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Friday Five: 5 Gifts You Can Give Everyone

It's the holiday season, a time of warmth and joy for many of us - but not all. If you don't already make annual donations to your favourite charities, this year is a great time to begin - it doesn't have to be much, because truly every little bit can help. If you don't know where to start, here are a few suggestions.
Please post more in the comments.

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Friday Five: 5 Best Airport Snacks

Airline food

Hey. Flying sucks. I mean, sure, the whole concept of flying is pretty cool: you're boarding a giant iron dragon and hurtling through the air at unmentionable speeds, in the hopes that your rocket fuel gets you to Otherlandia before gravity catches on.

But the actual process of flying is less glamorous: stress, paperwork, more paperwork, unnecessary expense, forgetting things, broken headphones, hurry-up-and-wait, screaming children, and airline food. I mean, airline food. Yeah.

Anyway, here's how we cope... with the airline food, at least. Not much we can do about the headphones, sorry.

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The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (2014)


I wrote about the first two Hobbit movies and their major problem (they’re not about Bilbo) last year.

Last night I rewatched The Battle of Five Armies for the first time since it came out in the cinemas. And it’s hard to muster the energy to talk about it. Everything I said before is true: Bilbo is lost as a character, there’s too much about Thorin’s backstory, and there’s too much meaningless tertiary stuff.

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Ant-Man (2015)


So we went to see Ant-Man. And you know what? It’s a good film! You should go see it. Here's why: (There are a few eeensy spoilers below; forewarned is forearmed. Six-armed. You know. Ants.)

Following the bloated, gaseous corpse that was Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man is a breath of fresh air, a delightfully uncomplicated (relatively speaking) superhero origin story about a guy looking for redemption, and finding it in an unlikely place (namely, some old dude’s basement). Also, there's shrinking down to the size of a small bug, and being able to communicate with small bugs. There’s action, there’s adventure, there are some cool effects, there’s a death that’s at once hilarious and poignant, and there’s Paul Rudd, who I think many people of a certain age have squishy feelings about for reasons that boil down to ‘Josh from Clueless’.

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The Scully Effect: My Life in The X-Files

The-X-FilesThe X-Files, huh? That show people watched like twenty years ago? Who cares? I do, that's who. Now sit down and shut up while I explain important things to you.

Last week the internet exploded with joy when the long-circulating rumour that The X-Files would be getting a new season 13 years after it went off the air, was confirmed. Well, much of the internet exploded with joy. Some of the internet exploded with skepticism (‘It’ll just suck!’) and bits of it exploded with confusion (‘they’re making a television show about that stupid movie from a couple of years ago?’)

Well, gather round, folks, because I'm here to tell you why you should not just care that the X-Files are back, but should get really excited. I was there when it all began, loved the show from the beginning, and have a lot of opinions so I'm  more qualified than anyone else on the entire internet to tell you this stuff. 

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Breakout Kings (2011-2012)

Breakout Kings

There’s a particularly irritating kind of review out there – the kind that usually includes the line ‘if this sounds like the kind of thing you’ll like, you’ll like this thing.’ It’s irritating because it’s so fundamentally lazy. In reviews of this type, the reviewer will fill a few paragraphs with examples of what makes ‘this kind of thing’ before concluding, with a weary sigh, that if this kind of thing sounds like your thing, then this thing will be your thing.

But it’s not just lazy. It’s snotty. It boils down everything that makes a property enjoyable (if not unique) for readers who legitimately like them, and then tacks on the implication that the person who likes them has, you know, questionable taste.

The reviewer, we are given to understand, doesn’t really like this kind of thing but can see why someone else might. But not just any someone else: no, the kind of someone else who likes things such as this thing that the reviewer does not. You know. You and me.

All of which is unfair, given that ‘if you like this kind of thing, you’ll like this thing’ is a totally valid recommendation when it’s expanded upon. Do you like John Grisham’s books, with their action and noble lawyers and legal puzzles and moral quandaries? Then it’s reasonably safe for me to tell you that you’ll probably also like Brad Meltzer’s books. And I mean that as a legitimate recommendation! (I really do; The 10th Justice is good fun.)

All of which is a roundabout way of winding into today’s point: Breakout Kings is the kind of thing you’ll like if you like this kind of thing. And I mean that as a good thing.

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Friday Five: Five Things You Should Do This Weekend...

Cheesesouffle_5237_16x9...instead of getting ready for the holidays.

1. Watch a box-set of something

I propose that you make it something outside your comfort zone, and would like to suggest the brilliant Friday Night Lights, which is about high school football in west Texas. I know! That's totally not your thing, is it? Except that it totally is. The show is well written, well acted, sensitive, heartbreaking, and features a lot of really, really good-looking actors. There's very little football and what football is present is usually completely heartwarming. Or, at least, heart-string tugging. DO IT. DO IT FOR ME.

2. Cook

I don't mean 'make a practice turkey.' (Though now that I think about it, cooking an entire practice turkey and then spending the weekend eating it could be loads of fun. Bonus turkey!) Branch out! Try something new! I suggest experimenting with the no-less-heartbreaking-experience-for-being-a-cliche of making your own souffle... only to see it fall. Seriously, you will be so gutted. And then you'll eat it anyway, because fallen souffle still tastes like souffle. Try making a cheese souffle. Recipe here.  I would really like a nice cheese souffle right about now. I have never typed the word 'souffle' so often.

