The narrative of a stranger in a strange land is one of humanities oldest stories.
Outlander (based on the books of the same name by Diana Gabaldon) premiered on Starz back in 2014. In post World War II Scotland, former British military nurse Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) is enjoying a second honeymoon with husband Frank (Tobias Menzies). Then somehow, she is sent back two hundred years in the past. In order to survive, she marries Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan).
Can she return to her own time and if she can’t, what changes must she make to adapt?
I am presently about 2/3rds of the way though the first season. Though I never read the books and cannot make any comparisons to the series, I am enjoying it. It has elements of the different genres that play well together to create a story that is engaging and very entertaining.
One of the major conflicts over the course of human history is between the working class and the ruling and/or wealthy class.
The English Game premiered on Netflix earlier this year. Written by Julian Fellows (Downton Abbey), this six part series tells the story of how football (soccer for us Americans) became the sport it is today. In 1879 England, football is a game played by amateurs. The teams are made up of members of the upper class who are well, overprotective, of the game.
When they are confronted with other teams who come from the working class, the conflict becomes more than football. It represents the idea that the traditional social hierarchy is changing. Those who were born on the lower end of the hierarchy are no longer content to remain where they are. They want a piece of the action, so to speak, and are more than willing to fight for their rights.
Representing the upper classes is Arthur Kinnaird (Edward Holcroft). Standing up for the working men and women is Fergus Suter (Kevin Guthrie).
I enjoyed watching the series. Though it is a BPD (British Period Drama), the narrative is not the standard BPD narrative. It tells the story of a time in which the world was changing and the forces it took to create that change.
I recommend it.
The English Game is available for streaming on Netflix.
Our college years are for many, the formative years of our lives. The transition between young adulthood and adulthood, these four years will forever have an impact on the rest of our lives.
Barry premiered in 2016 on Netflix. In 1981, future President Barack Obama is an undergrad at Columbia University in New York City. While dating fellow student Charlotte (Anya Taylor-Joy), he is faced with the existential crisis of figuring out who he is as a human being. As one of the few students of color who is dating a white woman, he is the recipient of subtle and not so subtle reactions. If that was not enough, the lack of a relationship with his father weighs heavily on his decisions.
I really enjoyed the movie. We all know the man who was President for eight years. The introduction of the the younger Barack Obama was a revelation. I don’t know about anyone else, but college was not just about the education and the degree. It was about the emotional experience of growing up and figuring out who I am on my own terms.
His journey in this film hit home because I remember going through the same things when I was in college.
The myth of King Arthur has existed for thousands of years. From a writing perspective, the good thing about myths is that it open to a variety of interpretations.
Cursed premiered last weekend on Netflix. Based on the comic book by Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler, the series follows Nimue aka Lady of the Lake (Katherine Langford). On the verge of adulthood, she, like many girls in their late teens or early 20’s, thinks she knows it all. With dark magic in her blood, she is persona non grata to those around her.
Then the Red Paladins destroy her village and kill her mother. The Paladins have an end goal of ethnically cleansing the land of Fey (magical non-humans) and their supporters. Charged by her dying mother to take an ancient sword to Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgård), Nimue starts on a journey that will change her fate. Among those who join her on the journey are the brother/sister duo of Arthur (Devon Terrell) and Morgana aka Morgan le Fay (Shalom Brune-Franklin).
*Note: I have not read the comic book, so the review is strictly based on the series.
I enjoyed this non-traditional retelling of the King Arthur tale. I enjoyed it because while it is still familiar, it is not the same story that has been repeated for thousands of years. The main reason it works is that it is told from the female perspective with an eye on expanding a woman’s role in this world. In the traditional Arthurian myth, there are two distinct types of women: the love interest/damsel in distress (Guinevere) or the evil witch bent on taking power (Morgan le Fay). Boxed into these stereotypes, these women are not allowed to more than a one note character.
The other reason it works is that the world is turned upside down. Merlin is not the wise, old Obi-Wan Kenobi type whose sole task is to mentor the future ruler. He is old, but his life and his choices are complicated.
It also helps that the casting is both gender and color blind, reflecting both the world that exists within the narrative and the real world of the audience.
Madam C.J. Walker (Octavia Spencer), was given the name of Sarah Breedlove at birth. Born just two years after the end of the Civil War, her early life was difficult. Working as a laundress to take care of herself and her daughter, Lelia (Tiffany Haddish), her fate changes when she meets Addie (Carmen Ejojo). Addie is a successful hairstylist who offers to help Sarah with her hair in return for free laundry.
When Sarah shows that she has a skill for sales, Addie turns her down. This leads Sarah, who will soon be known as Madam C.J. Walker down the path of starting her own business. But, like any new business, there are pitfalls. Sarah’s 3rd husband, Charles James Walker (Blair Underwood) appears to be accepting of his wife’s non-traditional choices. There are also betrayals and Addie’s constant attempts to bring Sarah down once and for all.
