Thursday, December 29, 2016

Hello, My Twenties! // Age of Youth (2016)

Once you've binged on all of the standard "good" Netflix television, there's nothing left to watch unless you start choosing shows at random. Embarrassingly, I reached that point. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have stumbled upon this treasure: the South Korean dramady known on Netflix as Hello, My Twenties!

Screenshot from trailer
Netflix seems to have recently acquired a lot of East Asian programming, and they are not marketed as well as other foreign TV/Film is, in my (serious) opinion, which is deeply unfortunate. My own biases come into play as well, and honestly, most of the shows don't look appealing at first glance. The larger-than-life stereotype of South Korean media precedes it, and I have inadvertently written it off. I know that I am not the only one to do so, and it is unnerving how complicit Netflix and other outlets are in this as well.

In many ways, the show reminds me of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in that its comedy is big and centers on single women. Yet, somehow these thematic similarities are not as strong as the similarities that the show has simply for its country of origin, according to Netflix. For example, all 25 of the "more like this" shows listed are East Asian shows. I argue that not having a single show "like this" from any other part of the world shows that Netflix pockets these show together, no matter their content. Two of the four genres Netflix tags for Hello, My Twenties! have Korean in the title (Korean TV Shows, Korean Dramas) and the other two are vague and overlook the comedy of the show (TV Shows, Romantic TV Shows). I would love to see this show represented more accurately, so that more people will be likely to enjoy it for what it is as opposed to writing it off due to stereotypes. In the process, stereotypes across the board will be broken down. 

Anyway, I had exhausted the Netflix programming I was interested in and despite this, my boyfriend is a media-holic who constantly needs noise in the background while he works, and I either needed to choose something or have to deal with an intense true crime show. I opted for the random click, with the mindset of oh boy, what are we getting ourselves into. Soon, I was  coming home from work and immediately turning on the show, staying up past my bedtime to watch another episode in its entirety. 

It starts off stereo-typically South Korean, larger than life in an overwhelming way. The show opens on Eun-jae (Park Hye-soo*), who happens to be my least favorite character, as she moves into a new apartment in Seoul with four female housemates. Eun-jae is a doe-eyed little babe, just starting her first year at college. She is nervous and awkward, and I can't help but find her totally annoying. 

The series takes turns exploring the lives of each of the housemates, who each have very distinctive personalities.

Screenshot from trailer
In addition to Eun-jae, we have Kang Yi-Na (Ryu Hwang-young), who is tall and attractive, with a bold confidence and over-it attitude that exudes from her sassy quips. Song Ji-won (Park Eun-bin), the quirky weirdo who has never had a boyfriend and is alternately distressed by this and boldly whatever about it--my absolute favorite of the five. Jung Ye-eun (Han Seung-yeon), who is a little over-the-top, always dressing in pink, very concerned with her appearance and her social life, particularly her boyfriend. Finally, Yoon Jin-myung (Han Ye-ri), who works multiple jobs and is struggling to keep her head afloat, stubborn in her self-sufficiency. 

As in reality, these women would not have become friends if they weren't living together. Somehow, becoming roommates with other women,  brings me closer to them in a way that would not have been possible or even necessarily desired had I not lived with them. The series shows the ups and the downs of their intermingled and individual lives--revealing beautiful moments of unexpected friendship and loyalty, and painful moments of tension. I can't express how well this show depicts female friendships. Some of the loving, loyal scenes between the women nearly bring me to tears with joy. 

In addition to all of the relatively normal story threads, the women all have hidden pasts that they are dealing with, and a ghost seems to be haunting the house. I hate to give any of the plot surprises away, but trust me when I say that the drama gets real. And it gets good. 

Screenshot from trailer
The writing on the show is fantastic. Humor comes in unexpected ways, and I laughed out loud like I did with Chewing Gum and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, reveling in the absurdity and cleverness of different lines and plot lines. The editing is superb--quickly changing tones drastically but smoothly, purposefully done to keep us on the hook. Mid-late season in particular had me hating the writers and editors because I knew I was being manipulated, but I loved it. 

