“Enola Holmes” Puts A 21st Century Twist On Sherlock Holmes!

Sherlock Holmes is a name recognizable to virtually anyone, thanks to his longevity in both literature and countless film and TV appearances: so it’s understandable that many audiences will approach Netflix’s Enola Holmes (based on the popular book series of the same name) with the assumption that it’s just going to be a fun yet forgettable Sherlock Holmes spinoff. But give it a chance, and I think you may become so obsessed with the film’s intelligent, free-spirited heroine that you might just find yourself wishing for a bit more of her story to be told onscreen. It’s not that Sherlock (Henry Cavill) himself isn’t a major player in Enola Holmes, it’s just that…well, two can play the same game equally well, and Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown, also the film’s executive producer) is more than capable of matching wits with the great detective.

Enola Holmes
radiotimes.com

The film hooks you in early, setting the stage for the overarching mystery almost immediately and carrying our heroine on a fast-paced adventure through the English countryside all the way down to London’s bustling streets, giving us respites and occasional breaks along the way but never once derailing the main plot, as many mysteries are apt to do with a multitude of red herrings. Enola Holmes and her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter, marvelous as always and playing a boldly feminist character similar to her role in Suffragete) live in a somewhat dilapidated manor, where Enola spends her days honing her intellectual and physical skills – everything from reading entire libraries worth of fine literature to mastering the art of jujitsu – in an idyllic safe haven, far removed from the cruel outside world. In Enola and Eudoria’s home, everything is a fun, clever puzzle: in fact, Enola’s own name, backwards, spells out the word Alone – though Enola wryly notes that she might be looking too much into that, as her older brothers Sherlock and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) don’t share that little quirk. But most of the time we spend with Enola and Eudoria in their tranquil, carefree life is via flashbacks interspersed throughout the film at appropriate moments – because, from almost the moment the film opens, Eudoria is missing, and it is her sudden disappearance (on her daughter’s birthday, no less) that springboards the young Enola into the real world, armed with all the knowledge she has obtained from her homeschooling.

What makes Enola Holmes so darn likable, however, isn’t just that she can come up with a daring escape plan in a matter of seconds or take down an armed opponent while wearing the cumbersome fashion of her time period; it’s that she’s distinctly human – she’s nothing like her brother Sherlock, who has a reputation for being cold and emotionless (even in our world; so much so that the Arthur Conan Doyle tried to sue the makers of this film because their Sherlock portrayal was too emotional – and also because this version respects women too much, which, um…we’re not even going to go near that little tidbit of information). Because Enola breaks the fourth wall so frequently and with such humor and self-awareness (at one point even directly asking us, the audience, for ideas during a tricky moment), and because she’s free to make mistakes and slip up every now and again, it’s hard not to root for her – even, and perhaps especially, when her agendas don’t quite line up with Sherlock’s. It’s a testament to the strength of Enola’s character that I found myself actively wishing Sherlock would move aside and let his younger sister take the lead.

Enola Holmes
Sherlock & Mycroft Holmes | comicbook.com

It should be stated, however, that Sherlock Holmes’ portrayal here is very nearly as charismatic and compelling as Enola’s. Henry Cavill has quite possibly carved out another niche for himself in yet another franchise, one that I hope he intends to expand upon, if Enola Holmes gets a well-deserved sequel: his Sherlock is instantly familiar and yet so very different from what we’ve seen before – is that because, as has been mentioned, he has emotions and, indeed, respects women in this iteration of the character? Well, I think it might have something to do with that, actually. Cavill’s Sherlock tries hard to maintain his neutrality and facade of cold indifference, but it’s teased throughout the film that he has a certain vulnerability and warmth – something he’s really only ever able to reveal around his sister. Siblings supporting, respecting, and inspiring each other? You know I’m always here for that trope.

On the flip-side you have Enola and Sherlock’s other brother, the mustachioed Mycroft. He never quite twirls said mustache, but he’s the type of character who would if the opportunity arose: he’s deliciously despicable, the type of scummy, sneering elitist whose only motive is to make sure that the world stays firmly as it is. Eudoria’s wild spirit and Enola’s rebellious attitude are direct affronts to him, and he does everything in his power to try and dampen our heroine’s courage with attempts to “civilize” her and transform her into society’s image of a polite young lady of the Victorian era. Though there are several villains in the film, he’s the one who never fails to trip up Enola Holmes by playing on her insecurities and feelings of self-doubt – he’s the living embodiment of everything wrong and corrupt with the status quo, and the fact that he is so laughable and yet so seemingly omnipresent only goes to underline that point. Another key plot-point in the film is a reform bill that is set to go to a vote before the House of Lords – it’s only ever referred to as Reform, and that’s in part because the specifics are unimportant. It represents progress and the overturning of a commonly accepted system of government, and Mycroft Holmes, who expresses his disapproval for the very notion early on, is everything that stands in between us and achieving such radical Reform time and time again. We are still fighting Mycroft Holmes and his infuriating stance of neutrality in 2020: he is everyone screaming “All Lives Matter” in response to the notion that Black lives take precedence at a moment in time where they are the ones being singled out by police brutality and other forms of violence. In a world full of Mycrofts, be a Eudoria or an Enola.

Or be a Lord Viscount Tewksbury (Louis Partridge), who is one of the most surprising characters in the film. I say surprising because the trailer for this film made it seem to me that he was going to be utterly unbearable, with a bad case of “arrogant rich boy”. Quite the opposite: Tewksbury is a free spirit himself, and while, as an upper-class white male, he might personally benefit from the status quo, he nonetheless wants to change it and actively tries to do so. He’s also a mushroom forager and amateur botanist, which is absolutely charming and differentiates him from a long line of previous onscreen royals who spend their days casually maiming nature and wildlife rather than preserving or cultivating it – although, rather surprisingly, his encyclopedic knowledge of plants and flowers is simple a character trait; it has no relevance to the plot, which, considering that the mystery largely revolves around the language of flowers, seems like a missed opportunity.

Enola Holmes
cinemablend.com

Now I suppose I really ought to talk about the mystery itself since…well, Enola Holmes is a mystery. Thankfully, it’s a pretty good one: the trail of clues is maybe a bit too difficult to follow at points, and I might have enjoyed more in-depth scenes of clue-hunting that didn’t require so much backtracking (via flashbacks) to an event that we, the audience, didn’t actually see in real-time, but that’s a fairly minor complaint – it certainly didn’t affect my enjoyment of the movie. To counterpoint this complaint with a positive, one of my favorite things about the mystery is that it gets intense, and dark: the film’s villain (no spoilers!) is out to kill, and the fight scenes don’t hold back – Enola is a very convincing action heroine, whose wits and strength are well-balanced. And she makes for a very effective detective, not least of all because her breaking the fourth wall allows her to walk us through her process organically, rather than having to drop loads of clunky exposition, or, like the classic Sherlock, piece everything together silently in her head.

Her instant charm makes her the perfect candidate to lead her own franchise on Netflix, if you ask my opinion (you didn’t, but I offered it anyway because I’m shameless). The film leaves off with plenty of story still to explore…in a sequel, I hope? If Enola Holmes blossoms into a hit for the streaming service, I would love to see the fierce young detective continue to solve cases all around England – with or without the help of her older brother. Sherlock’s name recognition is still potent, and shouldn’t be discounted entirely, but I think – no, I know – that Enola Holmes is her own character, and she can manage just fine alone.

