Netflix Recommendations- American Vandal

**Note: This post contains language which may offend some readers.

I was happily listening to a sports podcast (ESPN’s 30 for 30) when they interviewed a pair of documentary producers Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda, first discussing sport mockumentaries they had produced, then they flipped their conversation to the pair’s most critically acclaimed work – their 8 episode American Vandal mockumentary which aired on Netflix. From hearing this interview alone, my interest was piqued! So I stowed the information to memory – to be used later on that night.

As my wife and I were settling in for another dinner in front of the TV, I asked Google to play ‘American Vandal’ on Netflix. And with some puzzlement from my wife (we had been following other shows) I sat back to enjoy the show and also to see my wife’s reaction as I hadn’t told her that this was a mockumentary.

Dick, dick, dick! There! I’ve gotten it out of the way! Adult language warning come and gone! If you don’t like crude youth culture and the ‘D’ word, you might not like American Vandal. The premise of the show is that an act of vandalism had occurred at this suburban Ohio highschool. 27 cars in the staff parking lot were vandalised in 23 minutes with graffiti, defaced with red spray-paint depicting the male genitalia. An eye-witness claimed that school clown Dylan Maxwell was seen doing the phallic symbols, which subsequently leads to his expulsion from school (and potentially liable for the $100K damage bill).

And when the mockumentary properly starts rolling, the two main characters are Peter Maldonado and Sam Ecklund, a pair of sophomores from the school’s Morning Show (student news program) as they interview  students and teachers to get to the bottom of this ‘True crime’. Their motivation – they didn’t want to see a potentially innocent guy go down for a crime he didn’t commit, especially when facts and witness accounts didn’t stack-up. The first couple of episodes are still all about the crime, but as the series unfolds it delves into the themes of modern-day youth culture. And as unlikely as the show can be, it actually becomes a very interesting mystery, with cliff hangers at the end of each episode, and it does a commendable job in depicting today’s youth.

So as Episode One finished, I sat back and observed my wife’s reaction. If she didn’t know it was all fake and scripted, would she think that this was a proper true crime documentary? Would she believe that this act of vandalism actually occured back in 2016 (March 15 to be exact). The signs that she had her doubts was during some scenes she questioned how the documentary obtained “that” type of video footage. And for me, the weak link which exposed it as a fake, was Dylan Maxwell. In my opinion, no normal non-acting Stoner would come off like he did. To describe it, would be to say he acted like an actor being asked to act like a stoner youth. And then proceeding to apply the stereotypical stoner traits to his character, but not all that convincingly.  But when I told my wife, “It’s all fake! It’s a comedy!” I could sense her pause and process this new information, and while she wasn’t completely shocked by this revelation, however the acting was 85% good enough that it could have fooled anyone who didn’t know as being a real true crime doc. And after knowing this, she got even more invested in the show, and I think she enjoyed it more than I did?

For me, American Vandal just reminds me of how grateful I am that I’m no longer a teenager! Especially thankful that I wasn’t a teenager who grew-up with social media, with mobile phones always at the ready. And I’m just so glad to be out of school, just  imagining being  back at school makes me anxious, that whole playground setting where everyone has a label, i.e. the stoners, the jocks, the geeks, the popular ones etc. *Shudders*.

So if you’d like a bit of a laugh, a surprisingly engrossing ‘who done it’ mystery, and a slight throw-back to your youth? Check out American Vandal on Netflix. Click HERE to begin streaming! 

P.S. Season 2 of American vandal is also available on Netflix, and it’s even better and more binge-worthy than Season 1!

Netflix Recommendations- Dating Around/Back with The Ex

Dating shows aren’t a new concept, 80s dating show ‘Perfect Match’ immediately comes to mind, while more modern iterations like ‘Married at First Sight’ draws in the crowds. However ‘Dating Around’ and ‘Back With The Ex’ are different and refreshing takes on the usual dating show.

