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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Of floating cats and the lights above Arby’s: Six reasons you should be listening to Welcome to Night Vale

If you spend any time on Tumblr besides looking at blogs like Skeletor Is Love (which is an amazing blog, by the way), you’ve probably seen a lot of people talking about something called Welcome to Night Vale. If you’re not in the know, you’re probably wondering why everyone is going on about perfect and beautiful Carlos, Intern Dana, an unapproachable dog park, or the lights above Arby’s, among other things. If you regularly listen to podcasts, you might be wondering where it came from and why it’s suddenly at the top of the most downloaded list.

Allow me, dear reader, to enlighten you.

See something, say nothing, and drink to forget.Welcome to Night Vale is a production by New York company/writing collective Commonplace Books. It’s a bi-monthly podcast that takes place in the fictional small desert town of Night Vale. Night Vale is like most small towns. Sleepy, full of a strange cast of characters, a strangely bureaucratic city government, and a small civilization living under lane 5 at the local bowling alley… Among other things…

Without giving too much away in the intro, here are six reasons why you should add this show to your podcast library.

1.) It’s NPR mixed Twin Peaks and Gravity Falls with a splash of Parks and RecreationWelcome to Night Vale is done in the style of a community radio show, with event listings, traffic reports, and commentary on local news. It would be kind of boring if it wasn’t for the fact that Night Vale is a town where all the dark and strange things happen. There’s a dog park in Night Vale that no one but the Hooded Figures are allowed to enter, a five headed dragon was arrested for insurance fraud and is interested in running for mayor, a sentient glow cloud is the head of the school board, and there’s a local old woman who has two angels named Erika living in her home. That’s all just the tip of the iceberg.

It could all be rather frightening too without our cool and collected host Cecil (played by New York actor Cecil Baldwin). With a smooth voice that could fit on any NPR show, Cecil makes the weird and spooky sound normal and rather fascinating. Of course, that doesn’t mean our host can’t get scared by station management, or show his love for a new in town scientist.

Which brings me to our second reason…

2.) Cecil is queer and it isn’t a big deal – In the first episode, Cecil talks about a team of scientists that have come into town to study the strangeness that occurs within Night Vale. The one that catches our dear narrator’s attention is Carlos, the lead scientist that Cecil describes as “beautiful,” “perfect” and that he “fell in love instantly.”

Cue the awwwws.

Over the next year, Carlos is often the subject of Cecil’s broadcasts and continually the object of Cecil’s affections. And it’s not a big deal. Cecil doesn’t struggle crushing on another man or lament if his crush is straight. He just continues crushing and being oblivious to what Carlos contacts him about for the next year. Station Management doesn’t seem to mind either, except when he’s getting off track and not giving enough of the news.

Plus, the year’s worth of buildup is paid off beautifully, even if it does punch you in the heart at first.

3.) Racism isn’t tolerated – Besides Carlos being described as dark-skinned and one of This isn't really related to anything. I just like the photo on the fanpage.Old Woman Josie’s angels being “black,” there’s really no physical descriptors or races given to any of the characters.

Well, minus one.

One of the characters that Cecil talks about regularly is the Apache Tracker, which Cecil is always quick to remind the listener that this guy is a white man wearing an offensive and inaccurate Native American headdress. No matter what he’s doing, Cecil always ends up using words like “jerk” and “asshole” when describing him. Even after an incident where he turns into an actual Apache by some force of magic, he’s still described as “a racist embarrassment.”

In a culture that’s always quick to defend people like that as expressing themselves versus appropriating something they don’t understand, it’s nice that a character like that is constantly called out on his bullshit.

Plus, the fancasts where Johnny Depp as Tonto is the Apache Tracker? Brilliant.

4.) The fandom is super creative – With a work that’s based in an audio medium that doesn’t have a lot of physical descriptors (because you’re supposed to know everyone in this town and already know what they look like), there’s a lot of opportunity for the imagination to run wild when imagining the world of Night Vale.

And oh, the fandom has.

