Peg’s Picks – July 26, 2017

me and mom

My mother (fan favorite Peggy Lee) recently retired and has a lot more time on her hands to listen to podcasts, so I’ve decided to curate a list of three specific episodes per week for her a listen to with a brief description to accompany them.  This is specifically made with her in mind, however, feel free to listen through I’m sure there will be interesting content for everyone, especially new listeners of podcasts.  Links are provided below for convenience however, you can also find these shows and episodes anywhere you consume podcasts.

This week we have three shows that I have not covered before on this blog.  The first is an NPR podcast entitled the “Ted Radio Hour”.  The host, Guy Raz, invites TED speakers to the show to dive deeper into the talks they gave.  Often times it allows for more context on a subject and answers questions that the talk may initially raise.  I found that I enjoy this podcast because it is essentially a relaxed speaker expanding on a big idea that in many cases I had never heard of.

The episode is called:

Prevention

This episode focuses on the idea of prevention in many of its forms.  Each speaker has a different lens to view the idea of preventing the perceived issue.  I don’t listen to this podcast as regularly as I used to, however, when this came on in my auto play list I found myself struggling to turn it off.

Hidden Brain is another NPR podcast that along the same lines of the Ted Radio Hour dives deeper into brilliant minds and big ideas.  The show will say it “reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships.”  However, I believe at its core this is a show about the science behind ideas we are curious about.  By ideas we’re curious about, I mean all of them, not only the science based ones.

The episode I’m recommending is called:

Summer Melt

This episode covers the phenomenon of “Summer Melt” which is when college students, (typically 1st generation college students) have completed all of their tasks to get into school however they don’t quite make it because of last minute issues.  This episode talks about what one school did to stop that.

Finally, I am recommending a podcast that has effectively become a mini series as it was canceled after only one season.  This is a Gimlet podcast entitled “Undone.”  Undone plays with the idea that stories in the news after they have been completed do not actually end.  This is to say that the story itself is only the tip of the iceberg and for the most part after it has been reported stories continue to move on beyond their perceived end.

This episode is called:

The Deacons

This episode covers the “Deacons for Defense and Justice”.  I love this episode because it dispels the idea that black folks have always attempted to fight for justice in a nonviolent way.  While this episode (nor I) advocate for violence when fighting for justice, this episode brings to light the idea of active resistance vs. passive resistance.  This was an eye opening episode that I would recommend to anyone.

Feel free to find me on Twitter or Instagram (@ohitsbigron) and let me know what you think of these recommendations, and check out the podcasts on the ohitsbigron studios network here, and here.

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Peg’s Picks – July 19, 2017

me and mom

My mother (fan favorite Peggy Lee) recently retired and has a lot more time on her hands to listen to podcasts, so I’ve decided to curate a list of three specific episodes per week for her a listen to with a brief description to accompany them.  This is specifically made with her in mind, however, feel free to listen through I’m sure there will be interesting content for everyone, especially new listeners of podcasts.  Links are provided below for convenience however, you can also find these shows and episodes anywhere you consume podcasts.

Last Week I recommended two shows from Radiolab and since I’m catching up on episodes I’ve missed I’m back this week with one more episode.  A recap for what exactly Radiolab is covered here in last week’s post

This episode is called:

Null and Void

Null and Void talks about something called jury nullification.  It covers a few unusual cases that shape how the US expectation of the court system works as well as specific about the role of the jury.  I can’t say much more without giving too much away, but this episode was very intriguing to think about.

My next recommendation is from “Code Switch” which is an NPR podcast that covers race and identity.  They have covered topics such as the Asian American community and their views on the Black Lives Matter movement as well as “the explanatory comma” or the necessity (or not) to explain your culture to those outside of it.

This episode is called:

What’s so wrong with African Americans Wearing African Clothes?

This episode hinges on a discussion had on another podcast called “The Stoop” in which one of the contributors claimed that African Americans wearing African clothes was a form of cultural appropriation.  This was not an easy discussion and I found myself yelling at my radio at times.  You will definitely have an opinion on this one and possibly a wider opinion on the subject of cultural appropriation based on this episode.

My final recommendation comes from a Gimlet Podcast entitled ‘Reply All’.  ‘Reply All’ is billed as “a show about the internet”.  However limiting that line sounds, you would be surprised (or not) about how many stories there are on and about the world wide web.

This episode is called:

Black Hole, New Jersey

Black Hole, New Jersey is about a mysterious address in New Jersey that may or may not be fencing stolen merchandise purchased from the internet.  This episode is interesting because it reveals a peek into shipping crime as I call it.  Or the ability for things ordered from the internet and then shipped to disappear.