Rating: 8.5/10

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“Ammonite” Trailer Review!

Director Francis Lee managed to make the lives of English sheep-herders look downright sensual in God’s Own Country, so it’s somehow no surprise that his next feature film project, Ammonite, stars two 19th Century English paleontologists passionately courting each other in between long walks on the windswept beaches of Lyme Regis, searching for fossil fragments. Despite how seemingly bizarre the concept might be, it’s the chemistry between Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan (moving from one period piece, Little Women, to another) that is going to carry this film to what could easily be a slew of Oscar nominations.

Ammonite
Kate Winslet & Saoirse Ronan | wmagazine.com

Winslet plays an actual historical figure, English paleontologist Mary Anning, one of the most remarkable women working in science during her era: though she made numerous important discoveries during her lifetime, she was undermined at every turn by men who took her work and gave her little to no credit, and she suffered from financial difficulties until her death in 1847. To make ends meet, she opened a fossil and seashell shop for tourists – but the fossil-hunting business was surprisingly risky (she was nearly killed during a landslide on one occasion). Her hard work and perseverance eventually won her the respect she deserved after her passing. Ammonite follows her during her bleak later years. Ronan, meanwhile, plays Mary Anning’s younger apprentice, the real-life Charlotte Murchison, who suffers from “melancholia” and hates the sea, at least initially. The two women couldn’t be more different, but eventually find themselves falling deeply, hopelessly in love with the other. There is no concrete evidence that Anning and Murchison were lovers in actuality, or that either was a lesbian, as Ammonite suggests, but when the topic came up last year (after one of Anning’s distant relatives expressed her displeasure with the idea), Francis Lee wrote that: “After seeing queer history be routinely “straightened” throughout culture, and given a historical figure where there is no evidence whatsoever of a heterosexual relationship, is it not permissible to view that person within another context?”. Lee is correct that Anning never married, and is not known to have had any relationships with men, whereas her close and long-lasting bonds with the women in her life are well-documented.

Ammonite
Mary Anning | independent.co.uk

Whether Anning and Murchison were or were not lesbians and/or in love, Ammonite still looks like an excellently made film with a clearer vision and a tighter, more well-written story than God’s Own Country: and it’s sure to be a big hit amongst fans of the “cottagecore” aesthetic. For those unaware, “cottagecore” refers to the escapist fantasy of living harmoniously with nature by enjoying a simple life that can include past-times such as baking, gardening, knitting, and, yes, living in tiny cottages, and it is particularly popular with LGBTQ+ folks, especially lesbians and queer women. If there’s a “maritime cottagecore” subgenre of the aesthetic, then Ammonite conveys it perfectly: brisk walks along the beach; houses perched on cliffsides; lots and lots of fossils and shells (interestingly, although it’s never been confirmed, Mary Anning is sometimes said to be the inspiration for the “She Sells Seashells” nursery rhyme; just something to keep in mind); and, just as importantly, a lesbian romance. Those interested in learning more about “cottagecore” and its prominence in LGBTQ+ culture should definitely check out Rowan Ellis’ deep-dive into the aesthetic’s origins and meanings.

Ammonite
Twitter | @FilmUpdates

Basically, it’s a good time to be alive if you’re a fan of “cottagecore”, LGBTQ+ friendly content, historical fiction, romance, women in science, paleontology, geology, Kate Winslet or Saoirse Ronan (who isn’t a fan of Saoirse Ronan at this point?). Somehow all of those elements work together very nicely, and I’m excited to see if Francis Lee has progressed enough as a director (I really didn’t like God’s Own Country) that he can make this understated romance pop onscreen and attract all the media attention it will need to start a strong Oscars campaign. Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, a French film from last year which followed a very similar concept (two women meet on a beautiful coastline and fall in love while bonding over art) was a fan-favorite but failed to score even a single nomination from the Academy. Ammonite, luckily, has Winslet (an Oscar winner and six-time nominee) and Ronan (a four-time nominee) as its secret weapons. Fingers crossed that their fossil-hunting expedition proves fortuitous for everyone involved!

Trailer Rating: 9/10

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“The Umbrella Academy” Season 2 Review!

The first season of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy was, no questions asked, an exhilarating and entertaining ten hours of twists, turns and time travel. But the second season, which picks up mere moments after the season one finale and finds the seven members of the dysfunctional Hargreeves family split up throughout the 1960’s, takes the series to a whole new high: The Umbrella Academy elevates all the best elements of the first season, arriving at a delicate yet necessary balance between goofy, comic-booky fun and epic, emotional drama, while simultaneously working to revise or improve parts of the story that were heavily criticized, such as pacing issues and certain problematic character beats (ahem, romanticized incest).

The Umbrella Academy
Klaus, Allison and Vanya | denofgeek.com

When the season opened (turns out, the clip released by Netflix a few days ago and advertised as the first scene isn’t quite the first), I enjoyed a raw moment of catharsis because it felt so wonderful to be back, spending more time with these characters – each and every one of whom, with the obvious exception of Luther (Tom Hopper), is truly delightful. They’re each so unique, so independent, and so beautifully messed up. Their family dynamic is what makes the series click. And they thrive both on their own and as a team – which stands in contrast to season one, where many of their individual subplots felt meandering or aimless compared to the few and far between team-up moments. In season two, each member of the Umbrella Academy is going after their destiny with purpose and determination, making them each more compelling and significantly more dangerous, as their agendas clash repeatedly.

Once again kicking off the events of the season, Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) is, in my opinion, the most fascinating of our seven antiheroes: having successfully teleported the Umbrella Academy out of reach of the apocalypse at the end of season one, Five quickly realizes, with a little help from Hazel (Cameron Britton), that the end of the world is going to follow the Academy wherever or whenever they go. This time, it’s not Vanya Hargreeves with the white violin in the theater – it’s an impending Soviet invasion sparked by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Much like in season one, Five takes the initiative – hunting for clues across the timeline, doing his best to find his family and unite them, and colliding violently with the bureaucratic Commission – but this time around, he seems more personally invested in the fate of the world, and we watch as his frigid facade begins to crack under pressure and he has to resort to more uncharacteristic methods: for instance, hand-to-hand combat. We finally get to see the once-legendary killer in action, and his fight scenes (and there are several!) are well worth the wait.

The Umbrella Academy
Five | geektyrant.com

Second to Five but not far behind him is Vanya (Ellen Page), who has had a massive character overhaul since the season one finale. It’s hard to say too much without risking spoilers, but Vanya isn’t quite the same person she was when she blew up the moon and destroyed the world with her supersonic abilities. In fact, she’s actually kind of…happier? If I had to criticize, I’d even say she’s a bit too calm about everything that happened. That being said, while her portrayal in this season starts out a bit weak, by the finale she’s fully come into her own and is rocking a new personality and some cool new powers that I definitely can’t talk about. What’s not a spoiler is that Ellen Page gets to dance again this season, and Vanya actually has moves! Still a little awkward, but a definite improvement from the…disjointed shoulder shuffle.

