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Diana Fake News Crown

The Crown season four doesn’t do subtle…

It’s been hard to blog about popular Netflix shows Stranger Things or The Crown. They’re period pieces, with sky-high production values. They’re well-acted and entertaining. What else is there to say about soothing nostalgia?

Starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith, the first two seasons of The Crown were glamorous hits. Instead of stopping there, it relentlessly continued with older actors (including a royally miscast Olivia Colman) in 2019.

Now it’s back, with season four. Colman still reigns, but there’s a new ingénue in town, wearing cute 80’s outfits and answering to the name Diana (Emma Corrin).

Maybe anticipating an influx of viewers who waited out the last thirty episodes for her debut, the dialogue has become unbearably on-the-nose. Characters spell out themes, and establish basic facts about their official roles and family relationships.

Courtier: You’re the Queen, ma’am.

TQ:  Am I?

Courtier: Yes Ma’am. And please note it’s Ma’am as in jam, not farm.

TQ: How lovely!

Three years ago, one of the UK’s top Tudor experts, John Guy, said that history applicants to Cambridge University would cite having read Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels as evidence of their knowledge.

People apparently think The Crown is a history lesson, prompting insiders like Lady Glenconner to back calls for Netflix to broadcast a disclaimer warning that its flagship show takes…significant creative licence.

Other than historical milestones like engagements and assassinations, anything set in royal drawing rooms – and royal bedrooms – is fiction. Timelines are conflated, and much is entirely invented, including a ‘get your shit together’ letter to Charles from his uncle Tywin Mountbatten, who gets blown up by the IRA.

Where we were seduced by the spellbinding power of Hilary Mantel’s writing, The Crown lulls you with its lavish production and accomplished acting. But that was when it kept a serene, stately distance from its subjects. Now, as it nears the present day, it seems too silly to be taken seriously.

The royals are like the in-laws from Ready or Not, and a scene where they all hunt Diana as part of a wedding night ritual for Satan wouldn’t feel out of place. Corrin – more poised and delicate than the teenage Diana – was clearly taking inspiration from Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby.

Her cartoonishly evil husband continues a flagrant betrayal with a bitchily evil Camilla, while the princess suffers (graphically depicted) bulimia. Luckily any clever writing goes to Corrin, saving the character from one-dimensional victim status. Instead, we get a damaged, shallow girl with a thirst for stardom.

Corrin has been the breakout, while the respected Gillian Anderson has been a little more divisive with her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher, the so-called Iron Lady loved by those she made wealthier, and loathed by the left and the working class.

Of course, in The Crown, working class people all talk like this: “Oiright there Oim workin’ class milord.” It all says so more about the minds behind this show, than it does about the crown.

Saorise Ronan on movie poster

Film reviews winter 2019-20

As it’s a new year, Slow to the Party would like to swiftly wish everyone a Happy 2020!

The weather is depressing, but I’ve bravely left the safety of my bed to catch up with the sorta-latest flicks!

Here are my smallish reviews. I’m not calling ’em mini reviews anymore.

Charlie’s Angels

After the negative press, I was disappointed NOT to feel bashed over the head with woke, man-hating propaganda courtesy of star/writer/director/terrible publicist for the movie, Elizabeth Banks.

It actually isn’t any worse than anything else I’ve seen. And it’s got Patrick Stewart! The plot is thin, which is frankly a relief in these days of convoluted blockbusters. ⭐⭐⭐ Speaking of…

The Rise of Skywalker

After The Last Jedi undid the thankless groundwork laid by The Force Awakens, now Skywalker returns the favour. Screenshot_2020-01-01-13-57-40-01.jpeg

The Holdo ‘plot hole’ is flung from the franchise, while Finn’s former love interest Rose wilts on the sidelines. Luke returns as a Force ghost, admitting it wasn’t really ‘Luke’ to exile himself on an island, milking sea cows.