Springing up from the Hannibal fandom during the hiatus, Welcome to Night Vale has gained a rabid and passionate fandom that creates beautiful art, amazing fan mixes and fan fiction, and headcanons that could blow your mind. It’s impossible to go into the Welcome To Night Vale tag on Tumblr without seeing something awesome.

As for my personal headcanons, Pawnee, IN and Gravity Falls, OR are sister cities, Carlos used to work for Aperture Science, Intern Dana is muslim, Old Woman Josie used to keep Zorp as a pet and Kevin from Desert Bluffs is one of the horrors from The Cabin In The Woods. You probably didn’t want to know that, but I felt like sharing anyway.

5.) The show is both funny and legitimately terrifying – While the show is presented as a community radio show, there are several parts of each broadcast that are extremely funny. The first one that comes to mind is the PSA about alligators in the first episode. Much of the humor resides in both Cecil’s deadpan and occasionally sarcastic delivery and just straight up dark humor. I guess you have to have a sense of humor when the most terrifying day of the year is Street Cleaning Day.

There are parts where the show does get extremely creepy and terrifying though. Cecil’s confrontation with Station Management and the two Sandstorm episodes genuinely made me feel creeped out and worried for our narrator. There’s a definite Lovecraftian influence on the series and thank the gods it came out in the creepy.

6.) It’s shining a light on a side of podcasting that usually isn’t seen – With some of the earliest forms of entertainment in the 20th century being radio serials, it’s surprising that there aren’t more podcasts that take a fictional spin.

Or at least, not ones that are well known.

Looking at the top 100 podcasts on iTunes, Night Vale seems to be the only one that seems to have a narrative. There are comedy podcasts, yes, but only two seem to be parodies of some sort. Most of the others are talk shows and most spots in the podcast lists are similar to that, but in their own genres. NPR takes a lot of that cake as well.

With a podcast that has a narrative, I hope that it can inspire others to do the same and for fans of the show to seek out podcasts that do as well. Because it really is a (currently) mostly unexplored avenue for fiction.

Well, not in this current time. Time travel is legal in Night Vale, y’know.

Always watching, always listening.

Convinced? Check out the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, and FeedBurner. For more, check out the WTNV page on Commonplace Books.

It’s a three-fer this week. Come back on Friday for a reflection on a comic I’m really into right now.

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Posted by on July 31, 2013 in Internet

 

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You’ve Got Time: Six reasons you need to be watching Orange is the New Black

Last week, I had a brief stint petsitting for a rather nice couple in this dimension. They had access to Netflix, which I haven’t had access to since after the new season of Arrested Development came out. Since I now had Netflix back in my life for a brief amount of time, I decided to start on Orange Is The New Black because so many people I know had been talking about it. I figured I could start it, and then pick back up this week when I went back for a longer petsitting stint.

I ended up marathoning the entire first season the entire time I was there.

I couldn’t help it! Orange Is The New Black is one of the most captivating new dramas I’ve seen in a long time that didn’t involve Sherlock Holmes or some sort of science fiction aspect. It’s just a series about women making the best of what they have, even if that is in a federal prison.

You’ve probably heard a lot about Orange Is The New Black. Maybe you’ve heard nothing at all. Whatever you’ve heard, I want to tell you about why you should be watching this show.

This bathroom has way more stalls than the actual bathroom in the series...

1.) It’s honestly and truly about women – There are a lot of shows out there that tell me they’re about women, but don’t feel that way. Any period of time watching Lifetime or Oxygen will do that. It often feels like it’s just what marketing tells people what women are like.

Orange Is The New Black doesn’t do that.

Since the show is set in a women’s prison, 98% of the characters are women. In fact, there are only 10 male characters that are seen in multiple episodes and only three of them have been in all 13 episodes of season one. That leaves us with a dynamic cast of women that come from all walks of life. There are women of color, queer women, plus sized women, and immigrant women, and they all have their own stories. They’re not their to be plot accessories to Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling). They are a part of her story, but they’re there with their own stories as well.

2.) It tells a trans* story that doesn’t end in tragedy – One of the remarkable things about Laverne Cox as Sophia Bursetthe show is that there is a trans* character that is played by a trans* woman. Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox) is the prison’s hair stylist who is in prison for credit card fraud. Before going to prison, her wife Crystal was very supportive of her transition and even helped her pick out new clothes for herself. Her relationship with her son Michael becomes strained, but we see that perhaps it is on the route to rebuilding for season 2.