There are many more hidden treasure moments in the series--from the single woman who they rent from, always shown enjoying herself in her garden, to the men in and out of the girls' lives, to the after-episode interviews with the characters. It's fantastic. 

As always, my criticism:
  • There are stock video clips interspersed throughout, making the tone very weird. Especially when considering that the stock videos never seem to represent Korean people--mostly white ones. 
  • The same two-three songs are constantly used, and I wish that there would be more diversity in song choice. (Apparently this is common in K-Drama?)

Overall, I highly recommend Hello, My Twenties! to anyone who enjoys well-done "big" comedy and female-driven media. It is such a fantastic, relatable series. Both my boyfriend and I are completely invested. 

*Written in the structure of family name followed by first name, as generally written in Korean

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Resources for Talking to People Who "Don't Get It"

This section is primarily for personal use because it's easier to catalog things here than in a word document I will inevitably forget about.

I am cataloging a few items I think will be helpful in an effort to communicate issues of justice more clearly to people around me, primarily those I love, who do not understand their significance. I hope to aid in understanding issues of justice and pinpoint ways that people can contribute to a better world effectively and meaningfully.

FUCK: Donald Trump was Elected President
Black Lives Matter and White Privilege 
Gender Violence, Reproductive Justice
White Saviorism 
Criminal Justice System

  • This profile about a female front-line anti-ISIS fighter
  • Article on Japanese internment camps
  • Article on Guantanamo Bay
  • Representation statistics

Friday, December 23, 2016

Lovesick aka Scrotal Recall (2014-)

Netflix really wanted me to watch Scrotal Recall. Despite its insistence, I never did because hello, it's called Scrotal Recall. Ew.

Dylan (Johnny Flynn), an adorable British blondie, tests positive for chlamydia, prompting him to reach out to all the women he has ever slept with to let them know. The series chronicles his present-day interactions with these women as well as the key moments from these relationships/hook ups past.

Screenshot from trailer
The first question you're probably asking is: why would his guy contact all of the women he has ever slept with the moment he finds out he has an STD? Wouldn't it make more sense to go backwards, rather than going straight for that random person he hooked up with six years ago or whatever? Yeah, I don't know. I'm totally glad he's taking responsibility and letting everyone know, but this logic just doesn't make sense. It's the entire foundation of the show though, so...

Scrotal Recall originally aired on the UK's E4 channel, but season two was all backed by Netflix who, realizing the reason for its unpopularity, took it upon itself to rename the show Lovesick.

The first season was surprisingly fun. The episodes travel through time, chronicling not only the romantic relationships entangled in Dylan's life, but also the friendships. The audience watches the growth of characters in one episode as they would over the course of many seasons of a traditional show. It is done well, and it works, capturing the fluidity of time and experience.
Screenshot from trailer

Evie (Antonia Thomas) is consistently well-acted and magnetic. She is friends and housemates with Dylan, though she watches his changing relationships with a look of sadness and longing in her eye, wishing she were in his lover's place. Though the series centers on Dylan, Evie's character is the more engaging, dynamic one. The audience is endeared to her, rooting for her.

The series also features Luke (Daniel Inges) as the pair's sleazy friend whose loud confidence and escapades with women propel both Dylan and Evie's plot lines in silly, unexpected ways.

That first season captured me, but the second, headed by Netflix, tried to change the show's direction while keeping the same format. Season Two relies more on remembering the chronology of these time traveling vignettes while developing a more traditional, straight-shoot plot thread. The people involved in the show are talented, and if given the a better script I bet the show would continue to be great, but as is it is a little confusing.