Feel free to find me on Twitter or Instagram (@ohitsbigron) and let me know what you think of these recommendations, and check out the podcasts on the ohitsbigron studios network here, and here.

 

 

 

Peg’s Picks – July 12, 2017

me and mom

My mother (fan favorite Peggy Lee) recently retired and has a lot more time on her hands to listen to podcasts, so I’ve decided to curate a list of three specific episodes per week for her a listen to with a brief description to accompany them.  This is specifically made with her in mind, however, feel free to listen through I’m sure there will be interesting content for everyone, especially new listeners of podcasts.  Links are provided below for convenience however, you can also find these shows and episodes anywhere you consume podcasts.

One of my favorite podcasts to listen to is called Radiolab.  Radiolab is a science-based podcast on WNYC network. You could assume that every show they do might be out of the depth of knowledge of the average listener, but they have an outstanding knack for making technical subjects conversational for non-technical people.  They have also done some of the most compelling shows on non-science topics that I’ve ever heard in podcasting. Today, I am going to recommend two episodes from their recent feed:

The first episode is called:

Nukes

Nukes addressing the question many of us have been thinking since January 20th, 2017.  That question being, how exactly does executing a nuclear strike work and are there checks and balances on a Commander in Chief with a questionable temperament.

The second episode recommendation from Radiolab is called:

Radiolab Extra:  Henrietta Lacks

I think a subtitle for this episode can be called “Literal Black girl magic”.  This episode dives deeper into Henriette Lacks unexpected contribution to science and how that affected her descendants as well as the world around you.

My last recommendation comes from a show called Criminal, which is a podcast on the Radiotopia podcast network.  This is a crime centric podcast that covers criminals, crimes, and those who are crime adjacent to include those who enforces and prosecute the laws.The episode is called:

The episode is called:

Episode 69:  Becoming Chief Brown

It covers the rise of a black police chief in Dallas TX and his relationship with his community as well as his job and how that intersected with his blackness.  It’s a very interesting look at policing and blackness when both have been very hot button issues recently.

Feel free to find me on Twitter or Instagram (@ohitsbigron) and let me know what you think of these recommendations, and check out the podcasts on the ohitsbigron studios network here, and here.

 

Spiderman: Homecoming

spider-man-homecoming-international-header-240591

The most recent iteration of Spiderman will be the 7th to feature the web-slinging superhero since 2002.  This will be the third reboot of the franchise (not counting the soft backdoor reboot that introduced Spidey to the MCU in Captain America Civil War) as well as the third actor to portray Spiderman in 7 films.  Historically these films have done well in the theaters and are generally appreciated by critics and fans alike with the exception of “Spiderman 3” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”, however, 2 bad outings of 7 (ish) films is still pretty good.  Spiderman:  Homecoming doesn’t intend to regurgitate the origin story of Spiderman, however, with a new lead, a new villain, and an entirely new universe to play in, this film will provide a fresh take on the popular superhero.

A few words about Spiderman:  Homecoming:

