Quickfire round: Speed Cubers

I caught this brief documentary on Netflix because it’s always fun to watch what people can do when they get nerdily obsessed with something – like solving a Rubik’s Cube. What I discovered, however, is that Speed Cubers is about something else entirely.

Feliks and Max together at a tournament – both clearly enjoying themselves

You see a documentary about people that solve Rubik’s Cubes really fast. So you watch it, thinking you’ll get some kind of history into the word records of solving them, known as cubing (participants are called cubers). Maybe it’ll explain the different world record categories, the little placemat you need to use to accurately record your time, or why they get an opportunity to inspect the cube before the timer starts running.

You don’t really get so much of that.

Instead, Speed Cubers is the story of an incredible friendship between two of the most successful cubers in history: Australian Feliks Zemdegs and Korean-American Max Park, who has autism.

We hear from the parents of both kids – Feliks became a national hit from a fairly young age and appeared on many an TV show in his native Australia. For Max, it was a different upbringing. Diagnosed at a young age with autism, Max struggles with communication and has the social skills of a person much younger than him. What Max really likes, however, is to solve a Rubik’s cube as fast as he can. When his parents discover this skill of his, it ends up having fantastic developmental benefits for Max. They take him to his first in-person tournament, and he does quite well. But his parents are less bothered about his speed cubing and more excited by the fact that this was the first public event they had taken Max to. And, according to his mother, he displayed traits that day that he had never displayed before, allowing him to develop those social skills that he lacked before.

Max is a really good cuber, and eventually beats most of Feliks’ records. Feliks isn’t salty, though. He in fact befriends Max and is always super supportive of him. They always hang out at the world championships (yes, this is a thing) and Feliks is regularly in touch with Max’s parents. He truly is a role model – not just to Max as a cuber, but to us all as a person.

So, in this 40-minute documentary you do get an insight into the world of speed cubing. But you also get so much more.

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The 50th post on the binge

I started this little blog in the first week that the UK went into lockdown due to COVID-19. In the weeks before, I had purchased a new TV and was in the process of buying a sound system to go with it. Settling down to watch some Netflix one night, the following occurred to me:

  • I spent a lot on this TV so I ought to use it by watching Netflix.
  • I’m going to have even less of a social life during lockdown which probably means even more Netflix.
  • Is it healthy to watch this much Netflix?
  • Maybe I should only watch something if I’m prepared to write a review about it later, you know, for the practice?

So I did it. It used to be called 500w Thoughts after the word count that I strive to hit with each fully structured review, but almost everyone I sent the link to didn’t get it, and thought I was referring to Watts, the measure of power. It was time for a rethink.

To my surprise, thebinge.co.uk domain name was available. Many agreed that it was a good name, so I purchased it alongside some worry-free hosting from WordPress.com.

I’m pleased with myself that I’ve been able to stick with this during lockdown and the sort of pseudo-lockdown life one gets from having an office job and thereby continuing to work from home. The website’s stats aren’t particularly impressive, but here they are anyway:

  • 387 views
  • 237 unique visitors
  • 50 posts (as of today)

I also tracked all the shows that I started watching since the start of this year. I have written reviews for basically all of them, although the ones in January and February are mostly confined to my two-sentence ‘Spring Clean’ summary posts. In total, the stats are:

  • 50 TV seasons
  • 18 films (including 4 stand-up specials)

So on average I’ve watched 2 pieces of content (a full season or a movie) each week.

People tell me that’s quite a lot.

With 18(ish) weeks left in the year, that means I ought to watch another 36 pieces of content by the end of 2020. I’d better get cracking, then!

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What I thought about: Selling Sunset (Seasons 1-3)

This is probably the fastest I have binge-watched a show, tearing through three seasons essentially in a single weekend. Allow me to explain why this mashup of Real Housewives reality trash with envy-inducing LA real estate had me hooked from the first episode.

Is Chrishell reacting to real estate success, or bitchy drama?

What’s it about?
Like most things in Los Angeles, real estate is really quite extra. It’s no wonder, then, that realtors come stuffed to the brim with their own personality, extravagant lifestyles, and salacious relationship drama. We know this because Selling Sunset literally sticks a camera crew into the offices of The Oppenheim Group, one of the most famous real estate brokers in LA. All the realtors there – besides the founders, twin brothers Jason and Brett – are objectively attractive women.

The show is part real estate television, as we see the group’s many listings in celebrity hotspots Beverly Hills and Hollywood, and part reality drama, as we discover that the girls don’t all get along with each other. Indeed, Season 1 opens with a new girl joining the group, former actress Chrishell Stause, who receives an ice cold welcome from diva-like Christine Quinn.

What do I like about it?
Um, this is going to be really hard to explain. I guess I just have to admit that I find trashy reality TV entertaining? But, in my defence, the show is more than just bitching and backstabbing (although there is plenty of that).

We get to see fantastic shots of some of the most expensive houses in the area, each with their own swimming pool and outstanding views across the valley and hills. Sometimes, we’re treated to run-ins with owners or potential buyers, most of whom look nowhere near rich enough to be able to afford any of these properties until you learn their occupations (a plastic surgeon, gallery owner, and app co-founder, to name a few).