Speaking of dancing, we have to go off-topic for a moment and talk about the soundtrack. I have my suspicions that it won’t be as instantly iconic as season one’s, which gave the series a reputation for setting all sorts of scenes to absolutely random yet brilliant songs, but there’s still a lot of hits. A lot. I want to highlight Daniela Andrade’s “Crazy” and Boney M.’s “Sunny”, which plays over an unforgettable Klaus (Robert Sheehan) scene.

The Umbrella Academy
Klaus | variety.com

Back on topic, just like that. Klaus and his ghostly companion Ben (Justin H. Min) arrive in the decade before any of their siblings and have the most time to ease seamlessly into the 60’s. Klaus, predictably, gets entangled with a cult and somehow becomes their leader and nonsensical prophet, a duty with many perks which he later regrets as the cult starts following him obsessively around Dallas. But the zaniest Umbrella Academy member isn’t just there for comedic relief and drug-fueled, psychedelic hijinks; he also nails every dramatic character beat he gets. Ben does too, but all of Ben’s best scenes count as spoilers.

Then there’s Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), whose relationship with Vanya was arguably the thematic core of season one. She’s just as much in the spotlight here, leading an entire Black community into the civil rights campaign alongside her new husband, Raymond (Yusuf Gatewood), who is thankfully not her brother – no matter how many times Allison might claim that she and Luther aren’t “technically” related, I’m with Klaus on this one: once you have to use the word “technically”, there’s already a problem. But Allison’s biggest issue isn’t her brother anymore: it’s her superpower, which she has to refrain from using, even when it would be so easy to use it to get whatever she wants, from free clothes to equality to vengeance.

Surprisingly, I have to say Luther was my next favorite, but that says more about how little I liked Diego (David Castañeda) this season than it does about any radical improvements from the Umbrella Academy’s emotionally stunted strongman. If there is one highlight in the character’s portrayal, it’s that he’s mostly comedic relief now. And I’m happy to report that the series doesn’t try to excuse or apologize for the fact that he subjected his own sister to permanently damaging physical, mental and emotional abuse: he gets called out several times for his part in causing the apocalypse. I think I may have just enjoyed seeing him get constantly beaten down, walked all over and blatantly ignored whenever he tried to roll out the usual spiel about being the Number One and the leader of the family. Is that mean? I love to hate him: that’s better than just hating him, right?

As for Diego, well, the truly unattractive new hairstyle isn’t the only problem with his character. One of my favorites from season one, he slowly but inevitably sank to the bottom of my list over the course of season two, thanks to being the only character still saddled with a self-inflicted hero complex. What makes Diego tolerable is that whenever he’s onscreen, he’s usually accompanied by his love interest, the enigmatic Lila (Ritu Arya), a fellow patient at the mental hospital where he’s been imprisoned. Lila’s role is crucial to the season and the series going forward, but again those pesky spoilers get in the way of us talking about any of that.

The Umbrella Academy
Ben and Klaus | syfy.com

Amongst the rest of the supporting cast, the standouts are Marin Ireland as Sissy – a charming Texan farmwoman who has dreams of making a great escape from her married life – and Colm Feore, who reprises the role of Sir Reginald Hargreeves: but as a younger, even more nefarious version of the character. Viewers won’t learn everything about his history from this season, but they will get some tantalizing glimpses of who he really is, and what his plans for the Umbrella Academy were all along.

This season might seem to initially lack a strong presence from the villains, since the guy from the trailers with the fishbowl head is only in a couple of scenes and the trio of Swedes are mostly annoying obstacles rather than fully developed characters (though if you didn’t enjoy the Swedish rendition of Adele’s “Hello” on the soundtrack, I don’t know what to say to you), but that changes once another character comes on the scene. And the villains show up in full force for the finale, so don’t worry.

The Umbrella Academy
Vanya | cosmopolitan.com

The Umbrella Academy season two leaves off with a definite hook for a third season – and since I imagine that this season will be eaten up by audiences, I think we’re going to get that third season as soon as possible. This started out as one of those series’ that I liked but felt a little embarrassed for liking so much: now, I don’t have any hesitation about saying that The Umbrella Academy is a masterpiece. It’s got the cool visuals and the thrilling action you want from a superhero story, but it’s got a lot more than that: it’s got heart, soul, and wit in equal measures, all tied up in one perfect package. That package also comes with a killer soundtrack, meme-worthy humor (Klaus’ parable of the scorpion and the frog being my favorite example), and a whole lot of weirdness – what’s not to love?

Series Rating: 9.5/10

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“Hamilton” Film Review!

What is there to say about Hamilton that hasn’t now been said a million times before in the five years since the musical phenomenon burst onto Broadway? In those five years, Hamilton, the story of one of America’s most influential Founding Fathers, has sparked a mini revolution of passionate conversation about American history; inspired a dedicated fandom; and now, on the anniversary of America’s Declaration of Independence, made the long-awaited jump from stage to screen. There was never any doubt that this moment would be huge: Disney paid a hefty sum of $75M for the rights to the musical, and it’s already right up there with The Mandalorian as one of the most high-profile original productions that Disney+ has to offer. But the outpouring of support for the film is still incredible to see: yesterday, the day of its release, Hamilton and a slew of other hashtags related to the musical were among the top trends of Twitter, and people (like myself) flooded social media with our reactions. Amid all the talk, what is there left to say?

Hamilton
nytimes.com

Well, the fresh new format in which the musical is being presented is cause enough for conversation; though, unsurprisingly, it’s not quite as interesting a subject for many as, say, the story or world-famous soundtrack. The movie was filmed over the course of three days, with cameras placed in the audience during two live performances of the show, before moving onstage to achieve a more cinematic experience – no easy feat, I’m sure, considering how many dancers are often crowding the stage, sometimes so many that we lose sight of our main characters (one of only a few flaws in the actual staging of the musical). Overhead shots are utilized in a number of scenes, particularly for duels. And extreme close-ups bring us nearer to the actors’ facial acting than was ever possible before, even for front-row audiences: from Daveed Diggs’ repertoire of eye rolls and dramatic sneers as a quirky, flamboyantly dressed take on Thomas Jefferson; to the spit flying from King George III‘s (Jonathan Groff) mouth as he sings his breakup song to America, assuring them they’ll come back to him once they’ve had their fun.

Diggs and Groff are among a number of standouts in the supporting cast who surround Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) on his journey from poor immigrant to cornerstone of early American government. Diggs, notably, is one of several actors with two or more roles in the musical: before he transforms wholeheartedly into the fast-rapping character of Jefferson for the rousing second act, he is no less hilariously charismatic as the Marquis de Lafayette, America’s ally from across the Atlantic. Anthony Ramos is both Hamilton’s close friend John Laurens during the Revolutionary War, and then later his son Phillip (though the latter role is probably the more interesting of the two, I personally found Ramos to be more fun in the first, and I can’t wait to see him star in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights next year: if coronavirus hadn’t moved the film from its original June 26th release date, these past few weeks would have been a showcase of Lin-Manuel’s musical talent; but then again, if coronavirus hadn’t struck, we would still have been waiting until October of next year to see the Hamilton film on the big screen).

