The Crown Season 5 Review

For four seasons, Netflix‘s The Crown has pulled back the curtain to tell the story of the Windsors.

Season five premiered last weekend. Taking place in the 1990s, it dives into the personal and professional troubles of the late Queen Elizabeth II (Imelda Staunton) and her family. Standing stalwart beside her is her now-late husband, Prince Philip (Jonathan Pryce), and late sister Princess Margaret (Lesley Manville).

Among the issues that the Windsors are dealing with are the failing marriages of three of the Queen’s four children. As we all know now, the “happy” union of the former Prince Charles (Dominic West) and the late Princess Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) has reached its breaking point. Returning to the arms of his ex, the former Camilla Parker Bowles (Olivia Williams), he is torn between duty and love.

This season is amazing. Among the main cast, Staunton and Debicki are the standouts. Staunton perfectly follows in the footsteps of her predecessors, Claire Foy and Olivia Coleman. Debicki’s performance as Diana is award-worthy. If I close my eyes and just listen to her, I almost expect that it is the real person, not an actor playing a part.

The only thing that we have to remember is that this is not a documentary. The show is fiction. Some of what we are watching has been made up and not based on actual events.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

The Crown is available for viewing on Netflix.

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The Empress Review

At the end of every fairy tale, the prince and princess walk into the sunset and live happily ever after. While we would like to believe that this is true both in fiction and IRL, reality and fantasy are two different things entirely.

The new six-part Netflix series, The Empress, is the story of Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Played by Devrim Lingnau, the expectations for her life are direct and clear. She is to marry an appropriate man and bring children (preferably) boys into the world. At the age of fifteen, Elisabeth (known to those closest to her as Sisi), meets her future husband. Franz Joseph I of Austria (Philip Froissant) is supposed to be betrothed to her older sister.

Instead, they fall madly in love and marry eight months after their first meeting. While in the glows of newlywed bliss, both Franz and Elisabeth are trying to find their footing. She is unaware and unprepared for the constricted and controlled life of an Empress. Franz is balancing married life, his job (so to speak), and his overbearing mother Princess Sophie of Bavaria (Melika Foroutan).

While all of this is happening behind palace walls, a revolution is rumbling within the working and lower classes. Fed up with poverty, low wages, and being ignored/disrespected, they are agitating for their rights.

I enjoyed the series. Though Sisi is not as well known as some of her contemporaries (i.e. Queen Victoria), it is a fascinating coming-of-age story. Rebellious, headstrong, and a bit naive, she has no idea of the rough road ahead of her.

My only issue is that there are some elements that are too modern for the period.

Other than that, do I recommend it? Yes.

The Empress is available for streaming on Netflix.

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.

Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist Review

One of the beauties of the internet is that it opens the door to opportunities that do not exist in our immediate communities. This includes the possibility of new romantic partners that we would have otherwise not met. The problem is that is impossible to sometimes tell what is fact and what is fiction.

Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist is the first season of a new Netflix series of sports documentaries that delve into high-profile scandals. This two-part documentary is the story of Manti Te’o and the girl he thought he was dating. About ten years ago, Te’o was a star player at Notre Dame and thought he had it all.

He almost had it all. The piece that was missing was the lie about his girlfriend. He didn’t know it at the time, but Te’o was being catfished. When the news hit the press, it nearly broke him emotionally and threatened his career with the NFL.

Wow. I was blown away. I felt so bad for Te’o. He is clearly a good guy who wanted to be loved and deserves love. I also felt bad for the person on the other end of the profile. They were lonely and needed someone to talk to. Unfortunately, that need morphed into Frankenstein’s monster and created a much larger problem.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist is available for streaming on Netflix.

Look Both Ways Movie Review

We never know how our decisions will impact the path we take in life. The only thing we can do is make lemonade with the lemons we have been given.

The new Netflix movie, Look Both Ways, follows Natalie (Lilli Reinhart). On the eve of her college graduation, Natalie sleeps with her friend Gabe (Danny Ramirez). At a party a few days later, she takes several pregnancy tests. The narrative then diverges into two separate stories: one in which she is pregnant, and another in which she is not pregnant.

