Fargo Season 1 – TV Series Review

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I have not watched Fargo, the 1996 Academy Award-winning film, but I had some inkling into its narrative and theme. My interest in dark-crime murder-mystery shows interested me enough to give the television series a try.

Fargo the TV series premiered on FX in April 2014. Season one starred Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo, a gun-for-hire to is forced to visit the hospital in Bemidji Minnesota after hurting himself in a car accident. There, he meets insurance salesman Lester Nygaard, played by Martin Freeman, who was injured during an encounter with a childhood bully.

Malvo manipulates Nygaard into commissioning Malvo to murder this bully. So begins a series of murders in the small town of Bemidji.

Hot on the case are young police officers Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) and Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks). As Solverson and Grimly pursue their separate investigations into the murders, the more Malvo and Nygaard are implicated in them.

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The icon poster in Lester Nygaard’s basement.

I love season one of Fargo so much, it’s among the top five TV shows I watched in 2016. The show was really intense. The odds were stacked so high against Solverson and Grimly it seemed there was no way they could beat Malvo and Nygaard. It often felt like the conflict between Malvo and Nygaard took center stage, and the cops were just flies for the swatting.

There’s also the story of supermarket king Starvos Milos, who hires Malvo to track down who’s blackmailing him. Then, there’s Chaz Nygaard, Lester’s brother. And also Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench, whom I thought could take Malvo down.

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Clockwise from center: Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman), Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), and Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman)

There are so many pieces moving in this crime-drama. That all the characters were essential to the story and all the stories were told in just ten episodes shows how Fargo season one is a narrative masterpiece. It also helped that all the actors were marvelous.

The first season of Fargo is an intelligent TV show filled rich in story and dark-humor. I am overwhelmingly looking forward to watching season two.

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

5 Beans out of 5

5 Beans out of 5

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TWSBI Eco: My First Fountain Pen

I’ve always been fascinated by pen and paper. An influence of my fondness for reading and writing. I enjoy browsing through and buying items from stationery and arts and crafts stores here and abroad. I don’t buy a whole lot of stuff, usually just a notebook here and there. That’s why I was delighted to learn that Scribe Writing Essentials just opened a new branch at Ayala Center Cebu.

I already frequented Scribe back when I worked in Makati a few years ago. The temptation would hit me each time I visited their stores. I wanted to buy my very own fountain pen. I had no idea how to use a fountain pen. I definitely didn’t need one. But I could feel the desire tugging at my heart and soul.

Price and proximity were the two remaining things holding me back. When Scribe offered a 10 percent discount to celebrate the opening of its newest store in Cebu, I couldn’t resist! I watched some YouTube videos for advice on entry level fountain pens, and these pens topped the lists: the Faber Castell LOOM, Pilot Metropolitan, Lamy Safari, and TWSBI Eco.

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The TWSBI Eco in its minimalist packaging

The TWSBI fountain pen caught my attention the most. I like its opaque white plastic box packaging because it looks exactly like those pencil cases from Muji. I love how the pen looks very clean and minimalist. Even its name, the ‘Eco,’ sounds right to me. Reviewers say the Eco is minimalist, budget-friendly, and writes great. I was convinced.

I recalled seeing TWSBI pens on Scribe’s official website. After confirming they do sell the pen, I visited their new store that same afternoon. They had yet to set up their pen display, but the ladies at the counter happily look through the boxes they were unpacking.

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My TWSBI Eco loaded with Pekikan 4001 fountain pen ink

They had the TWSBI Eco in black, white, and lime green. They were also available in various nib sizes. I chose the white pen, and got the medium nib because reviewers recommended it over the finer ones. That’s how I bought my very first fountain pen.

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Samples of my writing with the Eco

I also bought a bottle of Pelikan 4001 brilliant black fountain pen ink. It was a bit of a misadventure loading the ink into the pen. Again, YouTube saved my life. I’m also getting used to writing with a fountain pen, but my handwriting has significantly improved as a result. Writing cursive has never been more fun!

Marit Larsen – 7 Songs I Love

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I still remember. It was the year 2000 when I first heard of M2M, the Norwegian pop duo of Marit Larsen and Marion Raven. I was visiting the United States for the first time and watching a lot of Disney Channel, where a commercial for “M2M and BBMak in Concert” was airing repeatedly.

From the short performance snippets the ad previewed, I already knew I would enjoy their music. I loved their light, sweet, and uplifting vocals. I admired how they wrote their own songs and played their own instruments when performing live. M2M released their debut album “Shades of Purple” that same year, and I became a huge fan.