Hamilton
standard.co.uk

In the next tier (not in terms of talent, but based on how close they are to Hamilton) we have Christopher Jackson as the indestructible, untouchable George Washington, whose role as a mentor and something of a father figure to Alexander Hamilton is pivotal to the entire story. There’s Angelica Schuyler (Renée Elise Goldsberry), one of Hamilton’s many lovers and the most dynamic, at least initially, of the three Schuyler sisters. And of course we have Leslie Odom Jr., who brings plenty of fiery passion to the somewhat underwritten character of Aaron Burr, an ambitious political candidate forever walking unwillingly in the shadows of larger-than-life figures; the man whom history will forever paint simply as the villain in Alexander Hamilton’s story. And isn’t that the whole theme of the musical? It’s a story about the power of legacy, and how powerless we are to define what that is; as George Washington notes, you have no control over “who lives, who dies, who tells your story”.

The woman who tells Alexander’s story and who, in my humble opinion as a first-time viewer, seems like the understated heroine of the piece, is Eliza Hamilton (Phillipa Soo), Alexander’s wife and later his biographer. Her personal journey, running parallel to Alexander’s lofty dreams, may seem small and inconsequential to some: but in the end, she is the woman still alive fifty years after her husband’s death, still sifting through his writings and trying to piece together a more complete picture of the man, continuing the work on the garden he never saw bear fruit, on the symphony he left unfinished. Hamilton is really a story about people like Eliza, the people who will tell our stories when we’re gone, if we’re lucky enough; whose own stories often get overlooked amid all the heated discourse about their subjects. And Lin-Manuel Miranda isn’t really a modern day Alexander Hamilton, but he is a modern day Eliza, taking back control of a narrative that rarely if ever finds a place for the marginalized, but using this opportunity to uniquely inspect the story of America’s foundation through their eyes: the eyes of immigrants, the Black community and people of color, women, radical thinkers. Through embellishing the story with song and liberally picking and choosing which parts of Hamilton’s life story to adapt, Miranda is exercising his own right as a creative and a chronicler to reinvent Hamilton once again for a more modern audience. It’s hard to tell how Eliza herself would react to all the fame and glory she and her husband now enjoy – but one would hope that, like her musical counterpart, she would gasp in joy and awe at the audience gathered to witness her husband’s legacy in motion.

Hamilton
npr.org

And then there’s Alexander himself: it’s hard to find many faults in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s performance, though it’s easy (and, in fact, important) to see the flaws in the complex character – apart from the historical fact that the real Hamilton was willing to stay silent on the issue of slavery whenever it suited him, the musical’s more liberal version of Alexander hurries through life, too concerned with his future to savor the present, too obsessed over protecting his legacy to be worried about what cost his actions have on those he loves. Alexander himself recognizes this and even sings about it on several occasions (most notably in “The World Was Wide Enough”), but once again it is Eliza who illustrates this point most brilliantly, in “Burn”, a heart-rending number sung in response to the devastating Reynolds Pamphlet scandal.

While we’re on the subject, my favorite subject, I want to highlight several of the songs which made the biggest impressions on me, at least during this viewing – first of many, I hope. Much to my surprise, neither “The Room Where It Happens” nor “Alexander Hamilton”, despite being the two most instantly recognizable songs from the show, would probably crack my top ten if I had to rank them all. “Burn”, my favorite off the entire soundtrack, draws our attention to the gaps in the narrative with its cleverly-constructed lyrics; George III has three catchy songs, each following the same melody, starting off with the sassy, self-righteous “You’ll Be Back”; Hamilton and Jefferson’s rap battles, particularly the first one, are exceptionally witty; and “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”, the final song in the musical, gives the story an appropriately epic send-off, reminding us once again that the legacies we leave behind are never truly ours and ours alone, but belong just as much to the people who survive us, who keep those legacies alive long after we’re gone.

In conclusion, I doubt I’ve managed to say anything truly new about Hamilton, but what I hope is that by lending my voice to the conversation I can help to draw further attention to this rare achievement in American theater. This show may look like a scrappy, low-budget historical reenactment, but what it lacks in spectacle it more than makes up for in passion and unquestionable cultural impact.

Movie Rating: 9/10

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“Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season 7, Episode 4 Review!

SPOILERS FOR AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. AHEAD!

Waves were made on last night’s episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the resulting ripples will probably dramatically affect everything that happens during the rest of the seventh and final season of the long-running series. S.H.I.E.L.D., HYDRA and a host of time-traveling Chronicoms meet and clash in a three-way battle centered around the life of one man – legendary S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), whose mission to deliver dangerous Russian technology to Howard Stark (MCU namedrop!) puts him on a collision course with death.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Daniel Sousa | bustle.com

But while HYDRA – and HYDRA’s leader Wilfred Malick (Neal Bledsoe), the very same one whom the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. reluctantly rescued in 1931 – wants Sousa dead because he knows the extent of their infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Chronicoms want Sousa dead because…well, actually it’s still a little unclear why they want anything…the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. quickly make the decision that they want to save Sousa’s life. It’s a bit of a dramatic heel-turn for Director “Mac” (Henry Simmons), who was fervently against killing Malick in the 30’s, and in the absence of any better explanation I’ll just assume that Mac came to the conclusion that he was outnumbered: Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) and “Yo Yo” Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) both make it very clear in this episode that they support altering the timeline, while Deke (Jeff Ward) goes back-and-forth right up until the moment when he meets Wilfred Malick again for the first time since literally saving his life, only to realize that the man he was so adamant about rescuing then has predictably transformed into a tyrannical killer over the past two decades.

Yes, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are still stuck in the 1950’s, and this week’s episode is filmed entirely in black-and-white to reflect that: Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) narrates the episode like a cheerful, quirky private investigator in a classic murder mystery – delivering exposition in a way that feels fresh and fun, while also providing seamless scene-transitions. This is truly a Coulson episode: from his first scene, handcuffed to a desk and musing on his predicament, to the revelation that he swapped places with Daniel Sousa on the night of Sousa’s imminent assassination, letting Sousa live while simultaneously cleverly deceiving HYDRA – the version of Coulson we’re seeing in this season, while still an LMD (Life Model Decoy), is nonetheless abundantly more entertaining than the “evil Coulson” who befriended and later betrayed the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the sixth season. And of course, he’s still alive by the end of this episode because no matter how many bullets HYDRA fires into him or how lifeless he may look while floating face-down in a pool, he’s a robot and thus nearly invincible. We actually haven’t seen anything yet that has posed any physical threat to him – his challenges have been mental and emotional so far.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
denofgeek.com

Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) is facing similar issues, and we even get some much-needed answers to why she’s been acting so unusual these past few episodes. Turns out, she may have lost her own ability to feel emotions in the season 6 finale, but she gained the power to feel others’ emotions when they’re near to her. Last week, we saw her abruptly panic during the attack on Area 51, which apparently was caused by everyone around her panicking. This week, while standing next to tech genius Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) onboard the Zephyr One, she suddenly gets uncharacteristically giddy about science – and later, in Sousa’s vicinity, she gets freaked out, mirroring his own reaction to seeing the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents’ sleek, futuristic aircraft. It’s unclear how large a role her new abilities might play in the rest of the season, but I’m intrigued. Considering how emotionless the villainous Chronicoms have been shown to be, I wonder if May could possibly tap into what little humanity they have. After all, we know some Chronicoms are capable of feeling – just look at Enoch (Joel Stoffer).

