Category: Netflix Original Series

Alias Grace (2017 Netflix Series)

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WARNING:  Binge-watching a television series is hazardous to your health.  We’ve all read the warnings so I did take a break after episode three for one hour and went back for three more episodes.  What does that say?  I’m fat and unhealthy because I watch too much TV?  No, it means that Netflix hit it out of the park again as far as I’m concerned.

After being sucked into the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, I have a growing admiration for the mind of this writer after seeing Alias Grace.  However, I never have time to read (only write), so picking up a book adaptation on screen now and then works for me. The downside, of course, is I will never know what is better – the book or the series.

Alias Grace is a wonderful and intriguing story that pulls you along slowly.  However, I will warn you up front that if you don’t like listening to one woman with an Irish accent narrate and talk for hours on end, this series is not for you. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a period drama set in the mid-Victorian period about a woman imprisoned for committing murder, take a seat and grab the remote.

After spending 15 years in prison, Grace has become somewhat of a celebrity murderess for her participation in a ghastly murder that breeds public fascination. A group wants to see her released from prison so they invite a well-known psychiatrist to do an assessment of her mental state. Dr. Simon Jordan (played by Edward Holcroft) interviews Grace.  In the process, while he attempts to ascertain her criminal mind, he becomes entangled in his own emotions of seemingly falling for this delicate but complicated creature. As the interviews continue, you wonder how much of Grace’s story is told for his benefit or her own as she weaves the tale.

AliasSarah Gadon who plays Grace is an excellent choice for this demure young lady from a poor upbringing.  After immigrating from Ireland to Canada, she leaves home and works as a maid.  It’s here that she meets another servant girl who becomes her best friend. When she passes away, she decides to depart for a new employment situation. It brings her into a difficult scenario with a lecherous boss and his housekeeper/mistress who is unlikeable and often cruel.  Another servant, James McDermott, has had enough of his job and plots to kill their employers, dragging Grace into the mix.

The interesting and mind-boggling outcome of the search for her guilt and innocence will surprise you as it draws you into the lives of these characters.  Apparently based on a true-to-life sensationalized murder that happened in Canada in 1843, Margaret Atwood takes the story to a new level for her readers.  Netflix has added that dimension for its viewers, leaving you with the not-so-concrete answer of her participation in the dastardly murders.

For each 44-minute episode, it’s worth risking your health for the four and half hours spent in the chair in front of the television.  Highly recommended.

 

The OA (Netflix 2016)

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There is only one thing I have to say about the Netflix Series The OA — it’s Oy vey! (In case you  don’t know your Yiddish – it’s a phrase expressing dismay or exasperation.) Here is another stranger-thing series that is stranger than Stranger Things.

Where do I begin?  Well, I suppose you can start with the opening scene of a woman jumping off a bridge and surviving. After she wakes up in the hospital and tells her name to the nurse (Prairie Johnson), we find out that the young lady has been missing for seven years. As a result of her recuperating, you begin to wonder if she needs to go back on medication or be locked up in the loony bin.

Well, the problem is that she has been locked up for seven years with a group of other young people who have previously died and returned to life. They are held captive by a mad scientist intent on proving life after death. He studies and tortures them so he can find out what lies in the “undiscovered country.” However, before you flip the switch, let me warn you – it’s weird – really weird. And we are not talking about traveling to the heavens after we take our last breath – this afterlife show has zip, nada, nothing about religion.

Prairie, desperate to help those she left behind, recruits four individuals from her neighborhood and one teacher, all of which have issues. They meet in a partially built and abandoned shell of a home where she pulls them into her life story. They all know when she disappeared that she was blind, but now that she has returned with her sight restored. Intrigued by her past, they sit and listen to her tale, and you, as the audience, are popping back and forth from present to past and from life and death.

I could write more about the eight episodes only to say that the story is a bit of a confusing mess and leaves you with the question whether you believe her story or not. Is she really the OA (that means original angel) or is she just a disturbed young woman because of her difficult childhood?  I guess we will never know for sure after the final episode of season one unless another miracle happens, and she’s (SPOILER ALERT) revived from the dead again.

Most of the time you are lost and locked into a cage with the characters trying to figure out what the heck all those strange bodily moves have to do with the entire show.  At least no one is talking to Christmas lights in this odd paranormal story.

As I said – Oy vey!  The undiscovered country…a place we will never know until we get there.