Sophia could have easily been a background character who only got focus in a couple of episodes. Instead, we see her for a majority of the first season. We see that she’s extremely resourceful, which is something that landed her in prison and is what is helping her survive it. She doesn’t take anyone’s shit, but is learning to work through her own. It’s also refreshing that one character we see her becoming good friends with is a nun named Sister Ingalls (Beth Fowler), which helps prove that religion identity doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive from the company you choose to keep. While Burset’s story is one that rarely happens in real life, it is refreshing to see it play out the way it has on television.

3.) Chapman is a great everyman character – Love her or hate her, Chapman does exactly what she’s supposed to do in this story: be our eyes and ears to prison life from an outside perspective. She’s extremely privileged, coming from a WASP-y as hell background and only getting 15 months at Litchfield for a crime she committed a decade before, but she still has to come face to face with herself in prison. She has to learn to survive in a way she’s never had to before and with people she’s not used to experiencing in her day to day life. While she can be obnoxious, I know that I would probably be similar to her if I had to go to jail. She’s no Joan Watson, but Chapman is a great insider to being the new fish in the fishbowl.

Welcome to the big house...

4.) It’s extremely funny – The later episodes of season 1 definitely fall more in the drama category, but at its heart, it’s a dramedy. And when it goes funny, it doesn’t relent. Characters like Taystee, Nicky, Big Boo, and Susie provide consistent hilarity while still being allowed to have their own stories outside of being comedic relief.

However, there is no funnier episode than episode 5, “The Chickening.” The whole episode is about what happens when Piper sees a feral chicken in the yard and the frenzy it sets off when everyone wants to catch it. The character who carries this episode the most is Red, who is played masterfully by Kate Mulgrew. I keep saying she needs to win an Emmy for this show. Partially for the later episodes, but mostly for the following speech:

The cover of the original book5.) It’s based on a true story! …Sorta – Orange Is The New Black is based on a book by the same name by a woman named Piper Kerman, who serves as executive producer of the series. Now, I haven’t actually read the book yet, but from my understanding, the series takes the basic premise of Kerman’s experience (spending 15 months in a federal prison for transporting drug money with her girlfriend 10 years before) as well as basis for  some of the characters, but everything else was embellished for television. The biggest one being her relationship with her fiancé. For Kerman, Larry Smith was extremely supportive and helpful to her. For Chapman, Larry Bloom (played by Jason Biggs) is what most people would call a “tool.” He’s extremely exploitive of his fiancé’s situation, but won’t take opportunity to try to see her side of it.

Still, it’s cool to know that a series like this has some basis in reality, even if it’s just the frame work for which the rest of the series is painted in.

6.) It gives humanity and sympathy to characters that usually get none – Most of the time in fiction, we’re not allowed to identify with people in prison. Unless they’re some sort of male anti-hero. Female criminals don’t exist except to be a cautionary tale.

Orange Is The New Black is not a cautionary tale. It’s a story of women who have made mistakes. Mistakes that they’re still grappling with. It’s the story of how they cope, how they survive, and how they maintain what’s left of their life on the outside. They’re not saints, but they’re not complete sinners either. They’re just humans doing their best with what they’ve got.

Which, really, is why the series is so easy to marathon in a day. Maybe it is a bit sensational, but there is still real human emotion to be had.

This is my new favorite cast photo, btw.

I’m back on a regular schedule this week. Come back on Wednesday where I give another six reasons list for something completely different.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2013 in Television

 

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Find me in the Drift: A Pacific Rim review

There’s a rather infamous Guillermo del Toro quote from about three years ago when Scott Pilgrim vs. The World came out. That quote was, “Anyone that didn’t see this is a motherfucker.” He even signed a fan’s blu ray with that.

That’s generally how I feel about anyone who picked other films to watch this past weekend besides Pacific Rim. Because it probably was the most fun I’ve had at the movies since Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Yes, it was even more fun than Cabin in the Woods.