In fact, we get a glimpse at Enoch’s new life during this episode, when Coulson enlists him to essentially be S.H.I.E.L.D.’s phone operator. It appears that Enoch hasn’t changed much in the two decades since getting stuck out of time, though the bar he works in has been redecorated. I’ll be interested to see if we follow his subplot through the rest of the 20th Century – the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. appear to be headed to the 1970’s after their next time jump, judging by the use of Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” to close out the episode.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Daniel Sousa | meaww.com

There are several big twists, of course, but the biggest one by far is the fact that Daniel Sousa actually survives and ends up on the Zephyr One by the end of the episode – and even gets an offer from Coulson to essentially join the team on their final mission. Coulson, in fact, has the best line in the episode while inducting Sousa into the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. family: “Welcome to life after death. I’ll tell you all about it.” If Sousa does serve as a team member (and at this point, I don’t know if he has alternatives), we could see him in the final showdown between S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA, whenever that is. The post-credits stinger shows HYDRA and the Chronicoms teaming up to take out S.H.I.E.L.D., with the Chronicom leader bringing Wilfred Malick up to speed on everything that’s happened.

That can mean only one thing: S.H.I.E.L.D. is in for a lot more trouble in the near future (well, technically the past, I guess). As long as the series continues to serve up this kind of quality content, I’m good with that. It was about time some waves were made.

Episode Rating: 9/10

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“The Old Guard” Trailer Review!

In the first trailer for her upcoming, action-packed Netflix thriller The Old Guard, Charlize Theron brings her star power, intensive martial arts skills obtained from a career of similar projects, and her talents as a producer – and the result looks fresh, innovative and exciting.

Already, comparisons are being made to Chris Hemsworth’s recent thriller Extraction, which debuted on the streaming platform to a record-high view count. The Old Guard would be lucky to enjoy even half of that film’s success, but I’m personally hopeful – and confident – that Theron’s take on a Netflix thriller, working with a more experienced director, will be miles ahead of Extraction in terms of quality: and whereas the former film drew criticisms for what many perceived as a glorified white savior narrative and stereotypical portrayals of Southeast Asian people and culture, The Old Guard doesn’t appear to have any such problems just yet – the cast is authentically diverse, and the film highlights several different cultures from all around the world.

How could it not? The plot of the film revolves around a group of five soldiers from various historical time periods who are unable to die naturally or be killed. Led by Charlize Theron in her new role as battle-axe wielding warrior Andromache of Scythia (who now goes by “Andy” in the modern world), the team also includes Marwan Kenzari, Aladdin‘s Jafar, as a Medieval Muslim warrior who appears to have fallen in love with his former opponent, a Crusader played by Luca Marinelli. Matthia Schoenaerts rounds out the group as a Napoleonic soldier. But the team’s newest recruit, a U.S. Marine named Nile Freeman, is the character who sets the plot in motion, as the audience surrogate with whom we first encounter this strange, close-knit group of battle-hardened immortals. Freeman is played by KiKi Layne, who is moving quickly towards mainstream stardom – and hopefully, after a couple more roles like these, toward the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where she is my first choice to play the mutant goddess Ororo Munroe.

The Old Guard
vanityfair.com

But the Old Guard doesn’t just have to look out for the newest member of their team – now, they also find themselves hunted by the powers-that-be, who want to weaponize their rare ability and use it to create entire armies of immortal soldiers. Chiwetel Ejiofor, here playing a CIA operative with a passion for history, leads the villains from the sidelines, but hopefully he has a chance to get in on the action as well. Still, one gets a sense of brooding menace from several scenes in the trailer – particularly one in which Andy, after realizing she was accidentally caught in a passerby’s selfie, has to swipe the person’s phone and delete the photo. As she explains to Nile, the technological advancements of the modern world make it harder than ever for the Old Guard to remain a secret: and the longer Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character knows about her, the longer he poses a threat not only to their existence, but to the fate of the world itself.

As one would expect, there’s a ton of action: much of it utilizing weaponry one doesn’t typically see in a thriller, including the aforementioned battle-axe, and Kenzari’s character’s scimitar. For me, being somewhat of a military history buff, this looks like my kind of movie: guns, grenades and even bazookas can get repetitive after a while, but an ancient Greek warrior swinging a battle-axe? That never gets old.

So what do you think? Are you intrigued by the film’s premise, or are you just here for one particular member of the Old Guard team? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below.

Trailer Rating: 8/10

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“Hollywood” Review!

I never reviewed The Politician, Ryan Murphy’s last big, melodramatic Netflix spectacle. For the record, I thought it was actually fairly good – a bit oddly paced, but not a bad series to binge-watch, and it was bolstered by a last-minute cameo from Bette Midler which served as setup for that series’ upcoming second season. But I made the choice not to officially review it, and, occasionally, I regret that decision. I will not make that same mistake with Murphy’s Hollywood, all seven episodes of which dropped on the streaming service yesterday. And that’s because Hollywood isn’t just a soapy drama about cutthroat political activists trying to outsmart each other in a Californian college campus Game Of Thrones – it actually is saying something. It has a hard time saying that something, a lot of the time, and it basically takes a sledgehammer to its own message, but it is trying. It is important, which The Politican never was, in my opinion.

Hollywood
footwearnews.com

It’d be hard to miss what that something is, to be quite clear, considering that, to put it nicely, the story’s themes are unmistakably interwoven into the plot (to put it not quite so nicely, the theme is a giant neon sign flashing in your face every couple of seconds, from beginning until end). It’s a good theme, thankfully: basically boiling down to the idea that movies and media can change the world, and that that’s why representation in those areas matters, because introducing audiences to what they would think of as “radical” ideas – such as, for instance, a black actress starring in a Hollywood blockbuster, or two men walking down the Oscars red carpet hand-in-hand – can help, subtly, to undermine bigotry and forms of prejudice wherever they lurk. In fact, it’s a really good theme – representation is something I have always tried to fight for, using what little platform I have, because I too understand the power of movies and TV. It’s the way in which Murphy goes about expressing this theme – by looking at an alternate reality in which a small group of diverse, idealistic dreamers and free-thinkers worked to radically change the structure of Hollywood in the late 1940’s or early 50’s, placing women, LGBTQ+ individuals and people of color in charge of the corrupt studio system – that can feel uncomfortably idealistic, as if Murphy is diminishing the stories of the real-life heroes and heroines who fought for social justice and equality in favor of his fictional cast. Murphy does get it right on multiple occasions, but it’s a very mixed bag, as you’ll see.

The series’ greatest asset is its all-star cast, which makes it ironic that its greatest weakness is its refusal to trust in their talents. Instead, an all-too-large number of scenes lean on clunky, hammy dialogue and monologuing, even though the actors delivering said dialogue are perfectly capable of conveying what they’re being asked to say with simple looks and gestures. Murphy’s fictional cast got the memo – one character in the show even directs her star to act with his eyes rather than using excessive hand-flailing – but somehow his real cast didn’t. For instance, one particularly cringy scene (which, let me emphasize, is cringy not because of what’s being said, but because of how it’s being said) involves a main character, black actress Camille Washington (Laura Harrier) turning to her white costar Claire Wood (Samara Weaving) and telling her “I don’t need you to fight my battles for me”, after experiencing racism from an auditorium usher. Such a sentiment could easily have been spoken with a single, meaningful glance: but the unnecessarily stilted language makes the scene fall flat, meaning that the good message gets lost or overshadowed. Far more powerful are the tense, largely silent scenes of diverse families across America tuning into an Oscars ceremony via radio to hear the winners announced, waiting through long lists of nominees (something Murphy gets right is poking fun at the ceremony for its excessive length and slow, pondering pace) to hear the names of their favorite movie-stars.

