Love in the Villa Movie Review

Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous love stories in human history. William Shakespeare‘s tale of forbidden love set against a background of two warring families has touched generations of readers and romantics.

In the new Netflix romantic comedy, Love in the Villa, Julie Hutton (Kat Graham) is ready for the week-long vacation with her boyfriend to Verona, Italy. Instead, he decides that it is time for them to go their separate ways.

When Julie arrives in Italy, she discovers that the property she rented has been double booked. Charlie Fletcher (Tom Hopper) arrived at the home first and is refusing to find another place to stay. After they play a game of “top that” to force the other one out, they discover that they have a few things in common. Which of course, grows into a mutual attraction. But of course, there are barriers standing in their way.

Is it cute and charming? Yes. But it is also a little too predictable. That predictability comes from Julie’s GBF (gay best friend) and the return of both of their exes. I wish that the screenwriters would have transformed the narrative from hate to love a little sooner. It was also a bit too long. The last scene could have been cut down by a few minutes. I was almost wanting them to get together just so the movie would end.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

Love in the Villa is available for streaming on Netflix.

A Girl During the War: A Novel Book Review

It’s hard to lose a parent. It is ten times harder to lose that parent during war, when death and destruction are the new normal.

Anita Abriel‘s new novel, A Girl During the War: A Novel, takes place in Italy during World War II. Marina Tozzi is a young lady living in Rome with her widowed father in 1943. After he is killed for sheltering a Jewish artist, she escapes to a villa in Florence owned by a family friend. The city has become known for a homegrown rebellion against its German occupiers. Trained in art history, Marina uses her skills to help the partisans save her country and protect/hide artistic works from being taken to Germany. She also falls for Carlos, who lives next door to her.

When he disappears, she believes that their future life together was just a dream. Believing him to be dead, Marina moves halfway around the world once peace has been declared. Then she runs into Carlos and everything she knew turns upside down once more.

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I loved this book. Abriel, as she did with her previous novels, takes both the readers and the characters on a heart-pounding journey. I was immediately drawn into this world and taken by the hand into a story of a young woman who comes of age in a time that would test the toughest of souls. In a sense, her survival and her fight are ours as well. It is a reminder that we can fight against fascism and hate. We just need to heart, the brains, and the balls to do so.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

A Girl During the War: A Novel is available wherever books are sold.

One Italian Summer Book Review

The loss of a parent at any age is difficult. It is harder when you are close to that parent.

Rebecca Serle‘s new novel, One Italian Summer, was published earlier this month. After years of battling cancer, Carol Silver has succumbed to the disease. No one is more devastated than her daughter, Katy. They were more than mother and daughter, they were best friends. Carol was the one who Katy turned to when she needed advice and support.

Matters are made worse by the potential cancelation of a trip to the Amalfi Coast in Italy that they had been planning and the possible break up of Katy’s marriage. Needing a break from everything, she decides to make the trip alone. When she arrives at her destination, Katy starts to feel Carol is still with her. Walking in her mother’s footsteps, she visit the same places Carol had been to thirty years ago.

Walking into her hotel one night, she sees her mother standing in front of her. But this Carol is not the woman Katy saw in the hospital bed. This Carol is young and healthy. Katy has to decide if she will only remember the woman she knew or get to know the younger woman who has no clue as to what the future holds.

To say that this book is amazing is an understatement. It’s a story of grief, hope, love, and finding yourself in the midst of the storm of loss. What made it special was the slight but super important science fiction element of the narrative that made it more than just the story of a daughter losing her mother.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

One Italian Summer is available wherever books are sold.

West Side Story Movie Review

Regardless of whether or not one is a fan of Broadway musicals, they are likely to at least know of West Side Story. To make a long story short, it is Romeo and Juliet taken from Italy in the 16th century and put down in New York City in the late 1950s.

The reimagining opens as San Juan Hill, a neighborhood in Manhattan, is being torn down to become what we know today as Lincoln Center. Not surprisingly, the residents of this neighborhood are people of color, immigrants, and low-income Caucasians.

The Montagues and Capulets have been replaced by two warring gangs of young men, fighting to retain unofficial control of what is left of their neck of the woods. Riff (Mike Faist) is the leader of the Jets, who are all White. Bernardo (David Alvarez) is the leader of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. Though he has a career as a boxer, he is equally concerned with protecting his family and his fellow Puerto Ricans.

Their fates are changed when Maria (newcomer Rachel Zegler) and Tony (Ansel Elgort) meet at a dance. Maria is Bernardo’s younger sister. Newly arrived in NYC, she is both idealistic and stubborn. Without their parents, the only maternal influence she has is Anita (Ariana DeBose), Bernardo’s girlfriend. Anita is spicy, whip-smart, and is eager to take advantage of the opportunities that lay before her. Tony is Riff’s best friend and his former second in command. After spending a year in prison, he wants more from life than being a hoodlum.

As the two fall in love and envision a life together, their relationship is tested by the violence around them. If they could get those closest to them to find a way to get along, Maria and Tony could have a chance at a future. But as lovely as that idea is, it will take a miracle to make it happen.

Kudos go to director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner. They took a chance on remaking a classic and succeeded. What makes it stand out from its 1961 predecessor is both the casting of Latinx actors and the understanding that socio-economic issues, politics, and racial strife is the backbone of this narrative.

The deliberate decision of seeking out and hiring performers who are from Latin America or of Latin American descent adds a feeling of authenticity that is missing from the original film. Even Rita Moreno, who is also Puerto Rican (Anita in the 1961 movie and Valentina, the co-owner of the pharmacy and widow of the late pharmacist in this adaptation) had her skin darkened.

If there is one performer who stands out, it is Rachel Zegler. In her first on-screen role ever, she shines as Maria. Her voice is absolutely stunning. Most young actors start out as background players or in small roles, slowly building up their resume. To come out of the gate in the lead role in a major movie and blow everyone away shows that she has nothing but a bright future ahead of her.

This narrative is as timely and powerful as it was sixty years ago. The problems have not changed, they just have different names and different faces. If nothing else, it reminds the audience that we have two choices. We can continue to figuratively shoot ourselves in the literal foot, or find a way to work tother.

Though it clocks in at a little over two hours, it is worth sitting through.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

West Side Story is presently in theaters.

Beyond the Ghetto Gates: A Novel Book Review

A woman’s brain is a fearsome thing to behold. Especially when she is not afraid to use it.

Beyond the Ghetto Gates: A Novel, by Michelle Cameron, was published last spring. The books tell the story of two different women. Though they are separated by religion, they are brought together by fate and the French invasion of their home city of Ancona, Italy.

Mirelle is Jewish and like all Jewish residents of the city, she lives in the ghetto. Though she has a mind for numbers, it is inconceivable that she could join her father in the family business. Her only goal, as she is told over and over again, is marriage. She could agree to say “I do” to the older and wealthy businessman that everyone is telling her to marry. Mirelle could also run away and elope with her French Catholic lover, but the consequences of such a union would be disastrous.

Francesca is Catholic and lives in the Christian part of Ancona with her husband and children. To say that he is not Prince Charming is an understatement. When he gets involved with the wrong crowd and helps to steal a miracle portrait of the Madonna, Francesca has a hard choice to make. She could do her wifely duty and support her husband, even when she knows what he did was wrong. Or, she could speak up and create trouble for herself.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I was drawn in by the premise of the novel, the well drawn characters, and the detailed description of the world late 18th century Italy. I also loved the ending, which is atypical for the genre. But if there is one major flaw in the narrative, is that the romance. It is supposed to be the high point of the story, but it falls flat.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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