Maybe its destiny was always to disappoint. That’s what happens when you have a strict schedule, with no map.

We can expect further, more satisfying revelations in the comics. ⭐⭐⭐

Last Christmas

In a toned-down version of her ear-splitting Me Before You performance, Emilia Clarke is Kate, a wannabe singer/actress slumming around twinkly London in a drunken fug, avoiding her overbearing mother (film co-writer Emma Thompson, inexplicably cast as a refugee from the former Yugoslavia).

A jukebox musical named for the 1984 festive hit by Wham!, one moment it’s a sub-par rom-com, then wham! (no pun) there’s this heinous twist. London’s homeless, played by a cast of twee thespians, provide the ‘heartwarming’ backdrop.⭐⭐

Marriage Story

Charlie (Adam Driver) is a self-made off-Broadway theatre director.  His soon-to-be ex-wife Nicole (Scar Jo) is a showbiz industry brat and former Hollywood It girl.

It’s unclear how calculated Nicole is, uprooting their son Henry to LA to consult with multiple lawyers, but Charlie seems to have the bigger battle – including convincing a judge that they are a New York family.

Nicole is bitter, combative and sulky. Charlie rages that life with was her joyless. She feels overlooked next to his genius, yet she’s the one who pushed for marriage too young.

They remind me of La La Land’s selfish creatives. The only real villains are the lawyers, the victim Henry. It’s a clever, accessible film with high re-watch and debate value. ⭐⭐⭐

Little Women

I thought this looked insufferable. Why can’t they ever cast to the book ages? Why can’t the March girls look like sisters not college roommates?

There was a spot of a backlash when Greta Gerwig was snubbed for best director, followed by another backlash along the lines of: “Well I’m a woman and I didn’t like it!” 

Gerwig’s moves are to highlight the novel’s semi-autobiographical nature, and play with the chronology, switching between 1861 and 1868. She also makes Amy (Florence Pugh) a pragmatic misfit in an unconventional family – a much appreciated new dimension to the character. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Le Mans ’66 (Ford v Ferrari)

Le Mans tells the true(ish) story of how auto designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) teamed up with Ken Miles (Christian Bale), to build a car for Ford to end snooty Ferrari’s dominance at the famous French racing tournament. 

Bale is a British racing car driver with a temper, with Caitriona Balfe as his long-suffering wife. (She wins over the audience with a ‘comic’ scene where she drives at high speed while rowing with her husband.) 

There’s little about the seven-times-married Shelby’s home life.

Far more interesting than the central bromance was the rivalry between the crass, insecure Henry Ford II (veteran character actor Tracy Lett), and old world denizen Enzo Ferrari. Le Mans is a well-engineered, middle-of-the-road crowd-pleaser that I couldn’t wait to see over the finish line.⭐⭐⭐

Helen Mirren in Catherine the great Press cuttings

Catherine the Great’s open relationship

In Catherine the Great – HBO and Sky’s new four-parter – the cast talk like they’re in The Crown (Jason Clarke does his own thing – more on him later). Luckily the big fur hats let you know you’re in RUSSIA.

With Helen Mirren playing Catherine, the series aims to provide a balanced image, celebrating her as a socially enlightened female ruler in a man’s world, while not shying away from the fact she ruled with an iron fist.

Politics and empire-building are just a backdrop, though. The true heart of the piece is slowly revealed to be the passionate bond between Catherine and her military leader Potemkin (Clarke), whose existing letters to each other show a loving, open relationship, and an almost modern way of working together.

In the series, Catherine has usurped her husband and their son. Amid tension with her military co-conspirators – including her estranged lover Orlov – she glimpses the swaggering Potemkin. Catherine likes hunky (younger) men, but she’s running a country, so she gets her lady-in-waiting to test his er, political prowess.

By hour two, we’re two years into the Russo-Turkish war. Potemkin has been away covering himself in glory, rising through the ranks. Catherine impulsively orders his return, only to ghost him. They try to make one another jealous, before having an awkward chat about their exes.