And, yes, the drama. Like any reality TV show, you develop favourites. Mary and Chrishell are really sweet. Christine and Davina are not. There’s also Maya, an Israeli who has two children with a partner that lives across the country in Miami, who is the sort of ‘true neutral’ of the show.

What do I not like about it?
Not a lot, really. At times, the drama is a bit too petty, and the arguments can genuinely blend together to the point where you’re not sure who is talking, all you hear is noise.

I also genuinely cannot tell Jason and Brett apart. I have no idea which one is talking. I know they’re twins but… come on. The employees can tell!

Worth a watch?
Do you want to subject yourself to trashy reality TV about rich-ish realtors who sell houses to richer people? Then yes, Selling Sunset executes the idea really well.

By the way…

  • There’s a big interplay with the cast’s real lives, but I won’t spoil it…
  • Netflix hasn’t announced a fourth season, but I’m sure it will happen

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Back for more: How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast) (Season 2)

The teenage drug kingpin is back. MyDrugs has become a national hit, and Moritz has developed an online persona, m1000, to carry that fame anonymously. With an expanding business, he faces new challenges – especially as his friends and accomplices want out.

Who knew to sell drugs you had to befriend a bunch of Albanians and go hunting?

This season was a nice continuation of the first, and I must have watched it all in under 48 hours. So, yes, it’s just as gripping as before. Moritz is pressing ahead with his business, aided by his friends (read: suppliers) from the Netherlands, who encourage the expansion and even ask Moritz to develop a front to keep control of his operations.

The show also continues to nail the more technical aspects of the plot. For example, new character Lena (whom Lenny has been catfishing since Season 1) is revealed to be a travelling con artist, blackmailing businessmen in hotels across region by hooking them into her fake ‘Free Hotel Wi-Fi’, an act that allows her to view their browsing activity and even remotely record their webcam while they… you know what. This is a very real possibility and a good lesson to be careful about joining any public / unsecured Wi-Fi networks, especially without the use of a VPN to encrypt your browsing.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though. Moritz struggles to balance his schoolwork, drugs business, and relationship with his girlfriend Lisa, whom he is desperately trying to keep safe from any knowledge of his activities. There might even be the return of a certain Albanian drugs gang looking for answer about how one of their own killed themselves with a certain someone’s 3D-printed gun…

It looks like this show is going to be renewed for a third season, and I’m all for it. The production values are fantastic and I love the attention to detail shown to the technical aspects of the show.

As always, watch in German and turn subtitles in if you need to.

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What I thought about: Love on the Spectrum

Can people on the autism spectrum find love? Yes, of course, and for any doubters out there, this show sets out to prove it. Going much deeper than Channel 4’s The Undateables, this Australian series is awkward, endearing, funny, and genuine. Yeah, I shed a tear at the end.

This couple are adorable. Watch the final episode to get the waterworks going…

What’s it about?
Autism is a developmental disability that has different characteristics (hence the ‘spectrum’), but in one way or another makes it more difficult for autistic individuals to interact socially with non-autistic people, also known as neurotypicals. This can manifest itself in a particularly difficult way when it comes to dating. In this show we see problems in keeping the discussion going, an inability to process and understand social cues, and, occasionally, a complete mind-blank when things become too overwhelming for the individual.

The show goes deeper than just showing singletons on dates (although that does make up a lot of the show). We catch mini interviews with their parents, lessons from an autism behavioural expert who teaches them how to have a successful date, and there’s even coverage of two happy couples (all on the spectrum).

What do I like about it?
The show is better than The Undateables essentially because it goes deeper than just showing people on their dates. Viewers will gain a deeper understanding of autism because of it, which is important especially as it a disability that is often not immediately visible.

The show also covers differing sexual orientations, and also those with other disabilities (commonly deafness). Also, the parents of each of the show’s participants are truly adorable. None of them resent having a child with autism, and they’re all proud of how far their child has come from childhood (one parent tells the show that their child started out being non-verbal and having a tendency for violent outbursts. The grown up person we see featured on the show is talkative and caring).

What do I not like about it?
One good point I saw mentioned in another review of the show is that the people they dated were autistic, and all of the events they went to were specifically for disabled or autistic people. You do get a sense that there is some segregation, but one part of me feels as though it’s good to develop the social skills among people who better understand your own disability before trying it in the wider world.

Worth a watch?
Yes! This was an adorable series and it has one of the best since filming began… end credits scenes I have ever seen. You become really attached to the show’s participants by the end and you really want their love lives to succeed.

By the way…

  • Let me know your favourite participants – mine are Andrew and Maddi
  • The show was created and directed by Cian O’Clery, who is also the voice you hear asking the participants questions during interviews

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Back for more: Ashley Garcia: Genius in Love

The show’s name might have changed, but for all intents and purposes this is the sequel to The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia, a teen sitcom I reviewed earlier in the year. Although it felt a bit rushed this time round, it was still good clean fun.