When M2M released their second album “The Big Room” in 2002, it seemed to me like Marion was singing more lines than Marit. The songs were more rock than pop, more powerful than sweet. The critics loved it, but I—like many other fans—did not. Disappointing sales and lack of support from Atlantic Records contributed to the end of M2M.

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It is known that Marion considered signing a solo career contract with Atlantic Records. The press found out before Marit did, and everything else is history. There is too much speculation and not enough facts on the matter, but Marion’s supposed betrayal clearly unraveled the duo’s close-knit friendship.

I was so affected  by what happened that I wrote my sophomore year English class academic research paper on M2M, while listening to their music on loop, as tribute. The non-academic and very niche subject matter of my paper adversely affected by grades. I got an 83 out of 100 in my favorite subject, which didn’t make me feel any better. Soon, I stopped hoping for a comeback of any sort.

This is why Marit’s releasing her first solo album Under the Surface in 2006 totally surprised me. Listening to her music is such a magical experience. It’s like being reunited with a long lost friend. Her music is everything I loved about M2M’s, only much better—lyrics, sound, and all. I can’t help but smile when listening to her songs.

Marit has released several albums, been nominated for and won numerous European music awards since she started her career as a solo artist. I’m slowly collecting vinyl records of her entire discography, and I hope she continues making music forever!

Here are 7 Marit Larsen Songs I Love:

Coming Home
Spark (2011)

Don’t Save Me
Under the Surface (2006)

Under the Surface
Under the Surface (2006)

If a Song Could Get Me You
The Chase (2008)

Have You Ever
Spark (2011)

I’ve Heard Your Love Songs
The Chase (2008)

I Don’t Want to Talk About it
When the Morning Comes (2014)

Kabeneri of the Iron Fortress Season 1 – Anime Review

“Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress” (Kōtetsujō no Kabaneri) is a post-apocalyptic steampunk anime set during the industrial revolution. On the country island of Hinomoto, a mysterious virus that transforms infected humans into kabane (corpses) is rapidly spreading.

The surviving humans have built high-walled fortresses to protect what few cities remain against the kabane. They also serve as stations for armored steam-powered locomotives called hayajiro that transport people and goods from one fortress to the next.

One day, a kabane infested hayajiro crashes into Aragane Station. As the city falls to the kabane, train engineer Ikoma takes the opportunity to test his invention: a steam-powered piercing gun built to kill the undead creatures.

The only way to kill kabane is by piercing their glowing hearts, protected by thick iron cages, which the army’s steam-powered guns and standard-issue melee weapons have been ineffective at penetrating.

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Mumei (left) and Ikoma with the Kōtetsujō behind them

Ikoma’s weapon works, but he is bit during the attack. He manages to prevent the virus from fully taking over his body, but he is no longer fully human. Now half human and half kabane, he is a kabaneri.

With the help of Mumei, another kabaneri, Ikoma and other survivors board another hayajiro called the Kōtetsujō, captained by Ayame, eldest daughter of the Yomogawa family, which governs Aragane Station.

“Kabeneri of the Iron Fortress” is one of the most beautiful anime I’ve ever watched. Production values are through the roof and it shows! They really nail the zombie-steampunk atmosphere, with all the billowing steam and glowing corpses.

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Just some of the thousands of kabane featured in the show

I’m still astounded at how they managed to fit hundreds of kabane simultaneously on screen, without sacrificing detail, several times. I can imagine all the animators and CGI people working overtime to make the director’s vision a reality, like in an especially intense episode of “Shirobako“.

Story-wise, I felt the first season was a bit rushed, like three seasons of “The Walking Dead” television series condensed into one. There wasn’t enough for me to feel involved in either Ikoma’s or Mumei’s story lines. It all developed too fast. I would have preferred more episodes even if that would have resulted in less pretty sound and animation.

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Here we’ve got the steam-powered bow, the kabane-infused samurai sword, and an assortment of steam-powered guns. Which will be most effective against the kabane?

The action in the anime series is great. Mumei is a skilled fighter able to dispose of dozens of kabane using her steam-powered rifle. Ikoma, meanwhile has no idea how to fight. He mostly shoves kabane around, while managing to kill a few with his piercing gun.

There are dozens of other characters in the show, each with their own personalities, histories, and fighting styles.

Not a dull moment exists in “Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress.” If you’re looking for a beautifully rendered action packed zombie killing anime and are excited about the steampunk setting, you will surely enjoy this one!

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

4 Beans

4 out of 5 beans

Zoo (Season 1) – TV Series Review

I first learned about “Zoo” from a Netflix Philippines notification, informing me season one of the series was uploaded on the streaming platform.