Screenshot from trailer
The show worked when Evie and Luke were the only characters surrounding Dylan whose roles and histories were consistent, but by adding Abigail (Hannah Britland) to the mix it gets to be a little much. Perhaps if she were someone new he has met rather than someone with a history that is lost in the swirl of other histories it would work better. As-is, I forget many significant details and don't see a true connection between the two. If she had been new, the series could have explored telling someone you just met that you have an STD and working through that.

Watch the trailer here

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

Ten years out of high school, do you still harp on moments lost and opportunities missed?  If you answered yes to that question, then perhaps you'll enjoy Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) more than I did. I sure hope not, though, because that's awfully sad.

Screenshot from trailer || My face at this movie
The premise of the film is that Martin (John Cusack), an assassin for-hire, has to go back to his home town to kill a man and attend his high school reunion. There he re-encounters his ex-girlfriend, Debi (Minnie Driver), the lost love of his life who he wishes to reconnect with after leaving her on prom night ten years ago and never seeing her again.

This movie sucks, and here are some reasons why:
  • It is boring as hell and nearly two hours long. 
  • There is next to no character or plot development and I am left with countless questions. Why exactly did Martin leave Debi? Why doesn't he have an oft-used cover-up profession for when people ask? Has he not dated since high school? Has she not dated since high school? Did he even graduate high school? How come we didn't have any prior hints that the other hit men were after Debi's father? Why were they after him exactly? Why is Debi still in this small town, despite having the money to easily leave? Also, Debi's character seems to change with every scene. 
Screenshot from trailer
  • The camera work is consistently awful. The framing is unprofessional, and canted angles are used annoyingly. 
  • Martin's secretary (Joan Cusack) has a role that is out of sync with the rest of the film. She seems irrelevant, but she cares a lot. Why does she care so much about Martin going back home? Wait, why does Martin keep messing up so much at his job, leading him to Detroit, right near his hometown, in the first place? Obviously, the questions never stop.  
  • The therapist is an unnecessary addition.  I see where the humor is supposed to come from, but it falls flat and is carried on for too long with no payoff. 
Screenshot from trailer
  • I am so confused about who is trying to kill who and why.
  • The reunion seems secondary, yet is talked about greatly throughout the film. A man dies there, and nobody seems to really care, and nobody reports this to the police. 
Overall, the film left me with near constant confusion. It was poorly written, poorly acted, and poorly filmed. It sucked. But if you're still interested, you can watch the trailer here. 

Living life and whatnot

It's an overcast Sunday here in Carrboro, NC. It has been a nice weekend spent mostly indoors, though boy and I did venture outside to put soil in our new compost bin and moss on our new bonsai tree. We have been particularly Carrboro (read: bougie hippies) lately.

We bought the bonsai tree from a man who sells them from a large white van on the side of the road. He is on the list of people who I would love to approach to consider being a subject in a short documentary.

Speaking of that, I bought a camera! It's a beautiful Canon XA10 from Ebay for $850. It isn't exactly a steal, but I felt comfortable investing. I haven't done any real projects yet, and I still need to get editing software (leaning towards Final Cut Pro over Adobe right now). I have a few ideas and loose plans in the works for documentary and fictional films and collaborations with friends. As with everything, I'm trying to remind myself that it is okay to be mediocre or even straight bad in the work I do as long as I strive to grow. We'll see how my first few independent projects go, but I am trying not to let my standards prevent me from developing a skill set that matches those standards.

In other personal news, life has been really nice. Last weekend I road-tripped to DC and spent time with good friends, saw a great show, and fell a little in love with the city. Work has been interesting, and I'm learning a lot about fundraising. I feel absolutely spoiled when I go to my office's parties, and the holiday party last week was no exception; people really went all out for an '80's themed lip-syncing competition that was way more fun than it sounds, and there was an open bar. Boy's lab's holiday party was great fun as well. I got to watch a group of brilliant women scientists from a handful of backgrounds bust a move on the dance floor, and it was fantastic.