  1. Great product of Marvel Cinematic Universe – While still considered to be a property of SONY, Marvel Studios had a major role in the production of this film.  The deal they made with SONY allowed the events of Civil War to bleed into this universe and it worked well for the film.  Essentially this is the introduction of a brand new superhero (to the MCU) who, while movie going audiences may be familiar with, has a bit of his own universe to rebuild and in some cases rebrand.  Much like Ant-Man, this film does a good job of telling a smaller story within the Marvel Cinematic Universe while also alluding to larger events on the horizon.  There were moments in this film that felt more realistic because it was seen as a larger part of the MCU. For instance, by adding Robert Downey as a part of the cast, Spiderman immediately feels like a legitimate superhero connected to Iron Man who would have an interest in the villains that Spiderman was dealing with.  This bodes well for the future of the MCU because it means that beyond the Avengers the MCU can hope to expand to rest on the shoulders of all of its potential superheroes.
  2. Perfect lack of exposition – This film makes subtle changes to what we know about Spiderman without spending a ton of time on the details.  Walking into to this film we’re assumed to know, that Peter Parker has been bitten by a radioactive spider, that his uncle is dead, and that he is already for the most part aware of his superhero potential.  This works well because unlike some reboots we’re not expected to spend more time knowing or seeing details that aren’t necessarily important to this specific story.  For the most part, those details didn’t add or take from this story anyway.  Since there is no need to dwell on any of that pesky (albeit necessary) exposition, we’re able to spend more time developing little points like that Peter Parker is extremely intelligent.  We’re able to see him develop his web formula, develop relationships with his high school classmates, and most importantly spend some screen time developing a solid villain.
  3. Great Villian – Some of this will be noted from the first two points but because of the MCU and the lack of exposition, we’re able to spend some time developing a credible properly motivated villain.  The Vulture is born out of the logistical disaster that would be the cleanup after the battle of New York from the first Avengers film.  It was nice to see a villain that was not out of his mind, or some sort of mutant but rather a man while trying to provide for his family becomes a bit misguided using the arsenal of alien equipment which has literally fallen from the sky.  I can’t understate how well the fact that the Vulture, is a salvage contractor plays into the movie.  Later on, in the movie, Michael Keaton’s acting skills are put on display after a bit of a reveal and he and Tom Holland share a very tense moment that could be seen among the highest bits of tension I have seen in a Marvel film.  Great casting, great writing, great execution on this villain.
  4. Perfect tone – It was very enjoyable to see this film commit to allowing Spiderman to be a hapless teenager.  The casting of Tom Holland very much doubles down on this as he does a great job of acting like a young person both in his portrayal of the ambitious superhero and his total lack of full control (and reverence) of his powers.  This, of course, lends itself to many of the normal tropes we’ve seen in countless teen movies, however, this works well for the movie.  Taking a lighthearted tone allows for great juxtaposition when Spiderman is thrust into a serious situation.  It allows us to believe that perhaps he is not quite ready for this responsibility rather than just being capable because he has the powers.  This along with multiple sources of comic relief including from Peter Parker himself allows us as viewers to truly relate to Spiderman maybe even a little more than many of the other Marvel Superheroes.  I think that again, Ant-Man is a good comparison as it leans heavily on the idea of the regular guy thrust into greatness.  This is a good idea for audiences to connect with and it worked well for Spiderman.
  5. Casually diverse – The casting for this film was extremely diverse and done so effortlessly.  Typically before these films are released much ado is made about the casting, mostly with people wondering whether or not the right choices were made.  For this film, I don’t believe I saw one bad choice.  The principal of the high school was Asian, the PE teacher was black, the science teacher was Latina.  There is an interracial family that plays a key role in the plot.  There are multiple black men that play featured roles in the film both villain and antihero, showing complexity in their abilities.  In general, this film is very kind to people of color and allows for race to be a reflection of our current world without straining to do so.  I noticed this because I pay attention to these types of casting choices, however, I think the larger point is that the vast majority of audiences will not care.
  6. Excellent Action Sequences – The action in this film is top notch.  From the actual web swinging and slinging, to the battle sequences between Spiderman and the Vulture, to the cameos from Iron Man, this film packs a punch.  Again, the hapless teenager aspect allows for Peter Parker to underestimate some of his scenarios he swings into, however, this works well in allowing for the action to ebb and flow based on his experience and learning curve.  For audiences that only want to see action, they won’t be disappointed watching this movie.
Overall I think this movie can be filed under “Marvel does it again”.  Upholding the tried and true standard of sticking to emotional truths of characters and story while actually making an engaging and exciting movie.  It was funny, lighthearted, action-packed great movie for summer, but also will be easily consumed multiple times for those audience members requiring a second viewing.  Being that this is the 7th attempt at Spiderman it’s hard to see giving this movie the top score however it’s pretty close.  Bring your kids!  4 of 5 stars.

The Strain (Seasons 1 and 2)

strain-cast

The golden age of television continues as networks attempt to double down on programming that demands the audience to suspend disbelief in an effort to push the limits of storytelling.  While there is no shortage of post apocalyptic stories in the world of television from ‘The Walking Dead’, and ‘Fear the Walking Dead’, to ‘The Last Ship’, ‘The Strain’ is an interesting take as it is a slow burn of development that views a potentially world ending plague from the ground level.  Created by Guillermo Del Toro, ‘The Strain’ is the tale of vampires taking over the world by force beginning with New York City.    This is told through the eyes of two CDC doctors who mistake the effects of vampire poisoning for an unknown virus.  Their research plus the plotting of the actual vampires is what sets forth the events of the show.