Dating Around (2019)

Dating Around is a Netflix original production, here a guy (or girl) embarks on a first date….but not any first date, but 5 first dates! In the same episode the same guy (or gal) dates 5 different people! Talk about ‘all the best’ with remembering their names….. Not at the same time though…..but through slick editing by the after-production team  it presents and feels like it’s all one big first date fest!

Each episode features a brand new single looking for love, and as each ep is only 30 minutes in length, there isn’t any wasted time so the interaction and show progressions move right along! Each episode follows the same formula, i.e. friends say what a great guy or gal they are; then we finally set eyes on him or her; then we find out more about them as they meet their 5 first dates; all dates are conducted at the same restaurant which helps the magic of editing, as conversations with one date seamlessly transitions to another usually when they’re chatting about the same topic; as they dine they peel the layers of the onion back until the end of the meal when he/she suggests to kick on to a bar; if the first date is going well, their dining companion are usually more than happy to kick-on…….while a few dates had declined and parted ways after the meal; and in the final seconds of the show, it’s another day, the lead walks purposefully to a rendezvous and then you finally find out who they hit it off with and who was going to have this second date with them (then fades to black).

Dating Around is less about romance and trashiness which comes with some dating shows, but it’s more a sociological experiment which you have a front-row seat for! So if you’re one who loves eavesdropping on another couple’s dining conversation,  then you’ll love this! And the show features a wide cross section of people (same sex, older demographic etc.), so it’s quite enlightening, while being confronting at times.

Back With the Ex (2018)

On the other hand, Back with the Ex is a Channel 7 Australian production, why it differs from the usual dating shows is because the couples already know each other (there are 4 couples). Not only do they know each other, but they were once girlfriend/boyfriends, some being together for as long as 6 years! But for one reason or another, they had broken up and been separated for as short as 3 years, to as long as 28 years!? What the? But for our entertainment purpose (and no doubt some sweeteners from Channel 7), one party has reached out to their ex, floating the concept of getting back together, while a video crew follows them around and films every intimate moment. Sounds interesting? Or does it sound like the most cringing viewing ever?

The couples range from a cute couple in their early twenties, to an equally cute couple in their late 40s/early 50s. And through the seven 60-minute episode series, we follow the 4 couples across a 3 week period in their lives, cameras filming them re-kindle their friendships. We’re invited in to watch them squirm through scripted scenarios like taking turns to temporarily live together at each other’s homes; meet again (or for the first time) family and friends of their ex; go out on lavish dates clearly paid for and organised by Ch7; the awkward (so awkward) drinks with all the other Exs (guys at one venue, girls at another) and have that footage replayed back to their ex, evidence of their behaviour when they’re not around; and the most exciting part for the couples (and probably the single reason why they signed onto the show) was the epic overseas trip they take together before they decide …..if they’d give their relationship another go or not.

Again, it was another interesting watch if you’re into psycho-analysing people, trying to predict if they’re genuine (and if not, if their ex could see through it), and I found myself trying to predict which couple were going to give it another shot, and who was going to crush the other’s dreams. And for one or two, they didn’t come off looking too good, not sure if being on the show might hinder their future attempts at love. I guess only time will tell.

But if you want to nosey into others’ lives, and watch a real-life drama unfold, check-out Dating Around and Back with the Ex as they’re currently both available on Netflix. Enjoy!

Movie Review- Toy Story 4

I don’t think there is another movie franchise where we (society) have all grown up with. Hearing other people’s tales, they all have memories of how old they were and in which stage of life when they first watched Pixar’s original Toy Story. And how they felt when they sat through Toy Story 3, and just when we all thought Toy Story was a trilogy and the 3rd was the last and what a wonderful ending it was!…Pixar releases no. 4! Could they ruin the franchise for everyone!?