I've adjusted to a "big girl" job and schedule well, and have been going to the gym regularly (minus that month of no gym time I just got over) and eating fairly healthy. I'm enjoying where I'm at very much, but am looking forward to future possibilities. The dream of living abroad in the not too far future is particularly interesting. I would love to use French or Spanish regularly again, or learn a new language. We'll see.

Gotta love public art in Carrboro
Obviously, the election has given me many feelings. I am trying to navigate the world as it is, and learn how to curb my sometimes troublesome outspokenness. I am thinking of how to better use my free time and energy towards partnering with others to fuel a better world. I hope to put my thoughts into action in the new year.

So far, I hope to have made a tiny impact by somehow, along with my team, achieving getting Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson to be my office's January "retreat" read. I look forward to discussing big topics with my coworkers and taking a bit of a tangent to discussing our work as fundraisers for Duke, a wealthy, private university located in Durham, NC, a city with great income diversity and a racial history that ties into that income gap. The city is undergoing the process of major gentrification, and I think often about my unintentional role in this process. I hope that by bringing this to the forefront of our group discussion some small, positive shift in perspective and action emerges.

Males Gazing, 1970's French Erotica, and Fantasy vs. Reality

While at the gym yesterday, lying on a workout bench, lifting ten pound weights over my head, I caught the eye of some guy, maybe late high school, maybe early college age (it's hard to tell with dudes) standing nearby, watching me. He didn't seem to be working out, so at first I thought I had taken the bench he was using on accident. No, I realized--just before I had come there he had been doing shoulder presses at a machine in front of where I had been doing the same, across the room. I closed my eyes, and continued with my reps. As I changed positions for another exercise, I opened my eyes, making eye contact with him again. I quickly finished my workout and left the bench.

Eye contact is an unspoken hello, welcoming further contact. It is supposed to be equal for both parties, but when someone is actively trying to make eye contact with you, not taking hints that you aren't interested, it feels like their eyes back you into a corner. That's how it feels to me, anyway.

I felt the same need to avoid eye contact while out dancing with friends last weekend, towards the end of the night when a group of single men joined our group of single women in a dance circle. This would have been fine if the men weren't trying to catch my gaze, and I hadn't felt pressure to look them in the eye, which I very well knew would be a loud club's "okay" to dancing with them, which I didn't want to do for a variety of reasons.

Eye contact isn't actively threatening. It's just eye contact. But because of this nonverbal "okay", when I sense that someone is trying to get my eye contact without cease, my guard goes up.

Yet in my own fantasies, where I create a realm of safety for myself, this eye contact isn't threatening.

If someone asks me what I did this weekend, I'll say any number of things, but I probably won't talk about the 1970's French erotica films I watched, most produced by the Alpha France production company.

I haven't done a ton of research on these films. A documentary is on my list, and I found the sex positive blog and radio show of one of the former actresses. I look forward to learning more about this time and place in erotic films, but for now all I can say is that I like them. They are far from feminist, mind you, but I like them.

The films take an everyday scenario and seamlessly ease them into eroticism. Eye contact is the nonverbal yes, but there is a sense of safety and fantasy in the scenes that allow the yes to be enthusiastic.

The fantasy argument is used often in erotic films, but this specific group is unique. They are not taking a situation that would be off-limits, filming it, and claiming that because the situation is controlled, it is fantasy. The implied reality of those types of scenes make my guard go up, much like simple, unwanted eye contact does.

Instead, the content of these films lends itself to fantasy. The camerawork, design, and story lines are obviously inspired by French New Wave, a fantastical genre. The films live in a dream-like world where a woman knitting on a couch wordlessly turns suggestive, where eye contact made at the dinner table turns into much more. It is a world sans the potential for negative physical or emotional repercussions to sexual experiences. The world is one where all players share a comfortable ownership of their desires and sexuality. This is not the real world. This world portrays the dreamlike scenario of safe, spontaneous eroticism. By creating a blur of fantasy and reality, the films successfully create a visual representation of erotic fantasies inspired by daily life.