Hollywood
elle.com

Speaking of the stars, let’s talk about them. David Corenswet’s Jack Castello, despite being a lovable and charming character, is, as a straight white male, probably not the best choice to lead a series that (a) aims to be all about diversity, and (b) has plenty of diverse supporting talent who could easily have been upped to the lead role: Laura Harrier, for instance, is often sidelined despite having the intriguing responsibility of playing a character playing a character playing a character, and many of her most exciting opportunities for development never even happen on camera – for instance, Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel (Queen Latifah) counsels the young actress at one point to fight a tooth-and-nails campaign for her first Academy Award, which sounds like it would be a lot of fun to watch and pretty empowering: but we never see it. Michelle Krusiec plays Anna May Wong, a Chinese actress who, in real life, lost out on a pivotal lead role in The Good Earth to a white actress who would go on to win an Oscar for the part: Krusiec’s take on the historical figure is promising in the first couple of episodes, and she’s set up to be a major character – but then she just disappears into the background cast. Other members of the ensemble include Darren Criss as white-passing, half-Filipino director Raymond Ainsley; Jeremy Pope as an idealistic young black, gay screenwriter named Archie Coleman; Jake Picking as closeted gay actor Rock Hudson; and Patti LuPone as Avis Amberg, the Jewish wife of a movie mogul (played by Rob Reiner in just three epiodes) who unwillingly settles into a position of power after her husband has a heart attack, only to discover she has a talent for business – Amberg’s small group of advisors, most notably Joe Mantello’s Dick and Holland Taylor’s Ellen Kincaid, are also lovely additions to the cast, and bring a good deal of genuine warmth and good-natured humor to the series. But I’d be lying if I said that one of my favorite cameos, for purely personal reasons, wasn’t an unexpected performance by The Lord Of The Rings‘ Billy Boyd as one of many closeted gay film executives at a party where we also meet notable Hollywood celebrities such as Tallulah Bankhead and Vivien Leigh (the former portrayed as flighty and fun-loving, the latter as a woman struggling with bipolar disorder).

So the cast is fantastic, of course. So is the series’ production design, costume design, cinematography – everything feels historically accurate…well, except for the actual story. If you ignore everything else, the series is actually a really fun look into the workings of the studio system, and what went into the casting process, and the making of movies. And there’s plenty of fun references to contemporary events and characters – one character derides Disney’s Song Of The South for its racist overtones; we meet the editor who secretly stowed away a copy of The Wizard Of Oz with the iconic “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” musical number intact after a producer insisted it be cut from the film; former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (Harriet Sansom Harris) shows up to make a characteristically memorable speech; the movie that Raymond Ainsley and his crew are making is a story about Peg Entwistle, an actress who committed suicide by throwing herself from the H in the Hollywoodland sign – though I find it very strange that, despite how prominent the story is and how frequently it gets referenced, despite the fact that the movie crew even builds a giant version of the H for their film set, despite the fact that the series intro even features all the main cast frantically climbing the Hollywoodland sign…in all seven episodes, no one actually attempts to commit suicide by jumping off the H. They build the entire set, and no one so much as threatens to climb to the top. I call that a wasted opportunity.

Hollywood
stylecaster.com

But now for the bad. In any story about Hollywood, #MeToo issues have to be brought up, and this series has a peculiar, even disturbing way of handling them. Jim Parsons delivers an unquestionably good performance as predatory talent manager Henry Willson, but that’s also part of the problem – he is unquestionably good. No matter how many times he sexually assaults and abuses his clients, manipulating, demeaning and blackmailing them, preying on people powerless to stop him, he is always portrayed as a good character, someone who finds himself on the right side of history because…why? Because he has a sob story that he monologues to Rock Hudson? Is that seriously all he had to redeem himself? Not to give away too many spoilers, but the fact that this series has the audacity to end with the resolution of Henry Willson’s storyline is repugnant: did no one behind the scenes think about what they were doing? Did no one stop and realize that the series cast also includes Mira Sorvino, herself an outspoken victim of sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein? Did no one think before making Henry Willson a major, sympathetic, character in a story about fighting Hollywood’s corrupt system? The fact that the jury is (at least according to some historians) still out on whether or not the real Willson actually abused his clients possibly makes it even worse: because that means Murphy made the choice to depict Willson a sexual predator in his series, and still decided to redeem him.

It’s an especially upsetting situation sad because so much of Hollywood is actually good and important: especially right now, with setbacks occurring every day.  Representation in mainstream media is crucial, if we are to progress as a society – watching Hollywood reminded me of that, not only because we need more quality content with messages like the one in this series, but also because we need more quality content that doesn’t willfully undermine its own message by inexcusably apologizing for sexual abusers.

We’ve gotten to the point where a black woman can, potentially, win the Oscar for Best Lead Actress in a major studio production – but only one, Halle Berry, ever has, in the ceremony’s entire history. We still have a long way to go before it happens again, and I don’t know if a romanticized, fictionalized look into the past is the best way to ensure that it ever will.

Series Rating: 6.3/10

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“Self-Made: Inspired By The Life Of Madam C.J. Walker” Review!

Netflix’s Self-Made is a mere four episodes long, and each episode is under an hour long, but somehow never once feels too short or too fast-paced: in fact, at multiple points while watching the miniseries, I found myself mistakenly thinking I had watched more episodes than I really had. And that’s because there’s a lot of material in this show – because, shocker, the story of Madam C.J. Walker, America’s first self-made female millionaire and a pioneer in black history, is actually just as fascinating as the oft-repeated tales of rich white men. Who’d have guessed?

Showrunner Kasi Lemmons doesn’t just focus on all the defining moments of Madam C.J. Walker’s life either: while the series does center around this incredible woman’s rise to fame and fortune and the legacy that outlasted her, Lemmons also finds time to turn the spotlight on two equally interesting women who circled the Madam during her life: her daughter A’Lelia, who became a fixture of Harlem culture during the 1920’s; and Addie Monroe, a fictional character heavily based on Madam C.J. Walker’s real-life business partner and later rival, Annie Malone.

Madam C.J. Walker
thewrap.com

These three women each find themselves using different tactics and strategies to navigate through early 20th Century America, but it’s Madam C.J. Walker, a St. Louis laundress who starts out the series having just been abandoned by her abusive, alcoholic husband, who comes out on top, rising to prominence as the leading creator and seller of hair and beauty products for black women. From her humble beginnings as the daughter of former slaves to sharing a scene with another Gilded Age tycoon, John D. Rockefeller himself (who offers her some characteristically unhelpful advice on how to deal with workers’ strikes), the Madam is portrayed as a woman determined to make a name for herself and find independence and purpose in what was almost exclusively a man’s world. Octavia Spencer, of course, delivers a fantastic performance, bringing out Madam C.J. Walker’s humor, big heart, and fiery determination: though the series could easily have depicted the Madam as an invincible character breaking down the patriarchy one business deal at a time (and indeed, the idea is tempting, never more so than when our heroine challenges the noted activist Booker T. Washington over his sexist views), it instead succeeds because of how it shows her as a woman with ordinary flaws and weaknesses, as well as incredible strength. This is most apparent when it comes to her relationships with her family: from her husband, C.J. Walker, who has some…difficulty…being anything less than the Walker family’s sole breadwinner; to her father-in-law, who somehow manages to be the funniest character on a show that also stars Tiffany Haddish; to Haddish’s A’Lelia, Madam C.J. Walker’s daughter and closest confidante.