It’s true Catherine had multiple lovers, and her sexual liberation gave rise to fake news. Even now, urban legends persist – including the notorious slur involving a horse. Despite the recent press hype, Catherine and Potemkin’s onscreen romance is only steamy in the sense that they (eventually) kiss in a bathhouse.

They settle into domestic bliss, but, rather like the ‘action man’ Prince Phillip portrayed by The Crown, a (literally) thrusting Potemkin becomes petulant and bored. He wants to Make Russia Great, annex the Crimea, and shag half the population while doing so.

As Potemkin, Clarke goes from a clean-cut Aussie Don Cossack, to sounding and looking like the Scottish comedian Billy Connolly.

Poor Catherine can’t live with him, can’t live without him. She pines for him and distracts herself with toy boys – some procured by Potemkin, who then has the comical nerve to be jealous.

The script reminds us repeatedly that she’s a brilliant woman, a patron of the arts, but she mostly indulges in sex, paranoia, and bickering with her son and council. It presents a sad case of living long enough to see yourself become the villain, tossing the Voltaire on a bonfire.

Its difficulty is having three decades of history, but only four hours. There needs to be a focus, and the series loses sight of it. Only a pivotal final scene goes a long way to redeeming Catherine the Great as a bittersweet mini-epic about one of history’s greatest love affairs.

13 reasons why book differences

Netflix 13 Reasons Why – book vs show

Recently, I read “You Think It, I’ll Say It.” It’s a new book of short fiction by Curtis Sittenfeld, an author whose work often features adult women still seething at the injustices of high school.

It made me want to watch Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, the show based on Jay Asher’s 2007 young adult novel. A high school student, Hannah Baker, leaves a suicide note in the form of audio cassettes, accusing thirteen (mostly) classmates of bullying her. The tapes are passed around this baker’s dozen, under threat of exposure by a third party.

As nice kid Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) listens to the tapes, trying to figure out his place in the story, Hannah’s tale unspools in flashbacks. Played by Katherine Langford, she’s prettier, sweeter than an uptight, petty Sittenfeld heroine.

Each tape focuses on one individual, with a whole episode devoted to that character and what Hannah says they did wrong. We also see everything that was going wrong in the accused kids’ lives – which, we discover, was a lot…

‘Cos we move from mean girls and school cliques, to sexual harassment, multiple rapes, victim blaming, abusive parents, fatal car crashes, gun incidents, drug addiction, self-harm and more. It seems like a lot of problems for a dozen or so under-18s, even if the cast do look more like 25.

Netflix even nightmared up a second season/sequel to Asher’s book where Clay – now straight-up cray – develops a saviour complex, running an amateur rehab clinic under his parents’ noses, while Hannah’s absentee parents sue the school whose teachers lazily ignored a brutal culture of bullying and rape.

Supposedly a ‘realistic’ portrayal of teen life, they’re all feverishly conforming to that TV contrivance of ‘protecting’ their parents from reality, of being a ‘good kid’. Oh Netflix! We’re a few weeks into the UK summer vacation, and all I’ve heard are teenagers complaining about boredom and being unable to find any clean underwear!

That’s the immature demographic Netflix are targeting – even winning, by being edgy and smugly socially important. Even if the bullying or social pressures hit home for many young female viewers, the show is so implausible, bleak and slow-moving I can’t appreciate its appeal.

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher (2007)

After ditching the show before the end of Season 2, I was curious about the novel, so I checked the YA section in my local bookshop. “We’re not allowed to shelve that in YA!” cried 51syyO7qB5L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgthe sales assistant, nearly fainting, although he agreed it’s marketed at young people.

It was sold out, anyway.

Asher’s book is both gentler and sadder than the series. Instead of cramming in every social issue, it’s tightly focused on the mind of one suicidal girl, and Clay’s rising horror as he listens to the tapes over a single night.