It's weird how mixed up different interpretations of eye contact can be. In Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali's Un chien andalou (1928), there is a scene where a man gropes a woman. The two make eye contact before the man grabs her breasts. He has a hungry, predatory look in his eye. The woman varies in trying to free herself and allowing him to grope her, though her expression makes it clear that this is violating her will. In "reality", she is clothed, but in the "fantasy" of the the scene, cut between frames of he reality, her breasts are bare. (

We discussed this scene in a college film class. One (sincerely well-meaning) guy made the comment that he believed that this scene represented a consensual act, because the woman did not fight back. He didn't mention eye contact but, to me, the eye contact and lack thereof was far more telling than her "fighting back".

Me being the sometimes overly outspoken person I am, responded rather intensely that this scene represented something far from consensual. I referenced BDSM somewhere in my retort, comparing consensual sexual acts like that to a scene like the one represented in the film. My class probably learned a little too much about me then, and the poor guy who had made the original comment looked sincerely distraught and thoughtful.

Not fighting back is not consent. Neither, necessarily, is eye contact.

There is a great deal more going on in these scenes than eye contact. I do not wish to simplify something that is complex and often threatening, but eye contact, as simple as it is, can be powerful. Especially as it relates to sexual fantasies and realities. Eye contact alone is not an invitation for further interaction, the type of eye contact matters. Body language matters. Nonverbal cues matter.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2016--)

Screenshot from trailer
As the friend who recommended Crazy Ex Girlfriend to me noted, a quasi -musical comedy on the CW where a woman follows her ex from summer camp ten years ago across the country to set down roots does not sound like great television. Yet, it is great fun television.

The show seems like an amalgam of other popular female-driven comedies on TV--New Girl, Parks and Rec, 30 Rock...It nods their way, but also adds its own freshness. Rachel Bloom, star and creator of the series, has a thing for parodied music videos, and the show is peppered with these. My favorite being:

Some of them are on point, while others are kind of a drag. It varies. 

The show is weird and all over the place, but somehow, the majority of the 18 hour-long episodes in the first season kept me entertained. The cast is diverse, the plot lines are easy to follow, and some of the jokes are great.

One of my favorite characters is Paula (Donna Champlin), best friend of Rebecca (Rachel Bloom). Paula is fuel to Rebecca's craziness, the ultimate enabler. The middle-aged mother of two is dealing with dissatisfaction in her own life, and uses Rebecca's obsessions as a distraction. Though the show centers around Rebecca, I find Paula the more interesting, complicated character. Through Paula, we get a peek into the life of a character who has passed the dating stage, who has not reached the career heights she aspires to, and whose domestic life is completely detached from her self. We see her seeking a life she in which she finds happiness.

White Josh (David Hull) is fantastic. He goes from a total periphery character to the love interest of Rebecca's formerly straight-identifying boss, Darryl (Pete Gardner). Never is White Josh's sexuality a focus, until Darryl begins to recognize sexual tension. For Darryl, this new aspect of his sexuality is overwhelming. White Josh, on the other hand, is comfortable and confident with his sexuality. These two men are very different people in very different stages in their lives. I love it.

Also, can we talk about how White Josh has the race-associated nickname instead of the other option, being Rebecca's love-interest Josh, being named Filipino Josh? I love that it is the white character whose whiteness is brought to attention, as opposed to a character of color, flipping the tradition of singling out people of color for their race.

The show could be tighter, some of the music videos could be cut, and the occasional precocious children could certainly be done without, but overall the show is fun and well done, and is deserving of the support and acclaim it has been given. 
Screenshot from trailer

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Keanu (2016)

This is not usually my cup of tea. For me, "action-comedy" translates to "eye roll", and I didn't grow up watching Key & Peele, so their names didn't change my perspective. Despite my hesitation, my partner convinced me to give it a shot with an argument along the lines of "it's about a baby cat! Who doesn't love a movie about a kitten!?".