Some SPOILERS exist below the picture, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum. I really do want to encourage people to see this film since it’s pretty much the best summer blockbuster to come out in a while.

Striker Eureka reporting in!

When Pacific Rim opens, we’re right on board the exposition train. The first ten minutes or so of the film get the basics of this universe out of the way. The kaiju, the Jaeger program and how they are viewed, and our introduction to Marshall Stacker Pentecost (played by Idris Elba) and Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), who are two of our three perspective characters. This part could have been boring or rushed, but the way its played off by showing the hero worship of the Pan Pacific Defense Corps and then quickly contrasting it with the new reality of the ever evolving kaiju, we come to a better understanding of the drastic shift five years later.

The intro we’re given for the film also gives us an intro the beautiful balance this film has: it manages to be cerebral and emotional while still giving plenty of the robot/monster beat ’em up that we were promised. del Toro created this wonderfully lush universe with strong, interesting characters. I felt more drawn in and intrigued in this universe than I do for most TV shows, and I was only there for two hours and eleven minutes.

Highway to the Danger DriftAfter the intro, the film splits off into two plots that weave with each other and come together in the end. The main plot is Raleigh’s return to piloting the Jaeger Gipsy Danger five years after the death of his brother and co-pilot Yancy. Co-pilots are very important in the world of Pacific Rim since the neural load for piloting a jaeger is too much for one person to handle for very long. Two hemispheres of the brain. Two pilots sharing memories and thoughts in space known as the Drift. That’s how it works. However, each pilot team has to be compatible with each other in order for it to work. This leads to a lot of sibling teams (such as the Wei Tang triplets of the Crimson Typhoon), father and son (Chuck and Herc Hansen of Striker Eureka), and possible lovers (Aleksis and Sasha Kaidanovsky of Cherno Alpha).

This is where the relationship of Raleigh and his new co-pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) becomes super interesting. It is very obvious from the moment they meet that there’s a connection between the two that makes them drift compatible. It could have been so easy for them to become lovers in some point of the film. I kind of expected it due to how often that comes true. But no, it was left perfectly open ended and that made so happy. Could they become lovers? Maybe. Could they just be best friends who just found each other? Perhaps. And that was awesome because platonic male/female friendships are so rare in film. Usually, that connection you feel meeting someone for the first time is often written off as sexual or romantic in films. It’s refreshing to see that two people can be close without making out at the end.

Of course, her relationship with Raleigh is the start of a mile long essay I could write about Mako Mori. If anyone tells me she wasn’t strong, I want to ask if we watched the same film. Mako was smart, skilled, and a pure natural at piloting. However, she was ruled by emotions for better or worse and mixed in with her lack of experience, it made her vulnerable and human. Mixed in with the respect and love she has for her commanding officer and father figure, it made her feel less like a “strong woman” and more like an actual complicated human. There’s a great Tumblr post by MadLori about writing interesting women vs. strong women that sums up how I feel about Mako Mori. Would have I liked to have seen more women in this film? Oh hell yes. But having a female character that’s complicated and interesting instead of being just “strong” is a good start for me.

"It's not obedience. It's respect."

Then, of course, there’s the magnificent and extremely complicated Marshall Stacker Pentecost. Gods bless Idris Elba. Gods bless him for making Stacker be able to walk in a room and demand attention and respect. Gods bless him for being cool under pressure, but still vulnerable enough for us to see that Mako is his heart and that like any good father has a hard time letting his little girl go. And gods bless him for making that “Canceling the Apocalypse” speech the coolest thing ever instead of cheesy as hell. Because it could have been, but it wasn’t. And bless the casting directors for picking him instead of Tom Cruise for the part.

The second plot of the film deals with the science division of the PPDC trying to find a There is no Pepe Silvia!way to end the Kaiju attacks. Mostly with Charlie Day’s hysterical turn as Dr. Newton Geizler. Seriously. With a manic energy that reminded me of Jeff Goldblum, Doc Brown, and all four Ghostbusters, Newt was a legitimately funny character with the genius chops to prove why he was working for the PPDC in the first place. Mixed in with his delightfully antagonistic relationship with fellow scientist Herman Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) and his journey to find the mysterious and eccentric black market dealer Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman), it was fair to say that Newt stole the show. Well, Chau did a little as well, but Newt took it right back. I would see a whole movie of Day and Perlman being exasperated by each other in their own unique ways.