When the original Toy Story was released, I was only 12 years old in Year 7, and I still remember watching it at the cinemas with my sister. And wasn’t it ground breaking at the time! We can all recall the amazement we felt when we first caught sight of the scenes in Andy’s bedroom with the fake sky/cloud wallpaper! Before Toy Story, animation was what we used to call ‘cartoons’, but Toy Story had brought another dimension to animation, making things seem so life-like. *Eyes Boggle*. Toy Story 2…… for the life of me I can’t remember where or when I watched it? I probably saw it on pay-TV or something, long long after it was first released! As by this time in 1999 when it was released, I was 17 years old and I was too old and too cool for animations. Funny how at that time, we still didn’t know what Toy Story was going to become? A film which bridged generational gaps.

Now Toy Story 3 was an entirely different story (no, the animated story was still the same, but it was a different story for me!). TS3, this was the very first film I watched with my now wife, at that time in 2010 I had a huge crush on her, and my cousin even joined us for the film, acting as a chaperone for us. Haaha.  And that was 9 years ago, so much has changed in the intervening time.

So fast forward to today, I woke up with the idea to go watch it (although the last time I’d watched a film in cinema was at least 18 months ago). Watching a film at the big screens had become one of those things, victim to the progression of time, like the death of the CD player, our DVD player, and the purchase of physical books to read. But a podcast which I had listened to earlier in the week, they devoted an entire 90-minute episode going through the movie, and it sucked me right in!

So after church we rushed around completing all our Sunday arvo chores, and come 2:30pm we were sitting in the George Street Event cinemas (with many, many young kids and their folks) as the curtains widened and the movie begun.

One thing I noticed, was that Toy Story actually relies heavily on its musical score, the music set the mood for what the creators wanted you to feel each time as you watch the Toys come to life when their kid walked away.

I did notice that the sound actors who played the now iconic toy characters, all sounded a little older (but aren’t we all), but as always the visuals were paired perfectly with the emotions conveyed in the actor’s voices. I’ve heard that the voice actors actually record their lines first (some were recorded 5 years ago) and the animators then create the visuals to match-up with the voices. And it’s this level of detail which brings all the characters to life, and you can be forgiven when you forget that Woody and Buzz and all the gang, aren’t actually real!

The preface of the story is that Andy’s toys have now been handed down to Bonnie (as seen in the final moments of Toy Story 3). Where Toy Story 3 reflected the true passage of time in the real world e.g. Andy was a kid in TS2, and then a uni-aged teenager in TS3. However the gap of 9 years in between 3 and 4 was not reflected in TS4, as Bonnie at most was now 6 years old? When she was perhaps 3 years old in TS3?

So now Bonnie is starting Kindergarten, Woody and the gang are starting to be neglected again, as their kid starts to grow up. And at Bonnie’s first day at school (orientation), she makes herself a new toy companion out of a discarded plastic spork, with pipe-cleaner wire for his arms, and a snapped paddle pop stick as feet (with blue-tack/plasticine ankles). When Bonnie takes him home, Forky comes to life and the gang rally around him, teaching him what it means to be Bonnie’s favourite toy.

When Bonnie and her folks go on a road-trip (a final trip before she properly starts kindergarten), Forky makes a break for it and Woody, who had taken on himself  the responsibility to look out for the disposable utensil, goes after him and then the shenanigans begins in earnest!

Many actors have lent their voices to the characters of Toy Story over the years, the latest to join the fold are Keegan-Michael Key (Ducky), Jordan Peele (Bunny), Keanu Reeves (Duke Caboom), Christina Hendricks (Gabby Gabby), and Ally Maki (Giggle McDimples).

The best part of the film for me was……hearing my wife laugh and giggle throughout the film! ‘Heart’ you babe! And it was so interesting to hear so many kids in the cinema, but for the entirety of the film (the film must have been close to 2 hours in length) the kiddies were completely silent, sucked into the visuals and actions of the film! The kid right behind us, she was probably 4 years old? I wonder if she’ll remember her first Toy Story experience, in 10 years’ time when she is 14 years old in year 9. I wonder then, if she would be like us, able to recall the first time she watched the Toy Story franchise on the big screen?