I enjoyed this miniseries. It was a history lesson without feeling like a history lesson. As we look to the past and voices who previously have been silenced or minimized, this series highlights the accomplishments of those who rightly deserve the limelight.
I recommend it.
Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker is available for streaming on Netflix.
Comic books/graphic novels are not just juvenile forms of literature. They have a way of introducing audiences to new concepts and new characters that might not exist in traditional literature.
The Old Guardpremiered last night on Netflix. Based on the comic book by Greg Rucka, the movie tells the story of a group of immortal warriors. Led by Andromeda/Andy (Charlize Theron), they have remained in the shadows for thousands of years. Their cover is nearly blown by the newest member of the group, Nile (Kiki Layne). While they are dealing with the newbie, Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is eager to learn how these warriors have maintained their immortality.
Before I saw the movie, I had not heard of The Old Guard. My review is solely based on the movie.
As a female viewer, this is my ideal narrative. Andy is not the traditional female character, especially for this genre. She is clearly in charge, but is also empathetic. She is additionally, also not straddled with the standard romantic/damsel in distress narrative that are forced upon female characters.
I also appreciated the diversity in the casting choices. I wish that more creative teams would be color and gender blind, choosing the performer solely on their performance and not on their physical appearance.
That being said, the movie was merely ok. It was somewhere in between underwhelming and not a bad way to spend two hours of my movie watching time.
Do I recommend it? Maybe.
The Old Guard is available for streaming on Netflix.
To some, the Holocaust is ancient history. In 2020, we have more pressing problems to occupy our time with. But the Holocaust was only 80 years ago, and the issues from that era are as prevalent now as they were then.
#AnneFrank-ParallelStories is one of the newest releases on Netflix. With a voice-over by Helen Mirren, this documentary tells the story of Anne Frank while telling the stories of other women who are among the few to have survived. While Mirren reads from Anne’s diary, the audience follows a young woman as she travels across Europe, asking questions that frankly, need to be asked.
I’ve seen many Holocaust films over the years. What makes it different is that it hard-hitting, emotional, and squarely aimed at the younger viewers. If I have walked away from this movie with one message, it is that we have a chance to ensure that the Holocaust in any variation never happens again. That requires asking difficult questions and learning from the mistakes of our predecessors.
I recommend it.
#AnneFrank-Parallel Lives is available for streaming on Netflix.
Bringing the main characters to the screen are Sophie Grace (Kristy Thomas), Momona Tamada (Claudia Kishi), Malia Baker (Mary Anne Spier), Shay Rudolph (Stacey McGill), Xochitl Gomez (Dawn Schafer), Vivian Watson (Mallory Pike), and Anais Lee (Jessi Ramsey).
I started watching initially for the nostalgia factor and was immediately sucked in. Though I was watching with adult eyes and adult experiences, my former thirteen year old self was watching it with me. It was still the BSC I knew and loved, but with a modern sensibility. I think what makes it feel like BSC with a 2020 twist was the casting. Choosing non-white actors for the roles of Mary Anne and Dawn was a brilliant decision. It was also a brilliant decision to cast Alicia Silverstone as Liz Thomas-Brewer, which made me feel very old.
I absolutely recommend it.
The Baby-Sitters Club is available for streaming on Netflix.
Behind every icon is a human being with the same joys and flaws as the rest of us. But when this person becomes that icon, their humanity is often forgotten.
The Crown premiered in 2016 on Netflix. It tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy). The series starts with her wedding to Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh (Matt Smith) in 1947. It appears the young couple has many years ahead of them to live as ordinarily as they can. Then Elizabeth’s father, King George VI (Jared Harris) dies. Thrust into the role of Queen, she is walking the fine line that many working mothers do between the job and taking care of your family. If that was not enough, her younger sister, Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) can only be described as a rebel who has all of the luxuries and none of the responsibilities the sovereign.
I am only the beginning of the second season. To say that I am hooked is an understatement. As both a history buff and a feminist, I find this fictional Queen Elizabeth to fascinating. She wants to be an ordinary wife and mother. But fate had other plans for her.
She discovers that Dawsey is part of a book club entitled The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Included in this club is Amelia Maugery (Penelope Wilton) and Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Findlay). Intrigued as to why and how Elizabeth disappeared, Juliet starts to investigate what happened during the German occupation of the island during the war. Along the way, Juliet discovers a new family and a new love that forces her to re-consider where she wants to go in life.
Award worthy, this film is not. That being said, it’s the type of movie one watches after a long week to relax. Though it helps that several of the main cast are Downton Abbey alum, it is does not do enough to overcome the film’s flaws.