But with all this talk of characters, you’re probably wondering if I forgot about the robots punching the giant sea monsters. The answer is no, I didn’t. Every fight scene in this film is a giant love letter to giant monster films and giant robot anime. I had a big, doofy smile on my face watching the penultimate fight between Gipsy Danger and Otachi in Hong Kong and was on the edge of my seat in the finale, waiting to see if the humans would come out on top. If the whole film really had just been these giant robots punching vicious inter-dimensional undersea lizards to death, I still would have been satisfied with the film.

With a diverse cast (again, props to del Toro for putting the “Pan” in “Pan Pacific Defense Corps” and not making everyone white americans), amazingly done fight scenes, and a masterfully told story with great characters, Pacific Rim will probably be the most amount of fun you’ll have at the movies for the next few years. I left the theater feeling like a kid in a theme park wanting to go on the ride again. I want all the stories about this universe, but I mostly just want to watch it again.

Though, I will admit, after a week of playing Portal and Portal 2 in my downtime, I did expect the Jaeger AI to be a bit more passive aggressive. Or at least have a slow clap processor.

brb taking this to the atmosphere

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2013 in Film

 

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The Top 6 Albums of 2013 (So Far…)

Hello readers! Sorry for such the long wait between posts. Life has been rather busy for me for the past couple of months. So much to the point I haven’t seen a summer movie since Iron Man 3! I plan on correcting that this week though with the release of Pacific Rim and you can expect my review of that come Friday.

Today though, I will be talking about my favorite albums of the year so far. Some I’ve already talked about in various places, but all have been enjoyed in some form or another. Plus, with some great albums I haven’t heard yet, need to listen to a few times more, and ones yet to come, I want to mark the albums that have already come out that might be forgotten later.

I've paved my own way with some gravel and some wine.Honorable Mention: Gravel and Wine by Gin Wigmore

Oh, it kills me that I can’t put this higher on my list. I mean, I could , but the hair splitter that I am feels like it would be cheating since this album was only released in the US this year. It came out everywhere else in the world back in 2011. Still, Gin Wigmore’s brand of retro folk rock and roll has made me more excited than I’ve been in a long time about discovering a new artist. Part Betty Boop and part Loretta Lynn with a dose of whiskey and Coke, Wigmore’s Gravel and Wine is an energetic and emotional record about forging your own path after being defined by others for so long. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that producer Butch Walker has background vocals all over this record that are in perfect balance with Wigmore. If they ever did an album together, I’d be the first in line to buy.

Favorite Tracks: ‘Black Sheep’, ‘Man Like That’, ‘Sweet Hell’

6.) The 20/20 Experience by Justin Timberlake

Oh, how the prodigal son of pop returns. I would be lying if I sad I hadn’t been I'll be on my suit and tie shit.anticipating this day after years of watching Justin pursue acting and only sing with The Lonely Island and that one Timbaland song filled with terrible fast food puns. So naturally, the release of The 20/20 Experience was highly anticipated. I was a bit uncertain when I first heard ‘Suit and Tie’, but the more I warmed up to the song and the rest of the album, it was easy to see that it was a natural evolution from FutureSex/LoveSounds while calling in other influences. The long, almost orchestral pop tracks harken back a certain Prince groove while also pulling in influences from big band and classic R&B. I’m curious to see what Part 2 will bring from the cutting room floor, but the current Experience is pretty strong.

Favorite Tracks: ‘Mirrors,’ ‘That Girl,’ ‘Spaceship Coupe’

We all need some monsters...5.) Famous Monsters by  The Ford Theatre Reunion

Ford Theatre Reunion is not an easy band to explain to people who don’t know them. Hell, they’re not an easy band to explain to people who know them. They’re punk rock and metal, but also part klezmer and folk storytellers at the same time. I’m fairly certain that the band feeds off that cognitive dissonance to find new ways to trip up their listeners. I say that with all the love in the world for a band that will write satan@satan.satan on our email list. FTR’s latest release Famous Monsters deals with just that: monsters. About the fictional ones, the ones who will take them on, the very real ones that sneak into our lives, and how they’re very necessary to living. It is an extremely fun album that if you’re not paying attention too well, will sneak up on you with the horrors in the lyrics. Huh… I guess that makes Famous Monsters a monster in its own right.