In the scenario in which Natalie is pregnant, she stays in Texas. Co-parenting with Gabe, she does the best she can to raise their daughter and gives up her dreams in the process. In the scenario in which she is not pregnant, Natalie moves to Los Angeles with her best Cara (Aisha Dee). Working at her ideal job under Lucy (Nia Long), she starts dating Jake (David Corenswet).

This film is a sweet romantic comedy about accepting yourself and what life has thrown at you. Natalie is certainly a character that is relatable on multiple levels. She knows what she wants, but she also knows that she has to live in the real world.

What made it stand out is that Natalie lives in the real world, not some rom-com fantasy that is so fantastic that it is impossible to believe that it’s real.

Do I recommend it? Yes

Look Both Ways is available for streaming on Netflix.

Wedding Season Movie Review

Weddings are wonderful. The coming together of two people who are ready, willing, and able to what will hopefully be a lifelong commitment is inspiring. It can also be complicated for singles, reminding them of the fact they do not have a significant other.

The new Netflix romantic comedy, Wedding Season, was released on August 4th. Asha (Pallavi Sharda) has no interest in dating or getting married anytime soon. Neither does Ravi (Suraj Sharma). That does not mean that their parents and their larger Indian community believe the same. To ward off pushy parents and nosy neighbors over the course of a summer, Asha and Ravi pretend to start dating.

As it happens with this narrative arc, Asha and Ravi genuinely fall for one another. But when truths are revealed, they will have to make a choice: go their separate ways or forgive what has previously remained unsaid.

This film is cute in a good way. It sort of reminds me of My Big Fat Greek Wedding because it both embraces and pushes off the traditional boundaries of the genre. Asha and Ravi balance each other out nicely. Asha is a Type A and Ravi is a go-with-the-flow type of person. Though the audience knows where the story is going, the predictability level is not as bad as it would seem to be.

The chemistry and believability of the lead actors as a possible couple are excellent. What makes it stand out from other stories of this nature is the world it is set in and the nature of the conflict. While both Asha and Ravi respect their families, they are trying to do their own thing in a culture that is very traditional and does not do well with change.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Wedding Season is available for streaming on Netflix.

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Never Stop Dreaming: The Life and Legacy of Shimon Peres Documentary Review

Dreams sustain us when everything seems dark. Without that light and that hope that dreaming provides, what we wish for will always seem far away.

The new Netflix documentary, Never Stop Dreaming: The Life and Legacy of Shimon Peres tell the story of the late Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres. Born in a small shtetl in Eastern Europe in 1923, Peres and his family immigrated to what was then British-controlled Palestine in the early 1930s. When the modern state of Israel was created in 1948, he joined the newly formed government and over the decades, rose up and down in the ranking of leadership.

His story is both the story of Jews in the 20th century and Israel as we know it to be today. He faced political challenges that are universal and unique to the region. Above all, he believed that peace and co-existence with the nation’s Arab neighbors are not unattainable goals. Though they were not achieved within his lifetime, Peres opened the door for future generations of Israeli leadership to follow in his footsteps.

Narrated by George Clooney, this narrative is about a dreamer who was also realistic. Peres knew what he wanted the future to look like. At the same time, he understood that it would take work, courage, and being open to new possibilities to get the job done.

What I took away from the film was that dreaming is a good thing. But without getting your hands figuratively dirty, the image in your mind will remain just that. That inspiration crosses all boundaries and perhaps provides the lift we need to get off our buts and do what we need to do.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Never Stop Dreaming: The Life and Legacy of Shimon Peres is available for streaming on Netflix.

A Call to Spy Movie Review

Espionage has been a tactic of war for a millennium. Spies have as much power in changing the outcome of the conflict as much as any soldier on the battlefield.

