number of them up on iTunes (where I listen to my podcasts). Nate DiMeo, the creator, defends the lack of scheduling as allowing him to work on each piece as long as necessary. I think it’s pretty fair. I’ll definitely be sad once I’ve listened through all the stories, though. My favourites so far are Episode 16 (Secret Kitty) and Episode 17 (Plummeting Approval). Yes, they are the first two I listened to. I still think they’re great starting points, but you can probably start anywhere.

2. No Such Thing As A Fish (http://qi.com/podcast/) 14181257681396016089nst-artwork-square-364
I love watching QI, I think i’ve seen every episode. I got hooked on it while I was living in the UK, and the seasons don’t come out nearly often enough for my liking, so I’m really pleased I started listening to the podcast associated with the show. I’ve also always been curious about the researchers for the show, as it seems like possibly the greatest job ever, so hearing from them directly is pretty cool. Everyone involved will bring an interesting fact to the episode and they’ll take turns discussing. I’ll admit that premise sounds a little boring but if you love trivia, this is definitely the sort of thing that will appeal. Again, you can start with any episode.

3. The Egyptian History Podcast (http://egyptianhistory.libsyn.com)
Another podcast that I will admit I am not completely caught up on, but am working through from the beginning. I needed some background knowledge about Egyptology for my thesis so started listening to this podcast last summer, after reviewing a couple that were related to Egyptian history. The first couple of episodes were redone after their initial recording, so I can’t speak to how they originally were, but I found it engaging and easy to follow. I wouldn’t hesitate to listen to it on x1.5 speed sometimes, though, but that’s just my preference. Definitely start at the beginning if you either have no knowledge of Egyptology or want a very thorough understanding; if you just want to sample, grab any episode that sounds interesting to you.

4. The Thrilling Adventure Hour (http://thrillingadventurehour.com)mza_3634691790099778933.600x600-75
This is hands-down my favourite podcast and I have been listening for a while. Unfortunately I think I heard rumour that they’re going to be winding down their podcasts in the next year to roll out a visual project instead, which I will definitely still watch, but I’ll miss the audio format. Luckily there’s a ton of episodes in existence and you can log some lengthy hours working through the archives. The show is recorded live, usually in LA, in front of an audience, and there are several different ongoing series within the larger program. My favourite is Sparks Nevada Marshal on Mars, but I love all the others as well. I introduced my brother to the Sparks episodes over Christmas and we listened through every single one together. Though the plots of each episode are generally self-contained, there are larger stories at work, so I suggest starting from the beginning of whichever ones you are interested in. And I will admit that some of the very early episodes are a little less engaging than the more recent ones, but still absolutely worth listening to.

Hope you give these a listen! I’ve got a bunch more downloaded to give a try, so i’ll do another rundown soon.

TV Review: Galavant (2015)

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I wanted to write a short review about the new ABC show, Galavant. Hinted at release back in September, viewers were promised a four-week run of a new show from Dan Fogelman, who you may know as the screenwriter for Tangled and other Disney pictures. The first season of Galavant is a short run of eight episodes, each only filling a half-hour slot, and released two at a time each week in January. At the time of writing this, the season is half released.tumblr_ni09s9E9qs1u6k6k9o1_1280

The show follows the musical journey of Galavant, a knight, on his quest to reclaim his love Madalena from King Richard. This plot on its own would be uninspiring, but Galavant‘s strong suit is twofold: the secondary characters and the comedyWhile the musical comedy aspect of the show may be too camp for some viewers, many reviewers have noted the strong influences of Monty Python on the production, and the effectiveness with which the show manages to move the plot along in spite of the short episode length and accommodation of musical numbers.

The cast is fairly diverse – a fact the characters themselves called out in the fourth episode – and does a really great job of incorporating all the characters into the spotlight. Galavant travels with Princess Isabella and his squire Sid, a dynamic which would easily allow Sid to fade into the background to accommodate a romantic plot between the other two. Much to my delight it keeps not happening, and is even addressed in song format. They continue being a trio rather than a duo with a tag-along.

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I really admire the portrayal of the female characters in the show. The two main women, Isabella and Madalena, are well developed characters and are given ample time in the spotlight. Isabella’s reversal of the male gaze as she ogles Galavant, the mention of her deviated septum and the troubles it causes, and her willingness to have fun (particularly in the third episode, when she expounds on her acting hobbies) build the character in untraditional ways that really add to the quality of the show. Madalena, taking the role of the pretty-but-mean girl, seems heartless and dismissive, but then her circumstances are exposed: she’s been forced into her marriage, but made the best of the situation. She looks after herself in a world that is rather unforgiving, and had to make sacrifices to survive in the past (thinking of her goat friend, mentioned in episode 2). All the characters of the show have been carefully fleshed out to avoid any black-and-white characterization. They have good and bad sides, and it makes for both good watching and meaningful comedy.

The musical numbers, I think, are quite good. As a sister company to Disney, ABC has the benefit of their expertise on the matter, and you can feel a bit of a Disney-esque style to all the songs (unless you examine the lyrics, which are often much spicier than you’d find in other productions). Having recently endured Into the Woods, I find the pacing exceptionally good and the storylines are progressed through song in a way that doesn’t have you rolling your eyes. Quite refreshing.

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Last of all I’ll speak to the casting. Timothy Omundson is a standout as King Richard. Vinnie Jones as Gareth is also fantastic and a perfect compliment to Omundson’s character. The two make a great comedy duo and I look forward to more of their scenes. Karen David as Princess Isabella has great delivery and continues to be loveable. Joshua Sasse as Galavant is quite good but I think I need to see the series as a whole before I can say whether I like his role entirely. Mallory Jansen as Madalena is excellent and frightening and her cheekbones are very memorable. Luke Youngblood as Sid is one of my favourites and the third episode (which expanded on his backstory) is quite amusing. I haven’t seen him in anything else since Harry Potter so I’m really pleased with this performance. The Jester and Chef (Ben Presley and Darren Evans respectively) are also fantastic and I hope they get more screen time.

The guest actors so far have been great. John Stamos as Sir Jean Hamm was very amusing and his interaction with Isabella genuinely made me laugh. Hugh Bonneville as Peter the Pillager was fun, the pirate’s musical number was cute, but I am more excited about some of the guests in upcoming episodes. Ricky Gervais is listed as a character called “Xanax the Wizard” and I am looking forward to seeing what that’s about.

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Since the series is not complete so far I hesitate to give it a rating, but for the sake of the review I will give it a 7/10. I really like where it is going and look forward to seeing the season to completion.

Movie Review: Into The Woods (2014)

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I went to see Into the Woods yesterday and have been turning it over in my head ever since. I knew I wanted to write a review about it before I went to see it but I didn’t expect to have as much to say about it as I do.

tumblr_static_tumblr_static_87cf8xot6ccgk8s0sw0kw0o8w_1280 I’ll preface by saying that I really do enjoy theatre, especially of the musical variety. I started university as a theatre major and the love of the craft has never left me. I tend to stay away from movies based on theatre plays because I find the transition from stage to screen a little awkward. And I have never seen Into the Woods on stage (though I do want to see it). That all being said, the film version of the play was uncomfortable. I’ve got both pros and cons about it.

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