Recently I’ve been pondering existential questions, like what are we all doing on earth? What are we doing with our time? Are our professions truly necessary? Is our toil actually meaningful? And on face value, an actor or animator being paid the big bucks to make movies? Seemed a bit trivial when compared to nurses and teachers who are paid so much less. But if films can help you mark the passage of time, and help you reminisce fondly on times past, then perhaps there is a vital part to play by actors and creators in this world? I hope for that little girl who was sitting behind us today, that when she watches Toy Story 5, Toy Story 6 etc., she’ll remember her first experience with Woody and the gang, and remember that Sunday arvo all those years ago with her dad, I hope she remembers how he cared for her – making sure she could see over the heads of us big people, sharing salty pop-corn with her, and pouring apple juice for her (whilst she pointed out that it was too much). Oh the cycle begins all over again for another generation!

Netflix Recommendations- Archer seasons 1 – 3

Can you ever be too old to watch animated TV shows? Not when it’s naughty, like seriously naughty, like this!

I was starting to run out of stuff to watch on Netflix, resorting  to randomly asking Google to play this or that, working my way through my list of 471 shows to watch…But to little success (finding that many programs were no longer available on the Australian Netflix library). Boo! But what Google did locate, was Archer.

Oh boy, this animated series contains adult themes. Like really bad, can’t be repeated jokes in public kind of bad. And after the first couple of episodes, my wife told me that she was out. It was too crude for her.

So I resorted to watching it in secret, before she came home from work each night. Guilty!

Until one night when she came home earlier than anticipated and caught me watching cartoons which make Futurama, American Dad and Family Guy seem utterly family friendly!

The premise of the series focuses on Sterling Malory Archer, a self-obsessed but highly capable secret agent; his mother who runs the spy agency he works for; and his fellow spies and support staff who keep the International Secret Intelligence Service running. It’s like James Bond meets ‘The Office’, it’s as much espionage as its workplace shenanigans.

The themes are all inappropriate, politically incorrect, and offensive to many……. But it is humorous though.

After being found out (due to kick-starting an episode later than usual, and wifey coming home earlier than anticipated), I only had 5 minutes to go so I continued watching, aiming to get to the end of the episode before I had to explain myself…… But as she was going about her own business I heard her chuckle from hearing some of the dialogue (you find yourself laughing, even though you know you ought not to).

But to cut a long story short, let’s just say we’ve now finished season 3 (of 10), but I’ve heard from season 4 onwards, it’s not as funny as it used to be so I’m not sure how much longer I’ll keep following……

But if you haven’t watched Archer before, and you’re curious to know how bad can it be (and how inappropriately funny), check it out at your own risk – just ask your smart speaker to “Play Archer on Netflix”.

Lana: “Don’t say it Archer!”

Archer: “Whoo!!”

Podcast Recommendation- Life Kit All Guides

Don’t you love ads? Podcast advertisements, that is. This latest podcast was introduced to me by in-pod advertising, I was happily listening to ‘How I Built This’ when they cross-promoted another pod by NPR. And it sounded so interesting that I had to stop what I was listening to, so I could immediately search for and start listening to this pod!

What caught my attention, was the promise of examining how to get a better night sleep! And this is very intriguing for me, as I’ve been a slave to insomnia for the past 18 years.

Life Kit All Guides- NPR

Life Kit All Guides is a new podcast, where each fortnight they delve into a different life topic under the categories of Personal Finance, Health, and Parenting- dedicating 3 episodes (spread out over 2 weeks) to examine all there is to know about the topic in question.  Scanning over their past episodes, they have covered the financial topics of budgeting, being a better saver, avoiding unnecessary fees, and developing Credit Card IQ; the health topics of sleep, nutrition, and healthy weight loss; and the parenting topics of how to discuss adult topics with young kids, teaching kids self-control, and showing kids how to love math etc. And there’s only going to be more Life Kits scheduled to drop as the weeks go by! Each topic is hosted by a different NPR journalist who usually reports on said topic, and they conduct interviews with experts in the field for their expert insights.