A Call to Spy is a 2019 World War II movie that is based on the true story of three female British spies whose work helped the Allies to win the war. Virginia Hall (Sarah Megan Thomas) is an American woman who lost the bottom half of one of her legs in a hunting accident. Noor Inayat Khan (Radhika Apte), of Indian Muslim descent, was one of the first female radio operators to be sent behind enemy lines. Leading them is Vera Atkins (Stana Katic) was born to a German Jewish father and a British Jewish mother and one of the few women in a position of authority. Leading them all was Maurice Buckmaster (Linus Roache).

I really enjoyed this film. Though it told the story of these three specific women, there were many more who gave up their safety and their lives for the nation. It is a well-written, dramatic, and powerful tale of bucking expectations and in doing so, saving the world. What I really liked was that our three protagonists are all different, providing a vision of the future in which we all have opportunities, regardless of race, religion, background, etc.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

A Call to Spy is available for streaming on Netflix.

Persuasion Movie Review

Life doesn’t always give us second chances. There are some opportunities that are firmly in the past. Then there are others that do come again. We can either let it slip through our fingers or go for it.

The new adaptation of the Jane Austen novel of Persuasion was released last week on Netflix.

Anne Elliot (Dakota Johnson) gave up the love of her life eight years ago. The daughter of a minor aristocratic family, she was convinced that Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis), a poor sailor was not good enough for her. Now in her late twenties, Anne is still single and pining for what could have been. Frederick has returned to her circle. He is now wealthy, a respected war hero, and a catch, according to the eligible young ladies.

Will they be able to make peace with the past and have the life they were meant to have, or will they once more go their separate ways?

This version is not all bad (well, it’s mostly bad). I loved the color-blind casting. The best performances in the film came by way of Richard E. Grant as Sir Walter Elliot and Henry Golding as Mr. Elliot. Johnson’s accent was not bad and she had decent chemistry with Jarvis.

The main problem is the lack of tension. What makes the narrative is the emotional wall between Anne and Frederick that slowly crumbles over the course of the narrative. That wall came down a little too quickly for my taste. The other problem is that it was turned into a rom-com (which it is not) and the use of modern slang. By the time we get to the letter, the buildup that would normally be there is a pittance of what it should be.

While I understand that the filmmakers wanted to make it palatable to non-Austen fans, they stripped away too much of the original text. This Anne Elliot is closer to Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse. Personality-wise, Anne is a complete 180 from both Elizabeth and Emma. I admire Elizabeth and I get a chuckle from Emma, but Anne I get.

If I were to rank the various adaptations and Austen-adjacent filmed IPs, this Persuasion would be second to the bottom of the list. The only one that is worse is Austenland.

Do I recommend it? Not really. Just stick to either the 95 or 07 version. Trust me, you are not missing much. I would even go as far as to say that this is one of the worst films I have seen this year.

Persuasion is available for streaming on Netflix.

P.S. The anniversary of Austen’s passing was yesterday. She would be spinning in her grave if she saw this movie.

Anatomy of a Scandal: A Novel Book Review

There is no such thing as a perfect life. There are ups and downs, good times, and bad times. What matters is that we appreciate the good times and weather the bad times.

Anatomy of a Scandal: A Novel, by Sarah Vaughan, was published in 2018. Sophie Whitehouse has it all: two healthy and happy children, a solid marriage, and a comfortable life. Everything she knows is shattered by two major revelations. The first is that her politician husband, James, has just confessed to having an affair with a younger female employee. The second is that he is accused of raping the woman whom he has been sleeping with. Sophie appears to be standing by her man, but she is quietly questioning if he is telling the truth.

Holy shit, this book is good. My first exposure to Anatomy of a Scandal was the Netflix miniseries that was released earlier this year. As expected, there are changes between the novel and the screenplay. What I loved about the narrative is that it is the women whose voices we hear. Though James is at the center of the scandal, his perspective is secondary. In another writer’s hands, James would be the main character and the women around him would be reduced to a stereotype. What Vaughan has wisely done is make all of her characters thoroughly human while giving a spotlight to those who have been ignored in the past.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Anatomy of a Scandal: A Novel is available wherever books are sold.

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