A few thoughts about ‘The Strain’:

  1. Intriguing premise – In the first season the story unfolds slowly with much mystery.  It is obvious that the first episode was filmed and produced with great care.  As the story unfolds and the “plague” begins to spread the viewer becomes engrossed in the questions raised by the plot that are purposely left to unfold as the show continues.
  2. Unsteady plot – These questions, however, are only answered at a strangely unsteady pace.  At times the story takes strange turns that initially appeared to be deliberate however as the series continues it becomes obvious that being deliberate is not something this show does well.  From the strange and untimely love triangles to the fluctuation between being a fantasy show vs. science fiction it becomes hard to understand how the story is being told.  While some will read this and posit that perhaps it is in both genres, it would seem that the story would have been best serviced by firmly placing itself in one lane or the other.
  3. Poorly written – From the horribly contrived dialogue to the flat out nonsensical decisions made by some of the characters at times an otherwise fine show left the viewer puzzled.  The show is based on a novel by Guillermo Del Toro who originally envisioned this as a television series but was unable to garner interest until it was completed as a novel.  This originally for television novel turned television series, feels at times lost in its own creation.  At times bearing the gravitas of a work with high ideas and thought provoking questions about humanity and at other times devolving into a puzzling mess of blood and tears.
  4. Unlikable characters – Not all of the characters are unlikable.  This would be an appropriate time to note that perpetual typecast character actor Kevin Durand has a main role as a exterminator turned vampire slayer.  (He is a friendlier version of the darryl  character (from the Walking dead) of this series)  It is nice to see him play a protagonist for once as well as be able to see him do more than simply look menacing on screen.  Outside of him many of the other characters have problems of likability.  This show seems to double down on the “flawed” character.  Some of them are so flawed they are difficult to root for as they continuously get in their own way.  There is a child character in this show that rivals the Carl character (from the walking dead) in terms of nonsensical rationale.  Nonsensical enough that it could cause a viewer to actively root for a child to die as he continuously leads other characters to their demise.
  5. Interesting take on vampires – While preserving some of the commonly accepted beliefs about vampires such as aversion to silver and sunlight this show paints an entirely new picture of these mysterious demons. (words of this writer not the show)  For instance people who are attacked by these vampires are shown as being infested with parasites (worms to be specific) that actually change their biology.  This new biology includes a “stinger” which extends out of the mouth of the vampire that opens to reveal teeth to suck out the blood of its victims.  This leads to the next point.
  6. Unnecessarily gory – The choices made by the creators to depict vampires in this way makes for some excessively gory scenes.  This show is in the 10pm Sunday slot on FX, and it takes full liberties with its abilities to be as gory as a cable television show can be.  With graphic deaths of humans and vampires alike,  horror fans and those who like gory movies will enjoy a nice treat without going to the theater.  However for those squeamish viewers who do not like squirmy worms wriggling literally everywhere inside and outside of people as well as red and white (vampire) blood liberally spilled everywhere, gratuitous head shots and copious amounts of machete/swordplay (for the sake of decapitation only for the most part) this may be a bit much.

At first glance this post may lead you to believe that this would be a lowly rated show in the opinion of the writer.  However despite its many glaring flaws the show was perfect for binge watching and is pretty entertaining.  Currently the first two seasons are available on Hulu and as of this post the third episode of the third season has aired on FX.  Definitely not a show to watch with your kids, at all.  3 of 5 stars.

The Netflix Chronicles: Stranger Things

Stranger Things

Yet another foray into original programming, and yet another intriguing story told via Netflix.  ‘Stranger Things’ uses a familiar framing device of the 80s kid friendly adventure story a la “E.T.” and “The Goonies” to tell a complex and at times terrifying tale of mystery with elements from such sci fi television hits as “The X-Files” and “Fringe”.

A few thoughts about ‘Stranger Things’:

  1. Deliberate Pacing – Using the font from fantasy board games, fantasy novels, and sci fi novels of its day, each episode is named as a chapter.  This is appropriate since the pacing of the show unfolds like it is being read rather than watched.  It may seem surprising that the show is able to be told in only 8 “chapters”, however in an age of binge watching this is satisfying for viewers who will watch the entire season in less than three sittings.  While slow at times, it never seemed like it was slow without purpose.  Each action taken by the main characters, as well as in some cases the side characters all connect for a greater purpose of skillful story telling.
  2. Good use of character placement – The pacing of the story puts the characters in the right place to set the tone of each scene.  Whether it be comic relief, tension, or adventure, the right characters are put in front of you when the pace needs to be managed.  This show has a lot of characters but is able to show all of them without feeling crowded.
  3. Excellent character development – Character placement lends nicely to well done character development.  As the story unfolds, the characters blossom and their motivations make sense and are seamless.  The viewer roots for the protagonists and against the antagonists, with reason.  Even the complexity of the characters is done sensibly.  The characters themselves show a combination of excellent writing and acting.
  4. Great acting -From youngest to oldest every actor in this film is carrying their fair share of the weight.  Including a surprisingly heartfelt performance from Winona Ryder, who becomes a concerned mother and seamlessly goes from restrained to unhinged in a way that made her character both relate able and believable.  She is only eclipsed by the 12-year-old fairly newcomer Millie Bobby Brown who is the key to much of the mystery.  Much of her acting is done through facial expressions rather than spoken lines.   This makes for a difficult job for a pre-teen however Brown does it with the ease of a seasoned veteran.  Matthew Modine had probably the least complex role, and was also the least satisfying performance however it was interesting to watch him play the villain.
  5. At times terrifying – For those expecting this to be exactly as the 80s kid friendly adventure stories were, this movie definitely pushes the boundaries of sinister, creepy, and at times straight up horrifying.  While children are at the center, or off center of this film, this is no children’s tale.  At times even the viewer who penned this post found himself hiding behind the blanket waiting for the tension to ease to the terrors to dissipate.