What I’ve learnt in regards to getting a better night sleep, is how 20 minutes of natural sunlight each morning resets our 24 hour body clock which ensures that by bed time we’re feeling adequately sleepy; how we shouldn’t consume caffeine 7 hours before bed time; how regular exercise is critical to a good night’s sleep; how alcohol-induced sleepiness is actually not good for us; and how we should leave our smart devices alone 60-90 minutes before bed. Since I’ve listened to the pod, I’ve actively made some changes in my habits and for the past week I’ve been sleeping better and have felt more alert during the day! Fingers crossed that I can maintain this, as this is actually life-changing stuff!

So if you’re interested to check out how you can improve your quality of life with Life Kit All Guides, click HERE!

What to Watch- Lego Masters

I still clearly remember saying to my wife when we stumbled on Lego Masters, “This is the most pointless show ever! There is absolutely no purpose in this!” – as I was annoyed that TV was truly running out of new concepts, that they were resorting to throwing money into a competition which was purposeless – adults playing with toys? Like what the! But not having anything else to watch that night, we just found ourselves sitting in front of the TV and watching the first episode. And after the first ep, we were utterly sucked in! Hook, line, and sinker!

For the few people who haven’t watch Channel 9’s Lego Masters (Australian- there has already been 2 seasons of the original British series), essentially it’s a competition made up of pairs of adults, creating things with Lego. Yes, the little bricks and inch-tall yellow figures! With the winning pair taking home their share of $100,000! Not a bad pay-day from doing something that you love?  And calling the creations as ‘things’ is an under-statement, as the end creations have been EPIC! You have to see it for yourself to believe it! And if watching people build miniature cities/scenes isn’t compelling viewing enough, the show is hosted by comedian Hamish Blake! Which increases the entertainment value by at least three fold! 1:3 scale anyone?

The competition consisted of 8 teams of 2, from pairs of friends, husband & wife partnerships, to even a Grandson-Grandma duo! The challenges were out-of-this-world! – ranging from 6 hour builds for each team to create a level of a skyscraper, to a 28 hour build for the grand finale, which saw a team build an entire amusement park with moving mechanized parts! And with a web-site with extra footage and information to support the show, you can totally geek right out on Lego Masters!

Lego Masters has actually been quite refreshing actually, instead of another Reality TV show with ridiculously good looking people; or with contestants being too conscious/aware of the cameras at all times; or with overly b*tchy/back-stabbing grating contestants – the Lego Masters contestants were just guys and gals who clearly lived further to the left (or should that be right?) on the nerd/geek scale! Which is absolutely cool! The show was also different because the host of the show actually added to the entertainment value of the program – not just a talking head to keep the show moving, but Hamish has emphasized to many why he is one of the funniest Australian comedians at the moment (he’s no ‘stand-up comic’, but what he is, is quick witted and adorably child-like). Which fits in perfectly with a show about adults and toys! And the last thing which stood Lego Masters out from the rest of the Reality TV shows, was the Judge; initially I was annoyed with the judge ‘Brickman’ (Ryan McNaught) because he was this middle aged man who was known by a childish title of ‘Brickman’. However in the end I found him to be an extremely fair judge, he was never cutting with his criticisms, and always tried to highlight what was good about each team’s creations! And in the end as much as the Internet has blown-up about the outcome, I personally thought the judging was fair and the best team won? And not to mention, the show employed a clever use of sound-effects which added to the whole audio-visual experience!

From all reports, Lego sales has sky-rocketed, even I who haven’t thought about Lego in over 25 years has had bricks and little yellow men on the mind. And where adult colouring books was the fad in 2014-15, I’m sure building Lego creations to de-stress after work will be the latest fad for 2019-20!

I think it’s near impossible to watch the show now, without already knowing who won the series (as it’s all over the internet and Ch 9); but if you’re still interested to watch the epic constructions emerge from nothing (mere bricks), and if you’re like me and you like watching Reality TV to psycho-analyse people, please by all means click HERE! It’s a fun 12 episodes, guaranteed to bring-out your inner child!