I was extra tired at the time, so the idea of watching a  mindless television show where animals attack humans and take over the world really appealed to me. As expected the show does feature plenty of animals killing humans. But it also offers more.

“Zoo” provides an equally intelligent and exciting look at an end of the world scenario where animals have evolved specifically to combat humans and their technology. Technology being, according to the show, the only reason why humans are at the top of the food chain.

This science-fiction drama thriller based on a novel of the same name by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge brings together an unlikely team:

American zoologist Jackson Oz (James Wolk), safari guide Abraham Kenyatta (Nonso Anozie),  journalist Jamie Campbell (Kristen Connolly), veterinary pathologist Dr. Mitch Morgan (Billy Burke), and French intelligence investigator Chloue Tousignant (Nora Arnezeder).

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From left to right: Chloue Tousignant, Jackson Oz, Dr. Mitch Morgan, Jamie Campbell, and Abraham Kenyatta

Their goal is to find a solution to the animal problem. The sci-fi angle of the series comes from the fact that the problem could be traced to a biotechnology company behind the production of staple goods sold worldwide, from animal feeds to veterinary medicines. Hence, the inclusion of a journalist in the team.

“Zoo” is a very smart and entertaining television series. It begins with a series of animal attacks. I was expecting it to be “The Walking Dead,” but with animals instead of zombies. So far, that hasn’t happened yet.

Still, the rise of the animal kingdom happens quickly as humans struggle to adapt to the situation.

With so many animals in the world, I wondered how the show would feature them? Fortunately, they didn’t run down the list of scariest animals (imagine sharks, piranhas, anacondas gone wild) and the world’s armies retaliating.

Instead the show focuses on animals relevant to the characters and the places they visit in their search for a solution. For example, lions and leopards  appear in Africa, where Jackson and Abraham host safari tours.

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I also enjoyed how the focused on the mutations of particular animals during a few animal-of-the-week episodes in the middle of the series.

Rats, for example, evolved so they could reproduce asexually. This allowed them to increase in number much faster than they could be exterminated. They also developed a taste for human blood.

Cats, on the other hand, developed the ability to communicate long distances with their entire species. This unified, long-distance language ability enabled them to work in teams and plan attacks without congregating physically, among other things.

Bears developed extra strong carapaces to protect against bullets and tranquilizer darts. They also gained the ability to enter and exit hibernation at will.

Bats began swarming around and attacking devices emitting electronic signals. They also attacked cellular phones—take that you Pokemon Go players!—and plane turbines, blocked sunlight from reaching solar panels in Antarctica. True story.

The team made progress quickly. They narrowed their focus to finding a cure that would devolve the animals back to their regular state, and this search for the cure is what brings the show’s first season to an epic conclusion.

Sure, you can question the science and ethics behind “Zoo”. But as long as you don’t dig too deep. If you accept this show as the intelligent and thrilling fictional television entertainment it is, then you will definitely enjoy this visit to the zoo!

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

5 Beans out of 5

5 Beans out of 5

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – Book Review

I bought a copy of Paula Hawkins’s psychological  thriller “The Girl on the Train” after I watched this movie trailer on YouTube. It’s an exciting trailer for a movie starring Emily Blunt, one of my favorite actresses. It definitely has a “Gone Girl” feel to it.

I had very high expectations, which the source material did not meet. The movie trailer, the book’s being called the next “Gone Girl”over hyped the book for me.

Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) is a 32-year-old alcoholic who rides the commuter train at the same time every morning and night. On most mornings, the commuter train temporarily stops at a suburban neighborhood. Rachel has made a habit of observing a particular couple breakfasting on their deck during these routine train stops. She’s given them names: Jess and Jason. She fantasizes about their life as the perfect suburban couple.

This suburban neighborhood Rachel obsesses over is the same neighborhood she used to live in with her ex-husband Tom Watson (Justin Theroux).

Jess and Jason live in a flat along the same row as and identical to the flat Rachel used to live in.

Tom still lives in this flat with his new wife Anna Watson (Rebecca Ferguson).

Jess, real name: Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett), is nanny to Tom and Anna’s child.

One day, Rachel sees something odd during her usual morning commute. Megan is with a man who isn’t her husband. She kisses the man who isn’t her husband. That’s when everything changes.

Soon after, Megan Hipwell disappears.

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“The Girl on a Train” is a fascinating read. The story is told from the point of view of three women: Rachel, Anna, and Megan.

Primarily, the story is viewed through the eyes of Rachel, an alcoholic who suffers from blackouts when drunk. Her unreliability as a narrator adds to the story’s mystery and tension.