Yes, Stick is trying to salsa dance. No, he is not doing it well. Yes, this does escalate from here.

It’s been a while since the start of lockdown – which is roughly the time when I started this blog – and so we’re starting to see some of the shows I reviewed earlier in the year get their next season out, so I’m starting a new feature on the blog called Back for more which is honestly the best name for a feature I have ever come up with.

So – we’re starting with Ashley Garcia, the sitcom about a teenage genius who advanced her academic life well in advance of her social life. Ashley moved in with her cool uncle (a football coach for the local school) and, after reuniting with her childhood bestie, she quickly settled in and met new friends in Season 1, including wholesome jock Tad whom she has a huge crush on.

Season 2 (it’s technically a part two but whatever) sees Ashley and Tad develop their relationship, but other than that there’s no real overall plot arc and the episodes don’t seem all that connected to each other. This would be a problem, if not for the rest of the show’s good point making up for it. I could be wrong, but I think the characters’ off-the-cuff jokes worked better in this season and were funnier overall. The show also benefits from a fantastic season finale where everyone ignores Ashley on her birthday and prevents her from even going to the store to buy her own cake (what could be the reason for this, I wonder!)

I’m not sure if we’ll see another season of this show, and I wouldn’t blame Netflix if they cancelled it. But if they did bring it back, I’d certainly watch it – it’s the sort of show you put on if you don’t want to watch something too intense but not boring.

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What I thought about: Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich

Convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein, made headlines last year after he was charged with additional sex offences and then killed himself (*allegedly). What I’d never understood was who he really was and what he did to land him in jail and, ultimately, wind up dead. This powerful docuseries explains all.

Sarah Ransome recalling the moment she tried to swim to safety from Epstein’s private island

What’s it about?
Through interviews with ex-business associates, people who worked on his ‘paedophile island’, police chiefs and lawyers who worked on the case, and even Epstein’s own lawyer Alan Dershowitz, the story of Jeffrey Epstein’s criminal history is told. Above all of these people should sit Epstein’s victims, and we hear many of them tell their story in this series.

We learn where Epstein came from, and that he’s always been a manipulative liar. He started out as a school teacher, having lied about his degree (he didn’t have one) to get the job. From there, well, it was just a trail of deceit and crookery. The one thing the documentary isn’t able to tell you is exactly how he made his money, besides the vague notion that he managed other people’s money (and the assertion that, in some cases, he stole it).

What makes for more uncomfortable watching is the history of Epstein’s underage sex offences. With the help of his partner, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell (who has now been arrested & charged with a litany of crimes), he lured underaged girls to his Palm Beach mansion, offering them money in return for a massage which often turned into non-consensual intercourse – in other words, he raped them. There were apparently hundreds of victims, it’s really quite horrific.

What do I like about it?
It’s not really appropriate to say I ‘liked’ this documentary. I do however think it’s important to watch. You feel a sense of outrage at Epstein’s ability to evade capture and, even when he was convicted of a numbed-down charge of soliciting a minor for prostitution in 2008, how his prison sentence was a joke and he was able to do whatever he wanted.

In some ways we can draw parallels to the shocking Abducted in Plain Sight documentary. Both men managed to manipulate others into letting them do whatever they wanted – and in both cases this lead to the sexual assault of minors.

What do I not like about it?
Overall it is a solid documentary, but some more rigid structure would have been a bit better. We kept jumping up and down the timeline, which was at times difficult to keep up with,

Worth a watch?
It’s not going to be an easy watch for some people, but if you were ever curious about the true scale of Epstein’s crimes then you need to watch this.

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Quickfire round: Sonic the Hedgehog

Affectionately known as the Blue Blur, Sonic the Hedgehog stars in a live action debut that is… actually pretty good, really. With a much improved character model, this is a solid family movie.

Before and after. You can see the immense improvement to Sonic’s model.

Sonic the Hedgehog is a video game series dating back to 1991. I was born in 1996, and my first proper experience with Sonic games were the GameCube trifecta of Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut, Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, and Sonic Heroes, which I think all came out in 2003. The game series had more of an impact on my life than you might think, but that’s a story for another day. What matters is that Sonic has a hugely varied fan base – the target audience of children, and sone much, much older fans who remember the classics.

So, when we first saw the trailer for the live action movie, we were all taken aback by the insanely awful character model. Live-action Sonic looked too human to the point where it was just terrifying to look at. Nowhere near human enough to pass as a human, though, which begged the question – why? Why did you need to massacre the original design of the character just to fail at making him fit into the real world even a tiny bit?

Thankfully, the studio listened, pushed the release date back, and re-did the models. The result is much better. As for the rest of the movie – it’s all fine. There are funny jokes. The acting is decent, especially Jim Carrey, whose casting made complete sense, as chief antagonist Dr Robotnik. There are action scenes, there are slower more dramatic scenes, and you genuinely root for the characters.

The only criticism I have is that the plot was very shallow and it all felt over very quickly. I mean, everything pretty much happens over the span of 2 days. Given the target audience, however, I suppose it makes sense. Go watch!

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