A’Lelia is a brilliant, larger-than-life figure alongside her more reserved, steely mother. She kind of has to be: A’Lelia became most famous later in life for her contributions to the arts as a patron of black musicians, artists, writers and other creatives. The series spends a considerable amount of time following A’Lelia as she come to terms with the fact that she doesn’t share her mother’s dreams, and simultaneously discovers her true calling. But she and her mother clash a number of times as they diverge on how to establish a legacy for the Walker company and family. This situation is made more volatile when it becomes clear that A’Lelia is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, who has no interest in settling down with a husband or having children.

And then we have Carmen Ejogo’s Addie Monroe, a character who, as I previously noted, is based on Madam C.J. Walker’s actual business rival. Though she initially comforts and cares for Walker (back when the Madam was still only destitute Sarah Breedlove, doing chores for Monroe in exchange for hair-growth treatments), she quickly parts ways from her former friend after Walker expresses an interest in helping Monroe sell her product – which Monroe, a light-skinned African-American woman, thinks will destroy her public image. But when Walker’s own products outsell Monroe’s and threaten the latter’s business, the rivalry between the two entrepreneurs forces them to think up bigger, bolder plans for their companies, until they both become obsessed with trying to outsmart each other.

Madam C.J. Walker
relevantmagazine.com

But in the end, even though Monroe is still mostly a villainous character, she’s also a businesswoman just like The Madam – and a theme prevalent in Self-Made is that when one woman succeeds, all women succeed. It becomes the cornerstone of Walker’s career, and we see its effects near the finale of the series during a montage (which is strongly reminiscent of an infomercial, but I’ll let that slide) of various women who break the fourth wall to talk about the ways that Walker inspired them to pursue their own dreams and forge their own paths in life – interestingly, there’s a fair bit of fourth wall breaking in the series: for instance, the events of the first episode are intercut with a scene of Walker and Monroe battling it out in a metaphorical boxing match. This is one of the series’ few questionable creative decisions, since it seems to have no real impact other than to make the aforementioned infomercial ending organic rather than jarring.

Apart from that, the series has impeccable production design, cinematography and, of course, hair and makeup (“Hair is power,” Walker declares in one scene: and she couldn’t be more right). Kasi Lemmons and her team have done an excellent job bringing this historical heroine’s life story to the screen in a way that makes her feel very much alive, and just as monumental as any of the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Carnegies.

So what did you think of Self-Made? Share your own thoughts and opinions in the comments below!

Series Rating: 9/10

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“Little Women” Non-Spoiler Review!

A century and a half has passed since Louisa May Alcott first set pen to paper and sat down to write the semi-autobiographical story of four sisters’ journeys towards adulthood, but the tale of the “little women” is still just as relevant and iconic nowadays as it was back in 1868. And visionary director Greta Gerwig has lovingly (and masterfully) crafted an adaptation of Alcott’s classic that is not only faithful to the original book, but more in line with both modern sensibilities and Alcott’s own feminist philosophy than any previous iteration.

"Little Women" Non-Spoiler Review! 1
latimes.com

Gerwig has, first and foremost, chosen to tell the story in a non-linear fashion: while this decision may confuse the unwary (which is why I’m warning you in advance), it is a conscious choice that enables Gerwig to have what are essentially two stories simultaneously playing out onscreen, linked through flashbacks, flash-forwards, and what some may view as a bit of fourth-wall breaking – one story being the first half of the novel Little Women, covering the March sisters’ adolescence and happy, hazy childhood, awash in golden lighting; the other being the novel’s latter half, the grimmer, bleaker post-Civil War era, in which the March sisters have all grown up and gone their separate ways, and heroine Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) is beginning to more closely resemble Alcott herself. But while this might at first appear to be a narrative trick to keep the story compelling, it becomes clear in the film’s final minutes that there’s a shockingly exciting reason for the non-linear structure, one that will make Gerwig’s Little Women a topic for debate for many years to come. Keep your eyes peeled, for Gerwig drops plenty of clues and hints as to what’s coming in the finale, but you still might be caught off-guard if you’re not looking – or you might even miss it altogether.

Little Women is beloved because of its cast of extremely relatable and interesting characters, many of whom are best known to movie-lovers through the 1994 adaptation of the novel that starred Winona Ryder as the rebellious, free-spirited heroine, and a young Christian Bale as her love interest, charming, carefree Laurie. But Gerwig’s Jo and Laurie are slightly more modernized than the prim and proper couple of that film: Laurie, here excellently portrayed by rising star Timothée Chalamet, is a gentle, easygoing, and somewhat gender-neutral character who feels like the perfect soulmate to Saoirse Ronan’s socially awkward but passionate Jo – neither is entirely comfortable within the constraints laid upon them by their gender, but neither can do anything but fight the system in small ways – whether that means marrying for love or trying to establish their own place in the world. To reinforce the essentially gender-fluid relationship between the stars, Gerwig even had Ronan and Chalamet swap articles of clothing onset in order to break down the boundaries between them.

Personally, I’ve always been a huge fan of Jo March: it’s sort of a mandatory thing, I think, for most writers. We love her not just because of how sympathetic her daily struggles are, but because of how she chooses to use the written word as a weapon in her fight – hers is a pen far mightier than any sword.

"Little Women" Non-Spoiler Review! 2
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But Gerwig also allows the other March siblings to have their chance to shine: romantic, idealistic Meg (Emma Watson) is finally given a leg to stand on in her ongoing struggle with her character’s critics and detractors, who have always claimed she’s the least feminist of the sisters, and the most outdated in this modern age. Petty, vainglorious Amy (Florence Pugh) is actually respectable in Gerwig’s film – yes, she’s still a brat, but she’s also forced to grow up too quickly and bear a heavy burden upon her shoulders; she’s the only one of the March sisters who has a chance of marrying well, and for women in Alcott’s era, marriage was a woman’s only respectable method of achieving success. Amy’s speech to Laurie in which she details all the ways in which marriage is nothing but “an economic proposition” is one of the film’s most powerful scenes. Then there’s poor Beth (Eliza Scanlen), who is crucial to the story’s plot but still never quite rises above being the shy, pious outlier in the group without very much to say or do.

On the sidelines, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep have small but excellent performances as Marmee and Aunt March, respectively. Streep, especially, is a delightful addition to the cast with her biting wit, passive aggressive humor, and dainty mannerisms. Louis Garrel has the thankless job of portraying Professor Friedrich Bhaer, one of the most purposefully disappointing characters in Alcott’s novel, but he plays the role as well as he possibly can.