Favorite Tracks: ‘The Ballad of Buffalo Jones,’ ‘Panzer Klaus,’ ‘Famous Monsters’

4.) The Devil Herself by Megan Jean and the KFBMister, can you tell if I'll be buried alone?

Speaking of monsters, here’s another album dealing with monsters in the most delightfully twisted way. I’ve already talked about this album at Steampunk Chronicle, but The Devil Herself is a wonderfully dark musical that deals with the supernatural and brings the supernatural into our boring lives. Megan’s bigger than life voice and Byrne’s folk accompaniment is what really drives it home and makes it the dark magic musical it is.

Favorite Tracks: ‘These Bones,’ ‘Skeletons,’ ‘Hometown Hero’

I'll attack you once, you attack me back!3.) Rated Heart by Professor Shyguy

Professor Shyguy calls him “the poor nerd’s Justin Timberlake” and for good reason. Writing some of the nerdiest dance songs ever heard, the good Professor backs it up with dance moves, high energy, and a sweet falsetto tenor that ties it all together. On his second album Rated Heart, there’s a lot of the same nerdy topics that range from hilarious to kind of heart-breaking, but there’s also a lot of experimentation. ‘Science, Life, & ABCs’ is mind blowing when you’re made aware of the formula behind the song, and ‘Keywords & Dubstep’ brings him into the world of EDM as he sings about memes and Youtube. Fun and extremely catchy, Professor Shyguy merges the worlds of geekdom and pop with ease.

Favorite Tracks: ‘Keywords & Dubstep,’ ‘Weak,’ ‘Destroy Metroid’

2.) Random Access Memories by Daft PunkI'm up all night to get lucky.

If you want to be a cynical bastard, you could blame Daft Punk for the current dirge of EDM. Coming before others with the highly acclaimed Discovery, it’s hard not to see how Daft Punk influenced so many electronic artists in this current age. Especially with their mostly electronic album Human After All. It was that influence that drove the French duo to go the opposite direction with Random Access Memories. Instead of creating a purely electronic album, Daft Punk dove into the archives of what influenced them and created a disco album. A gorgeous one that uses mostly live instruments and old school synth techniques. It is probably the most jarring release to come out this year, but also one of the biggest risks-big rewards that I’ve heard in a while. What other band could make a straight up disco track (that may or may not be about Mexican monkeys according to multiple sources) with one of today’s biggest producers on lead vocal and have it take over the airwaves? No one, that’s who.

(Though, if you’re missing the more electronic Daft Punk, go listen to ‘On Sight,’ ‘Black Skinhead,’ ‘I Am a God,’ and ‘Send It Up’ off of Kanye West’s album Yeezus. If you like Pharrell Williams doing what he does best, go listen to ‘BBC’ off of Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail and stop giving your money to ‘Blurred Lines’.)

Favorite tracks: ‘Get Lucky,’ ‘Touch,’ ‘Instant Crush’

1.) Save Rock and Roll by Fall Out Boy

I don't know where you're going, but do you have room for one more troubled soul?You saw this coming. I’ve had a huge blog post about this album as well as a ton of feelings on my Tumblr and in real life when I saw them at The Tabernacle. It’s just a damn good album that pushes Fall Out Boy’s own boundaries and brings the rock back to radio. To be honest, it might be on the top of my list at the end of the year, but Janelle Monae IS releasing The Electric Lady in September. We’ll see. Just drop every preconception you have about Fall Out Boy and go listen to that beautiful bastard of an album. You’ll thank me later.

Favorite Tracks: ‘Rat a Tat,’ ‘Save Rock and Roll,’ ‘Miss Missing You’

Well, that’s it for today’s post. Come back later this week when I’ll have my thoughts on Pacific Rim!

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2013 in Music

 

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