At times their voices merge confusingly into one, while the premise still feels a touch far-fetched; I think if you have a dozen kids involved, somebody would have confided to a parent.

The school isn’t radioactive, but bullying goes on everywhere, with ongoing exposure a potential factor in suicidal behaviour. The book nails how hurtful gossip and rumours can be, and how one or two malevolent individuals, or pack leaders, can dominate a school or group.

Hannah clearly felt victimized, but as he listens, Clay contradicts her – not because she’s a liar, but because of her mental state. He listens, powerless, as tape Hannah goes down a reckless, self-destructive path. (“You knew it was the worst choice possible….You wanted your world to collapse around you. You wanted everything to get as dark as possible.”)

He remembers Hannah withdrawing, but he didn’t speak to her in case other kids teased him. Then all the chances were gone.

It’s a bittersweet coming-of-age. I think readers are being encouraged to be kinder, to be less daunted by toxic peer groups. Maybe then schools and colleges could be easier for the Hannah Bakers of the world.

The number for the Samaritans in the UK is 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Further international suicide helplines can be found at http://www.befrienders.org.

netflix edition mudbound novel

Mudbound – the novel versus Netflix

Mudbound is the Oscar movie we need right now,” admonished The Washington Post.

Distributed by Netflix (there were no other takers following its Sundance premiere), the film is a female-helmed drama about two families – one white, one black – living side by side in the Jim Crow South. The script is adapted from Hillary Jordan’s 2006 Bellwether Prize-winner (for ‘socially engaged fiction’).

It’s perfectly-timed, with the industry currently under scrutiny for #OscarsSoWhite. There was a landslide of articles emphasizing the tough shoot and the transformation of star Mary J. Blige, warning voters that the movie must not be overlooked.

Mudbound sees stubborn Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) drag his kids and wife Laura (Carey Mulligan), plus racist father Pappy, to a dilapidated farm in the Mississippi Delta where the frequent rains strand them in acres of mud.

Their lives become entangled with those of their share tenants, Hap and Florence Jackson (Blige), who keeps house for the McAllans. They are joined by Henry’s brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and the Jackson’s son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), both returning from WWII Europe.

The veterans form a bond that riles Pappy, while Laura becomes infatuated with her brother-in-law – although unlike the prickly character of Laura in the book, she isn’t checking his shirts for lipstick, or taking her frustrations out on Florence.

Writers have described the movie as focused on Florence and Laura as two Strong Women whose differing views of the world are shaped by race and class etc etc. According to Refinery39, “both women…feel the growing weight of a patriarchal society bearing down on their shoulders...”

This is an interesting projection, as – in what is a very long and slow movie –  writer-director Dee Rees seems to concentrate on the friendship between 6’2 leading man Hedlund, and quirky little character actor Mitchell, miscast as the noble Ronsel.

Rees keeps Jordan’s strategy of spreading narration between six characters, but Hedlund emerges as the hero.He’s more enlightened than his book counterpart – instead of being shocked by interracial dating, Hedlund leers: “Ever been with a white girl?“.

It’s a shame that, along with other splashes of dark humour, his drunken encounter with a hapless cow has been culled.

What the picture does achieve, despite its small budget, is a truly epic look, especially in the flashback scenes. We get lots of stunning farmland vistas courtesy of Rachel Morrison’s cinematography, which earned her the distinction of becoming the first woman to be Oscar nominated in the category.

Deferential Oscar voters also handed Blige a best supporting actress nod for doing little more than look dignified with her arms crossed, while Dee Rees earned an adapted screenplay nomination for turning a historical suspense into solemn prestige.

🏆 1/2

The Crown – Netflix review

Netflix’s new show, The Crown, cost around 100 million dollars to make, which would cover nearly a third of the huge cost of the Buckingham Palace renovations. It’s got great reviews, too – the series, not the building plans, which are proving quite controversial. (And all for a palace that according to this series, nobody wants to live in.)