But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
(Hamlet by Shakespeare)

The Crown (Netflix 2016 – Review)

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Monarchy is God’s sacred mission to grace and dignify the earth, to give ordinary people an ideal to strive towards, an example of nobility and duty to raise them in their wretched lives.”

(Quote from The Crown – Queen Mary)

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Yes, as one article stated in The Guardian, the Americans will be highly fascinated over Netflix’s new series – The Crown.  We will eat it up like candy amidst our 2016 election sours, which has given most of us nausea over the thought of who will win on either side of the ticket (I’m staying neutral on this topic). Perhaps it will make us miss the good ‘ole days of being a colony under the British empire, wishing for all the beauty, jewels, and pomp and circumstance compared to our current affairs of mud-slinging politicians vying for the office.  Of course, that’s not to say that the British empire hasn’t had its own share of scandals on the green side of Parliament during elections. Somehow, though, it doesn’t sound so bad when you call your opponent corrupt while using a British accent.

Nevertheless, I flipped the switch on Netflix last night and sat my derriere down to watch the first five episodes after a boring day’s work.  Today, I watched the remaining episodes. I’m sure my stomach fat increased, according to the latest research (Read Here). Regardless of being harmful to my health, I glued myself through hours of television, stuffing my mouth with food and occasionally crying like a baby.  (I have been watching too many period dramas of late and it has wreaked havoc on my emotions.)

The Crown is unique and deeply entrenched into the meaning of the monarchy and rightfully focuses upon the meaning of its title.  The crown is merely not a bejeweled head ornament that a monarch wears, it is an ancient belief that whosoever wears it has been ordained and anointed by God. Throughout the production, the crown takes precedence over one’s private life, whether it be the monarch or the family.  Anyone who strays from its innate purpose places the monarchy at risk.

Netflix has done a stellar job in all aspects of this production from the authenticity of the times to the costumes, settings, and trappings of the royals.  Even though they spared no expense, they have not left its audience with fluffy cotton candy.  On the contrary, they have presented a well acted, well written, and not to mention educational peek into the House of Windsor post-World War II.  Each character, from the staff to the queen plays their roles meticulously well.  If I were a fortune teller, I would say that a few Emmy’s will definitely be forthcoming.

Claire Foy must have spent hours studying the mannerisms and voice inflections of Queen Elizabeth as her portrayal is uncanny. John Lithgow has reincarnated Winston Churchill (if he doesn’t get an Emmy for his performance, I’m going to be extremely disappointed).  Matt Smith does an interesting portrayal of Prince Philip.  He looks very much like the young prince.  I don’t think there is a performance in the entire cast that I can find fault, from Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margret, Eileen Atkins as Queen Mary, Victorian Hamilton as the Queen Mother, Ben Miles as Peter Townsend, Jared Harris as King George VI, and many others including Jeremy Northam.

The first few episodes are emotionally charged and quickly engulf the audience into the younger years of Elizabeth and her father who is falling ill.  The early episodes, up to Elizabeth’s coronation, had me glued to the television set.  In fact, my cat jumped on my lap, and a few hours later, I finally realized he was there.  The other episodes walk the audience through historical events, which definitely sent me to Google to check if they were true.  Finally, toward the end of the series, it’s the continual struggle of love and duty, which is the resounding theme that underlies much of the story.

A few of the historical points covered are:

  • Edward VIII’s abdication and his love for Wallis Simpson is a focus of early episodes. His continued ill treatment for having given up the crown and the shunning of his wife takes a different slant. Much of the family’s disdain comes from their own lips, but quite a bit of Edward’s own bitterness is center stage and vocal.  Unwelcome at Elizabeth’s coronation, his recitation to his house guests while watching it live on television, regarding the symbolism behind the coronation, is fascinating. I never realized us “mere mortals” couldn’t watch certain aspects of the divine unfolding.
  • Winston Churchill’s role as prime minister in his later years is another large focal point. Frankly, it had me hitting Google a few times afterward to check the timeline, as well as his artwork and the famous portrait commissioned for him on his 80th birthday.  And yes, what his wife did to it was apparently true.
  • The episode called, “Act of God,” is an incident that I had never heard about regarding the great smog of 1952 where London fell victim to fog/pollution trapped in the city.  Apparently, it resulted in thousands of people dying from inhaling the airborne pollutants.
  • The exhausting world tour that Elizabeth and Philip embarked upon in the 1950’s (sorry, I must have been only three years old, so I missed that news).
  • The love affair between Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend.  One can only wonder what her reaction would be today if she knew how many of her family members have since divorced and remarried. It only goes to prove that the ancient traditions can soften and change.
  • The Queen’s love of horses, not to mention her Corgi dogs underfoot.
  • The Queen Mother purchasing a castle in Scotland.
  • The surprising revelation that Elizabeth received very little formal education beyond the how-to of being a lady and understanding the constitution.