1682998513. Take a walk

I think I recommend walking, like, all the time now. Mostly because I don't do it enough myself. Folks, it's gorgeous outside these days. And people are having fires, so the air smells lovely, and everything is clean and crisp and... well, if you're in London or, my mom reports, California, everything is kind of wet right now. Maybe don't take a walk exactly this second, but go out during a lull. Bring your camera! Enjoy Stormzilla. Document the experience.

4. Play cards

Invite someone over - or find a nice quiet pub - and break out a fresh deck of cards. Here are the rules to ginrummy, and four-handed euchre. All three are great fun and can be played with two, three or four people. (Here's two-handed and three-handed euchre, also known as bid-euchre.) Ligretto is also awesome, and of course Cards Against Humanity is a sure-fire winner. When playing euchre, however, REMEMBER TO SAVE STRAIGHT SUIT. You'll make my mom very happy. And you'll make yourself happy by using the phrase 'straight suit' like a pro.

5. Reread The Hobbit, aloud

The film is only going to disappoint you. (At right: Thorin Oakenshield in happier times. Never forget.) (JARED CHECK OUT THAT PINEAPPLE.) (Not a euphemism.) (Probably should be.)

BONUS 6. Make up extravagant lies about the Victorians.

This is our favourite way to pass an afternoon. I'm not kidding.

Once Upon a Time: S4E7 'The Snow Queen'

Snow QueenAnd finally we get what we’ve all been clamouring for: the Snow Queen’s backstory. Except it’s really annoying, and doesn’t explain her obsession with Emma beyond, like, the fact that they are both blondes with magic. The Storybrook half of the episode is great, legitimately great; the Arendelle half is pretty awful. Also, everyone pronounces it Arun-dale, which drives me up the wall.

Although not as much as the visible zipper on the back of one of Ingrid’s sisters’ dresses. Who knew Arun-dale had zippers?  But we’ll come to that.

Storybrooke! The Dairy Queen transports her 'magic mirror' to the top of the clock tower. Elsa and Emma figure out a way to contain the DQ’s powers with a magic candle. Emma tries to babysit her new baby brother. Snow freaks out because Emma doesn’t seem to have total control over her powers. Emma freaks out because she doesn’t seem to have total control over her powers. Then Emma catches the DQ and the two have their own little bottle episode, where the DQ works to freak out Emma even more. Eventually, Emma lets loose with her powers, accidentally hurting Charming. Snow yells at her. Emma totally flips out and runs away.

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Once Upon a Time: S4E5 Family Business

Beauty_and_the_BeastWe get a stronger episode again this week, plot-wise, despite the fact that it centres around Belle. So, full disclosure: I don’t like OUaT’s Belle. The character’s a wet rag, without any of the restless spark that made the animated original so much fun, and the actress does her best with the material… but the writing and direction defeat her. As do the ridiculous costumes they insist on stuffing her into. Emilie de Ravin was, apparently, well liked for a character she played on Lost and, in the few opportunities she’s given to play her character with any sort of personality on OUat, she makes an impression. It’s not always a good impression – remember Trixie, or whatever her real-world counterpart personality was called?*

Saldly, OUaT Belle’s sole contribution to most episodes is ‘I’ll go look it up.’ Which, maybe, in the early seasons of Buffy, made sense. But now? Researching something in a library in a fake fairy tale town seems… like a losing proposition. It’s just sad. I mean, even Willow made the switch to the 21st century pretty easily.

That said: this town runs on ‘fuel’ and has power even though no one ever repaired the single power-line that caused a town-wide blackout when it went down; is currently surrounded by a giant magical ice wall but without any ill-effect (where are they getting their groceries from? Is the town entirely self-sufficient?); and the current mayor took office on the say-so of a cabal of three grumpy third-stringers after the former mayor decided to quit because she’s pissed off at the sheriff. One of the sheriffs. I mean, I feel safe in assuming the citizens of Storybrooke don’t know what a search engine is, because I’m not sure anyone even knows how to use a computer.

OMG this show.

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Once Upon a Time: S4E5 'Broken Glass'

Once Upon a TimeI was going to call this week's episode a welcome return to form, except I'm not sure that it is - it is, however, a welcome return to Regina, who has been warming the bench for the last couple of episodes. Having her front and centre was a nice change from the show's recent run of sentimentalism (and confounding plot developments) - which is not to say that it was without sentimentalism and confounding plot developments. There were just fewere of them, or they weren't as stupid.

Mostly I just liked it better than the previous couple of episodes.

The flashback plot this week centred on Emma as a... well,a  fourteenish-year-old. Because of OUaT's Timelol, I have no idea how old she was actually meant to be. I tried to math it: she's 27 when the show began in 2011, making her 30/31 now, which would mean she'd have been 14 or 15 in 1998. But, honestly, we have no idea how much time has passed within the world of the show itself - somewhere between one and three hundred years - so who knows? What we do know is that we've seen Jennifer Morrison play 16/17 year-old Emma, so it stands to reason that this Emma is younger. But again, who knows? Timelol! 

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