The Crown takes us behind those illustrious doors with a fictionalized imagining of the young Queen (Claire Foy) Elizabeth II’s life. Ten episodes take us from the then Princess Elizabeth’s 1947 marriage to Prince Philip (Matt Smith), to the brink of the Suez crisis of 1956.

Between those historical milestones, the youthful royal is embroiled in various family dramas. In each chapter she will have to choose between the ones she loves – and duty.

“The fact is,” her grandmother admonishes her, “the crown must win – must always win!”

Writer/creator Peter Morgan’s series isn’t all about the hat, but also the person wearing it. Foy is beautifully regal as the Queen (even rivaling Sarah Gadon in the fanciful A Royal Night Out), and is also credible as a supposedly simple countrywoman, more interested in dogs and horses than politics or people.

Matt Smith layers his rubbery-faced, zany energy over the mannerisms and ‘wit’ of the notoriously prickly Duke of Edinburgh. I kept expecting him to demand a Doctor Who-themed nursery for Charles and Anne.

Everyone seems far nicer than they probably were/are in real life – even Eileen Atkins as scary Queen Mary. Well, almost everyone. There’s the fabulously brittle duo of the Duke of Windsor (Alex Jennings) and Wallis Simpson (Lia Williams – I had to check it wasn’t Game of Thrones’ Red Woman Carice van Houten).

“An ordinary young woman of modest ability and little imagination,” is how the Duke describes his niece Elizabeth during a bitchy coronation commentary. Only once anointed is she transformed, he says, into a “goddess”.

The Crown is secure enough in its power that we also spend plenty of time with the politicians of the day. Still needing a movie to themselves are John Lithgow as Churchill, and Stephen Dillane as the painter Graham Sutherland, hired to produce a portrait of the PM. (It ends up on a bonfire – true story, apparently).

It can all get artificial, as things are explained to viewers. Underlings tell Her Majesty: “And your father’s real name was Albert, and of course your uncle’s real name was David and your name is Elizabeth…”

If Morgan is a Republican, there’s little evidence, with all the urgent ‘The Crown Must Endure’ conflict throughout his show. I suppose we couldn’t have expected anything more insightful in our nostalgia-obsessed times.

the young pope

Jude Law as The Young Pope – who is Lenny Belardo?

The newly-elected Pope Pius XIII dreams he’s emerging from a pyramid of sleeping human babies. He awakens, decides what to wear, greets his flunkies and prepares to make his first address from Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Presenting as a statesman with oratorical skill to rival President Obama (he sounds like him at one point; Jude Law does a great American accent) he exhorts the faithful to divorce, have fun etc.

Of course it’s all still part of his dream, although for Pius, it’s truly the stuff of nightmares.

So who is the fictional Pope Pius XIII??

…he’s young (and American) 

“I’m an orphan. And orphans are never young,” he says.

His real name is Lenny Belardo, and he was left at an orphanage by unknown parents for unknown reasons, where Sister Mary (Diane Keaton), raised him.

He rose to be Archbishop of New York, and the protégé of James Cromwell’s Cardinal Spencer, who is angry at being passed over for Pope himself. We learn Pius was chosen to be a “photogenic puppet” – a bridge between progressive and conservative elements in the Church.

…he’s gone rogue, and is actually an arch-conservative

…At first nobody knows Pius’ thoughts on anything, right down to his breakfast choices. “All I have in the morning is a Cherry Coke Zero,” he says.

Would His Holiness care for a regular Diet Coke? “Let’s not utter heresies.”

When he finally does give his first papal address, it’s fire and brimstone. He doesn’t want any “part-time believers”. Intolerant of homosexuality, fiercely anti-abortion, he intends to remain elusive, the Invisible Pope, unseen by anyone outside his inner circle.

He fires the Vatican’s official photographer, and for his first address there will be no lighting, no cameraman. The faithful must only see a dark shadow.