"Little Women" Non-Spoiler Review! 3
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Little Women is also an exceptionally beautiful film, with a myriad of dreamy, pastel-colored scenes that look almost like they leaped straight from the painter’s canvas onto the big screen (a special shout-out goes to cinematographer Yorick Le Saux, who apparently had the camera follow the Marches like a “fifth sister”, dancing and twirling with them on their youthful frolics and adventures, giving the audience a chance to feel even more connected to the close-knit cast). The production and costume design are superb: every detail of the March family’s dark, cozy homestead and every accouterment of high-society Parisian fashion is lovingly crafted.

Greta Gerwig deserves the Oscar for Best Director, and the fact that just this morning it was revealed that she is one of a multitude of talented women not on the Academy Awards shortlist for that honor is a travesty. What she has designed, directed and delivered is a love-letter to both Alcott’s novel and to Alcott herself, who was forced to play a part all her life and sacrifice her artistic freedom. A century and a half later, Gerwig has finally done justice to this author’s work in a way that seemed almost unimaginable to me, going into the theater. Little Women is an instant classic, despite how hard Hollywood will try to ignore or downplay this incredible work of art.

Movie Rating: 9/10

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Bee Gees Biopic In Development At Paramount!

I’ve gotta get a message to you, dear film-aficionado: get your fancasts ready, jive to the sweet sounds of 70’s pop, and rejoice – the Bee Gees, one of the world’s most beloved and recognizable music groups, are finally getting their own movie. Following the huge success of films like Bohemian Rhapsody (the Academy-Award winning Queen biopic), and Rocketman (the Academy-Award hopeful and Elton John biopic), and the promise of more to come (a…Boy George biopic?), the Bee Gees, whose personal lives are a dramatic and compelling story of triumph and heartbreak, accompanied by an upbeat disco soundtrack, were inevitably going to end up on the big screen at some point – nonetheless, it’s very exciting to see it happen in the lifetime of Barry Gibb, the last surviving member of the band (Maurice died in 2003 of medical complications at the age of 53, while Robin died from cancer in 2012, aged 62).

Bee Gees Biopic In Development At Paramount! 4
bbc.co.uk

It’s also exciting that Paramount will be the ones to make the film. While that’s not entirely surprising (they are, after all, the studio that brought you Rocketman, mentioned above), it is especially fitting since it was a Paramount movie, Saturday Night Fever, that helped to turn the Bee Gees into the household name they are today: the film’s soundtrack, for which the group wrote iconic songs such as “Stayin’ Alive”, became the best-selling movie soundtrack of all time upon its release in 1977 and, in the words of music supervisor Bill Oakes, “breathed new life into a genre that was actually dying”. And now, perhaps because of that fateful union of film and music, the Bee Gees themselves will be stayin’ alive in the memory of filmgoers for years to come. It brings a tear to the eye, that’s for sure.

Paramount has bought the rights to the story of Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb, and all of their music, and Bohemian Rhapsody producer Graham King is already attached to the film. So, while Paramount searches for a writer and director, it’s time for us fans to start considering who should be cast in the lead roles (since, obviously, that’s the most important question). Share your suggestions in the comments below!

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“The King’s Man” Trailer Review!

The first trailer for Matthew Vaughn’s The King’s Man was an impressive, if wildly inaccurate, depiction of the First World War, and a veritable rogues gallery combining some of the most legendary criminals and heroes of the era into one high-stakes, epic adventure. It looked fun, a little ridiculous, and charmingly British. So how does the second trailer hold up?

Pretty well. It doesn’t do much to add to what we’ve already seen, and unfortunately there’s no big reveal – no new historical figure waiting to be turned into a ninja super-spy, that is. Even the stinger is just a mildly amusing joke about parachutes. But we do get some tantalizing glimpses of the characters we already know will be in the film.

Rasputin, obviously, is the big bad: he’s seen bewitching or poisoning Alexei Romanov, the Tsarevich of Russia, and battling British agents in the gilded halls of Moscow or Saint Petersburg. As I noted in my review of the first trailer, there’s no mention made of the famed princess Anastasia, but at the rate things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised if she turns out to also be a gifted martial-artist, code-breaker or military strategist. Vaughn is not wrong to choose Rasputin as a villain for his movie – Rasputin was a mysterious and frightening force in Russian politics, and his genius, whether mystic or mundane in origin, won him a place in the history books as a master manipulator, and a charismatic religious leader – but he should be cautious when playing so lightly with the very real, very tragic story of the Romanov Dynasty.

We get quick looks at our main characters fighting these historical figures in a variety of different locales – from the snowy streets and balconies of Russia to the streets of Sarajevo, the trenches of the Western Front, the Oval Office, and the manors of merry old England, retrieving ancient, magical artifacts and using high-tech gadgets. Kingsman is a franchise that has always wanted to be Indiana Jones or James Bond for a new generation – and The King’s Man could be the closest they ever get to achieving that. I know I’m excited to see this movie, even if it’s just so I can nitpick and shake my head at the willful distortion of historical events.

So the second trailer might not do much to increase my anticipation, but it doesn’t do anything to change my opinion on the film either, and that’s a good thing at least. Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 5/10

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“The Aeronauts” Trailer!

Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, who portrayed married geniuses Stephen and Jane Hawking in The Theory Of Everything, are sharing the screen once again; again, in a historical setting, even if this one is rather more heavily fictionalized than the account of the Hawkings’ life.

The first trailer for Amazon Prime Video’s new film, The Aeronauts, has just dropped, giving us a first look at the usually mild-mannered Redmayne and Jones as toughened meteorologists and pilots fighting for survival high up in the atmosphere. Redmayne, technically speaking, is playing a real-life person, James Glaisher, but it doesn’t seem that much of Glaisher’s actual life experiences are being transferred over to the medium of film. The Aeronauts follows Glaisher’s famous 1862 ascent in a hot-air balloon to the height of…well, nobody knows for sure how high he went, because he actually passed out on the way, but it could have been anywhere from 8,800 to 10,900 metres above sea level. This film, however, is embellishing the story with incidents like unforeseen storms, freezing temperatures, and possibly even an explosion judging off how tattered the balloon looks by the end of the trailer, when we see Redmayne slipping from his perch and (possibly?) tumbling into thin air. Leaving all that aside, they didn’t even attempt to make Redmayne physically resemble Glaisher at all: where are the enormous sideburns? Where is the beard that wraps around the underside of the chin for whatever reason?

Additionally, the film has taken the liberty of inventing Felicity Jones’ character, pilot Amelia Wren, entirely. Female representation is never a bad thing (unless done badly), and this movie is already so fictionalized, it doesn’t really matter. Wren could be based on Glaisher’s eventual wife, Cecilia Belville, a well-educated woman who pursued a career in the sciences, specifically as an artist. As far as I know, however, she never stepped foot in a hot-air balloon in her entire life. In reality, it was Henry Tracey Coxwell who accompanied Glashier on most of his flights, but he appears to have been excised from this adaptation.

All this is not to bash on the movie: the film, regarded on its own, actually looks quite good, and the focus on just two characters, trapped in dire circumstances at the top of the world, running out of oxygen and food, will surely create tension and chemistry between these incredible actors. I also love history and historical fiction (in doses), so this movie looks like something I might enjoy greatly, even if it does play loose-and-fast with some facts. I hope others will give it a shot, and make this another win for Amazon Prime Video.

Will you? Does the premise of The Aeronauts interest you, or is it too fictionalized? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 7/10

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