Of course, intertwined behind the public episodes, are the private lives of the royals and their staff. It’s interesting to watch Elizabeth grow into her role as queen and embrace the crown. Unfortunately, loyalty and duty, of course, have a price as the story tells of its straining relationships between Philip, her mother, and sister.   Whether the marital tension between Elizabeth and Philip is factual, I have no idea.  However, one can only wonder what it does to a man’s ego to kneel before his wife and swear allegiance. Both Philip and Margaret struggle to find purpose in the shadow of Elizabeth.

Yes, some of it does degrade into a soap-opera type mentality but it’s tolerable.  I thought the series started strong at 5-kernel bravo review for the first five episodes, but six through ten are much more cloistered and focused upon their private lives, slipping my kernel take down to 4.

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Regardless, this undertaking by Netflix is well worth the watch.  The only criticism I can muster about the series is that the cinematography is sometimes murky and dark, especially in the large rooms with dull lighting.  They almost look smoky in appearance and unclear. Whether that was an honest attempt to portray the royal residences, I’m unsure, but I found it a distracting and disappointing that I hadn’t a clearer picture of the opulence.

As far as the music, leave it up to Hans Zimmer to stir the audiences’ emotions with his wonderful soundtrack.  Below is the official intro at the beginning of each episode.  The visual effect of silver molding into a crown with Hans Zimmer’s score gave me shivers.

If anything, after you watch this series, I think it will give you a better understanding of the monarchy and its inherent meaning, whether or not you agree with that form of government.  Nevertheless, in November of 2016, it certainly was a breath of fresh air for this American, which helped to raise my current wretched existence living through the presidential election.

Bravo Netflix!  When does Series 2 start?  My popcorn is popped.

Stranger Things (Netflix 2016)

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Right now at the season of horror and suspense, if you haven’t watched the new Netflix Series, Stranger Things, you better tune in.  It’s strange all right, and the program sort of reminds me of Lost.  You remember, don’t you?  The plane crash, the strange island, the strange things happening.  Well, welcome to the little town Hawkins where strange things are afoot in a town where nothing interesting happens.

It starts out scary enough with a young boy returning home from spending time with his best buddies.  They’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons for ten hours in the basement.  On the way home, strange things happen.  Something creepy is stalking Will Byers in the woods and right into his house.  He runs out into the shed in the backyard to load the family rifle, but before he can defend himself he vanishes into thin air.  The story starts and so do the crazy things in this sleepy town turned literally upside down.

The premise of the story is (spoiler) alternative universes.  The show is filled with all those unanswered and mysterious questions, including a secret government installation.  In their captive is a child with special psychokinetic abilities, who escapes her life as a Guinea pig of sorts (played by Millie Bobby Brown, a very talented young lady).  However, while her story continues on one wave length, it is strangely intertwined with the story of the missing boy.  The show has it all – drama and mystery.  If that isn’t enough, add the element of horror, because out of this alternative universe comes a resident monster into our universe preying upon the town and going for blood.

There are quite a few characters to follow in this story.  And, yes, at times you feel as lost as you were watching Lost.  However, the cast is one huge roller coaster of emotion, including Winona Ryder, the mother of the boy who has disappeared.  Her portrayal of grief, terror, and determination is probably worth an Emmy.  Other great performances are from the family members, hormonal driven teenagers, and David Harbour, who plays the Sheriff in town dealing with all the crazy occurrences and trying to make sense of it all.stranger-things-season-2

There are three young boys who try their best to find their friend, Will, who has disappeared.  One of them befriends No. 11, the young girl who escaped her life from the government crazy people.  The three kids are a comedic release as they banter back and forth.  They are the science geeks of the school and played upon by the bullies, until No. 11 (or L) teaches them a lesson.

If you’re looking for an entertaining, I can’t figure it out show, tune in to Stranger Things.  It will make you scratch your head, jump when the monster appears, and give rise to a thousand questions of what in the world is going on.  After eight episodes of Season 1, we are left hanging for answers until Season 2 rolls around.

 

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