Needless to say he’s going to make himself very unpopular with the press, the church, a billion or so Catholics, all other faiths…etc.

…sometimes The Young Pope is like a documentary set at a glossy fashion mag.

Watching Pius XIII stalking the Vatican corridors with his shades on, all he needs is a handbag and he’d be Anna Wintour. He describes himself as “intransigent, irritable, vindictive.”

And he really puts his mark on the papal wardrobe. Red shoes? Check. He’s even decreed that the papal tiara is IN this season. And the best thing of all? That soundtrack. Divine.

…is he worth the time? 

Trailers may indicate a stylish drama full of political intrigue, but if you’re expecting House of Cards in the Vatican, you’ll be disappointed.

Surreal moments come as thick and fast as Sistine Chapel smoke. There’s the already infamous kangaroo, and Pius messing with that poor priest’s head about being a secret atheist.

At times it feels like the series toys with the viewer – could he be an alien? The Antichrist? Nope and nope, I’d guess.

Many Twitter users said they couldn’t understand Paolo Sorrentino’s swirling ten-hour art movie. But episodes five, six and seven are some of the best television I’ve seen, as scheming cardinals, slimy politicians and insubordinate monks all get their comeuppance.

As even Pius’s surrogate mother and biggest supporter, Sister Mary, fears that his papacy is a calamity for both the man and the future of the church, can a man with his own personal demons be the spiritual leader of a billion people?

Victoria – Melbourne does the morally right, historically accurate thing

Soap actress and Doctor Who sidekick Jenna Coleman has made her bow as Queen Victoria in ITV’s new eight-part series about the monarch’s reign.

It’s more Downton Abbey than Game of Thrones, but I was struck by how Jenna’s portrayal owes a lot to Emilia Clarke’s performance as Daenerys “WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?!!!” Targaryen.

Meanwhile the music is like a candied version of Thrones’ epic theme. They keep playing it, so I’m going to have to learn to spell it:  it’s Alleluia by Martin Phipps, with vocals by the Mediaeval Baebes, who sound straight out of Westeros by way of Frozen.

Naturally, Victoria already has historians shaking their fists at the screen, as Gossip Girl Vicky has a massive crush on her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell).

Yet writer Daisy Goodwin could be onto something! Diarists and cartoonists at the time noted their intense relationship, and dubbed the queen ‘Lady Melbourne’.

Of course Lord M looked nothing like Sewell, and it’s also not been lost on Twitter that Jenna Coleman is far more beautiful than poor Victoria ever was – Alfie Allen in a wig would have been a closer fit (although the crown for craziest royal casting would still go to Ray Winstone as Henry VIII).

(Would a modern-day Victoria be pretty enough to be queen? Considering the grief her 4X great granddaughters Beatrice and Eugenie get for their figures and dress sense, no. Nothing would end the monarchy faster than an unattractive princess waiting in the wings.)

Crushing fans swept up by the actors’ chemistry, Lord M does the morally right and historically accurate thing, and doesn’t elope with the queen. Instead, a certain German princeling has arrived at court!

Accompanied by his bad boy brother Ernest, Prince Albert is here to sweep Victoria off her feet. Historically we know from her writings that she was instantly smitten, but Coleman doesn’t dig hipster Albert. He’s not too thrilled either – he has a social conscience, while Victoria isn’t interested in the plight of her poorest subjects.

There’s also the continued presence of Lord M, suffering stoically in the corner. He knows the unpopular German brothers should keep a low profile during a visit to the Houses of Parliament, so greets them loudly when he bumps into them in the corridors of power. Nice one, M.

But Albert is a man of the future, Melbourne is a man of the past. The spell binding Victoria and her prime minister is broken. Fans will rival historians in shaking their fists at the screen as he replaces the smouldering Sewell.

Victoria continues with episode six on Sunday September 25 at 9pm on ITV.