This is a good show.  While enough has been written about the “80s homage” this show does not alienate those who may not be fans of the period piece.  With solid writing, acting, and plot, Stranger Things is definitely another hit for netflix.  You can watch it with your older children, at least 13 years of age, younger than that are probably going to be a little frightened.  4 of 5 stars.

Suicide Squad

Suicide squad

DC studios continues to make attempts to establish franchise super heroes beyond the Christopher Nolan batman series.  With the highly anticipated “Justice League” in the works DC studios continues to trail behind Marvel studios with regards to quality of product as well as fan interest.  Enter Suicide Squad, a less widely known (among casual fans) DC property that brings together a group of “meta-humans” to fight against threats to the US government.  On literal paper (in the comic books) this worked because of the comic’s commitment to maintaining that these were indeed villains bound only by self preservation rather than any inherent need to do good for goodness sake.  (you better watch out)  On film, this translated as a ragtag bunch of antiheroes with hearts of gold who maybe, just maybe would make a friend in the process of doing a good deed.

A few thoughts about Suicide Squad:

  1. A solid performance from Will Smith – Will Smith leans into his role as Deadshot an antihero hit man who only cares about the welfare of his daughter.  He is funny, at times serious, and all in all refreshing to watch as he breaks from his typical character archetype.  Seeing Will Smith play an ensemble player in a movie that did not necessarily revolve around him was a definite break from the norm.
  2. Clunky pacing – This movie was the victim of some second guessing from the studio after the successful release of “Deadpool”.  At times it was easy to spots the portions of the film that had been updated to fit a more silly tone.  However this happened at the cost of a well paced film with any clear intentions.  As the tone shifted wildly from serious to fun, to grave, and at times ridiculous, it could be easy to forget where the viewer was at any given scene.
  3. Strange villain – Not like “Dr. Strange”, but strange as in strangely placed.  This villain at times seemed to be overly powerful for this group as a first obstacle.  The foot soldiers seemed to be placed in the film as a low level enough challenge to showcase the powers of the protagonists.  This felt very plot device-y.  However the way the team came together seemed to indicate that there will be other adventures and obstacles for the team to face in future films.
  4. Suicide Squad felt like “antiheroes” – In some cases the poison was taken out of the fangs of these villains.  The Suicide squad was meant to be a group of dangerous super criminals who were only released to do the government’s bidding.  At times they felt more like the superhero response to the expendables.  The decision was clearly made to soften these criminals to make them “likable” for the audience. This was done at the cost of complexity to the characters, making some of them seem like flat stock pieces of a typical “team” movie.
  5. Off screen backstory – This film, much like “Batman V Superman:  Dawn of Justice” leaves much assumption to the viewer.  There is some character development and plot that occurs off screen that clearly affects the decisions made by the characters on screen.  Except for some flashbacks to explain some of these decisions or feelings, it seems as much is left to the assumption of the viewer.  This film definitely expects you to know the backstory of batman and the joker.  Speaking of the Joker…..
  6. The Joker’s presence was not necessary – This movie did no real service to the Joker as a character as the viewer is not actually introduced to the Joker as a character with any depth.  While one should not immediately compare this Joker to the Joker from “The Dark Knight” there was definitely a sense that his presence in this movie was either thought necessary by studio executives or some sort of fan service.  This would have been a far more intriguing movie with just the Joker’s finger prints and bread crumbs in the film rather than the lackluster performance from Jared Leto.  (also plot wise, the Joker could have been anyone as far as his actual effect on the story)
  7. Better than most of the other DC movies – Except for the Christopher Nolan Batman films this movie stood out as a minor success for DC.  Not a disaster, while not a resounding success, this film was not as problematic as many of the other DC films in rotation.  (read: superman)

All in all, a nice distraction from the Washington DC summer heat.  Bring the teenagers, leave the young children at the house.  2.99 of 5 stars.