Screenshot from trailer
Don't let the film poster deceive you, this is not about a kitten who can talk or any other form of personified nonsense (except in one dream sequence, which I'll get to later). This kitten is a totally normal, adorable kitten who just happens to be caught up in a lot of bad situations.

We open on a scene somewhere in Mexico, at the headquarters of a drug cartel doing its work. Enter two scary looking dudes, known as the Allentown Boys, who shoot the lot of them and take all of their money. The only living thing spared is a tiny kitten.

The tiny kitten ends up wandering its way into Rell's (Jordan Peele) life, right when he needs it most: his girlfriend just dumped him, and he has been a mess ever since. Rell loves Keanu, as the kitten has been named, dearly, so when he comes home from hanging with his buddy Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) to find his apartment trashed and his kitten gone, he is devastated, but quickly turns that devastation to determination to rescue Keanu.

The movie takes many turns; it had the pacing of an action movie, a strong central story line, well-placed recurring gags, and a sense of urgency on the part of both Rell and Clarence that was ridiculous but believable. It had laughs for everybody and, like my boy said, who doesn't love a movie about a kitten? The film kept my attention and continued to build upon itself until its conclusion, never letting a boring minute go by.

There were a few stand-out scenes and performances, including Anna Faris playing herself as a drugged-out thrill-seeking borderline-scary drug customer. We don't know that she is playing herself until fairly well into the scene, when Rell says that he "loved her in The HouseBunny", which makes the whole thing click. That space between recognizing her as a famous actor and realizing that she is playing herself is a beautiful crack between the story line and reality that is unexpected and delightful.

I loved Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish) on a general note. The scene in the bar where Rell and Clarence argue about how (un)intimidating their speech is while in a tough gang's bar is another highlight.

My favorite tidbit was a very minor part of the film: Clarence's wife, Hannah (Nia Long). While Clarence is busy hanging out with a violent gang in an effort to retrieve Keanu, Hannah is stuck on a trip with her daughter, her daughter's friend, and that friend's father, Spencer. The plan had been for his wife and Clarence to both be in attendance, but circumstances (sickness and kitten rescue, respectively) prohibited this. All of this was revealed after Hannah was in the car, seat belt on and ready to go, sitting in the passenger seat with Spencer (Rob Huebel).
Screenshot from trailer

Immediately, the audience feels that something is going to happen. It is unclear what, exactly. Is Spencer going to try something on her? Is Hannah going to cheat on Clarence? Hannah's mix of discomfort and casualness feels familiar to me. The feeling of being alone, in close proximity with someone who you feel weird about in some subtle way, pushing that feeling aside becausembrace the fact that vibes aren't everything. Nia Long shows me these feelings in a short scene with little dialogue, and I can see it.

Later on, during the height of the film's action, we meet Hannah again as she calls Clarence to tell him that she is returning home early because Spencer had acted "inappropriately". Neither Clarence nor the audience learns any more than this then, or later. All we know is that he had been inappropriate, she felt uncomfortable, she is coming home early.

Screenshot from trailer
I love this. We don't get the opportunity to judge the situation. We don't get the opportunity to judge Hannah's discomfort. What matters is that Hannah was uncomfortable because of Spencer's actions, whatever they were, whatever degree of inappropriate, whatever line personal to Hannah that he had crossed. By not revealing the details, we are inclined to, and given little choice but to, trust Hannah. Clarence is overtly pained and concerned, and we too trust her judgment; we are concerned for her safety and well being. We respect her, in a way that would not have been as obvious or powerful had she explained what Spencer had done.

Back to the larger film; my biggest complaint is the dream sequence, in which kitten Keanu is voiced by Keanu Reeves. Despite the comedic elements, it was entirely unnecessary and strayed from the bigger picture. I have mixed feelings about the conclusion, but it's hard for me to imagine a proper way to end the film, so I will let it slide. Ultimately, this film was structured so that I could appreciate scenes individually as well as the film as a whole. It is a fun, much-needed laugh.

Watch the trailer here