It isn’t just Rachel who is messed up though. Every character in this novel is terrible and unreliable in different ways. They are a reflection of how flawed humans are in real life.

The novel begins slow, but by the middle of it my mind was abuzz trying to solve the mystery of Megan’s disappearance.

It’s comparison to “Gone Girl” got me thinking that maybe Megan was alive and plotting revenge on her husband Scott Hipwell (Luke Evans). Perhaps Rachel, envious of Megan’s seemingly perfect marriage and angry that she cheated on Scott, murdered Megan during one of her drunken blackouts. Or maybe it’s as simple as Scott killing Megan because of her infidelity.

But what about Anna and Tom, surely they were involved with the disappearance in some way?

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All aboard the hype train for “the thriller that shocked the world”!

Unfortunately, I figured out who the killer was three-quarters through the novel. This wasn’t a deal breaker for me. I solved the mystery and felt proud of my accomplishment.

But this novel’s big reveal had no where near as strong an impact as “Gone Girl” did, and that was a huge letdown.

There were also too much men being violent towards helpless women in this novel. I really wanted Amy Dunne to come and intervene on the women’s behalf!

“The Girl on the Train” is a smart and well-written psychological thriller, unfortunately tame when compared to Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl.” I’d go as far as saying that Paula Hawkin’s debut novel pales in comparison to Flynn’s other works, particularly “Dark Places” and “Sharp Objects.”

It suffers from over hype, though I expect the movie will be as good as advertised.

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

4 Beans

4 beans out of 5

Wayward Pines Season 1 – TV Series Review

Wayward Pines (2015) is mystery, thriller, and science fiction television series based on the Wayward Pines trilogy of novels by Blake Crouch. The show was created by Chad Hodge and produced by veteran filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan.

The first season centers on Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) a U.S. Secret Service agent on his way to investigate the disappearance of two fellow agents in the town of Wayward Pines, Idaho. On the way, Ethan and his partner get into a car accident. Ethan wakes up hospitalized inside Wayward Pines. Soon, he finds himself unable to leave the town.

His investigating reveals that one of his partners is dead, while the other—his former lover Kate Hewson (Carla Gugino)—is alive and married. Why has she settled down in this town, and not reported back to the U.S. Secret Service. And why is she so afraid of speaking with him? “They’re watching us,” she says.

Soon, Ethan discovers Wayward Pines is more than a strange small town. For one, it’s surrounded by an electrified fence. Any attempt at escape is punished by a public execution known as a “reckoning,” carried out by Arnold Pope (Terrence Howard), the town sheriff.

Everyone in this town is acting strange, one way or another. All of them seem to be keeping secrets from Ethan who continues searching for the truth.

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Meanwhile, Ethan’s wife Theresa (Shannyn Sossamon) and son Ben (Charlie Tahan), drive to Wayward Pines to investigate Ethan’s mysterious disappearance. They too get into a car accident and wake up hospitalized and trapped in Wayward Pines.

Although I love watching small town television mysteries like Broadchurch (2013-) and Harper’s Island (2009), I was a bit skeptical about Wayward Pines, given M. Night Shymalan’s track record as a filmmaker. I love his earlier work, but his more recent films keep getting worse and worse. The Last Airbender (2010), for example.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised by how good the series’s pilot episode was—and M. Night both produced and directed that episode! Maybe M. Night has found his true calling as a television series producer? But that pilot episode convinced me to give the series a chance, and I’m delighted that I did.

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Among the many stellar cast members of Wayward Pines (Source: 1)

Every episode of the first season gives off an ominous vibe. There is never a dull moment throughout the series, and the suspense built at a steady pace.

The cast was also excellent. I was especially terrified by Melissa Leo’s portrayal of Nurse Pam. Even the secret service agent Ethan was more afraid of her than he was of Sheriff Pope, who carried out the public killings in Wayward Pines. Another standout was Megan Fisher who played Hope Davis, the former hypnotherapist now principal of Wayward Pines Academy.

Science fiction elements are introduced in later episodes. This may surprise viewers who were expecting a usual small town mystery show. However, I very much enjoy the sci-fi genre. The sci-fi elements were a welcome addition for me.

VERDICT: Wayward Pines puts a sci-fi spin on the small town television mystery  genre, and is a thrill to watch. It’s also a welcome back to form for M. Night Shyamalan. If you’re a sci-fi fan searching for an intelligent and entertaining television mystery I strongly recommend watching season 1 of Wayward Pines.

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Definitely one television event you shouldn’t miss! (Source: 1)

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

5 Beans out of 5

5 Beans out of 5