Dickinson (Apple TV 2019)

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I once saw a meme on Facebook that said, “Emily Dickinson wrote some of the most beautiful poetry in the world, and then went stark raving mad.”  Perhaps not totally true, but she did end up a recluse in life.

Now comes Apple TV to give us their rendition of Emily’s life, and I think I went stark raving mad at the end of it. Words like these in other mainstream reviews pretty much sum it up – “confused, disrespectful mess,” “warped,” “flawed,” “wild,” “weird,” and “absurd.” Well, you get the drift. I guess you can add my thoughts about that series as disturbingly odd. It’s the type of show that requires the viewer to have a particular taste to enjoy, once you get over the initial shock.

Frankly, I love period dramas and had high hopes on this particular one until about thirty minutes into the first episode. Apple TV really stretches the historical barriers to this story about Emily, who loves to write poetry. She comes from a traditional family with a mother who is desperate to marry her off and teach her to be a homemaker and an over-the-top puritanical father who wants Emily to act as young ladies should. They are an affluent family, and Emily has one brother and sister. She loves to write, but her father forbids her and often flies into a rage when her poems get published in the local news.

Emily, portrayed in this story, is a thinker, dreamer, and often hallucinates various scenes in her life. The most frequent is her oddity in knowing death as a person, who she sees with ghostly horses, pulling the carriage. Her appearance changes with bright red lipstick and a red dress, and she gets in the carriage and talks to him about her problems. It’s an odd relationship, that puts the macabre slant on the story. Most of Emily’s poems focus on death.

Emily is also a lesbian and is in love with her best friend Sue, who eventually marries her brother. Sue swings both ways, and the relationship is a focal point of the story.  The lives of her parents and siblings are also the center stage, as well as her circle of friends.

You will discover the young crowd in Victorian clothing are really the millennials of today.  Their language is modern and not Victorian in style. The series is focused on the younger viewers, attempting in my opinion to make a Victorian story relevant to the twenty-first-century youth. Naturally, as a baby boomer, I thought the series too quirky and weird for my taste. It also screams of modern pop and rock music as the score, that is so loud you have to down the volume when it starts blaring. I’m sure there are some who like these oddball renditions of history that attempt to reach the younger crowd.

On a positive note, I will say some of the dialogue spoken in this story, which is set pre-Civil War, is applicable for today. The young girls who cannot cast a vote are politically smart on the issues of the day. Discussions about slavery, political parties, and the state of the nation sound eerily like 2020.  The same issues remain.

Emily Dickinson’s life is interesting, and if you wish to know more about her take a Wikipedia trip to read about her life and writing. Her story is fascinating, but the execution in this particular series is just not my cup of tea. That is not to say, that it isn’t for many other viewers. Whatever floats your remote is fine with me.

Apparently, there will be a season two, which I probably will ignore. I’ll close with a few words from Emily.

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

To read the entire poem, visit the Poetry Foundation.


Greyhound (Movie 2020)

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There have been a good number of war movies in the past few years from WWI and WWII, such as 1917, Dunkirk, Midway, and now comes Greyhound. This new movie focuses upon the convoy of allied ships that crossed the Atlantic in early 1942 after the USA entered the war, bringing troops and supplies. The convoys only had air coverage from the USA to England for the start and end of the crossing because planes did not have the ability to provide air cover for the entire voyage. In the middle, the convoys were left alone in what was termed the “black pit” of the crossing. Here is a good article about the mid-Atlantic gap on Wikipedia that explains the history.  You might find this article about the movie on War History Online a good read too with more background.

Greyhound is the lead ship of the convoy, who watches for German U-boats (multiple submarines they called the German “Wolf-Packs”) and protects other ships. The movie focuses on one crossing. Tom Hanks plays Captian Krause, who commands the USS Keeling. As usual, Hanks does a good job of portraying the captain of the Greyhound, expounding command after command to those on the bridge. He has more dialog than anyone. His character is a religious man who prays before the convoy leaves, prays before meals, and prays at the end of the voyage. As he buries three of his crew members at sea who perish along the way, you can see that he looks at people as souls, including Germans who perish. Regardless of the religious tones, it’s where the captain draws his strength. I suppose most men in the war back then did so as well.

As the convoy sails across the Atlantic, be prepared to get seasick from the cinematography. Since I only watched this on my 32-inch screen television on Apple TV (where you can see the movie exclusively), I imagine my stomach would have soured more had I watched it on the big screen.  The soundtrack does a good job of keeping you engrossed and nail-biting.

The movie is fast-paced with no rest for the captain or the audience. This is not a character-driven movie or an in-depth analysis of the crew members. It’s non-stop torpedos, attempts to save ships being sunk, flying bullets, blasting battery cannons, and depth-charges blowing up U-boats. The seas are rough, the air is freezing cold, and the nights are dark and frightening.

Even with all the technology we have today, the young men listening to sonar, reading radar screens, sending messages via morse code by ship lights, and doing complicated conversions on charts, is enough to make me feel pretty stupid when it comes to the navigation of a warship. Then there are the commands of rudders, fore, aft, and directional numbers for what course to steer the ship.  Then let’s make sure that the guy who reads the radar, conveys it clearly to the person on the bridge, who then repeats it to the captain repeats it right.  No sneezing allowed. Apparently, the movie was shot on a decommissioned WW2 destroyer, the USS Kidd.

Was it the best WW2 movie I’ve ever seen? No, but it’s worth the watch to remind you what men on the high seas went through to win the war. The movie is based off a book, “The Good Shepherd” written by C.S. Forester in 1955.

The end of the movie credit states that 3,500 ships sunk in the Atlantic during WW2 and more than 72,000 lives (or souls as the captain termed them) perished. Each time I watch a movie about WW2 (or even WW1 for that matter), I cannot hold back the tears. Since my father served in WW2 fighting in the South Pacific and thankfully came back alive, these stories resonate.  They are also reminders for us as a civilization not to forget the sacrifice of others. When I see the young men who bravely fought and lost their lives to defeat Hitler and the Japanese, I cannot help but admire the bravery of the youth of generations past.  I often wonder what they would think of the youth of this generation. Let’s not go there right now.

Also, another caveat. No doubt there may be some backlash about the cooks on the ship being black and the entire crew being white. It may bother you, but it just reflects history.

If you can, check it out on Apple TV.

Lucy Worsley’s Royal Myths and Secrets (PBS 2020)

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I love Lucy.  Just to clarify, that’s not Lucille Ball (although I do like her). I mean I love Lucy Worsley, a wonderful woman who teaches us history with flare in her docuseries that occasionally roll on PBS.  Her latest one, Royal Myths & Secrets is far too short with only three episodes.  If you are a history buff, period drama buff, or just love Lucy, you need to tune into the latest of her many series.

This time around she’s out to bust the myths and tell some secrets about a few royals of the past; mainly, Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Anne, and Marie Antoinette. Each episode Lucy dresses up in period costumes to participate in a few re-enactment scenes to be part of the story.

What is so great about this series? She blows out of the water a lot of Hollywood fluff on what truly happened with these famous women on the throne. I think my biggest disappointment was Queen Elizabeth I and her famous warrior speech as the Spanish armada sailed toward England, so gallantly portrayed by Kate Blanchett on the big screen. Rats! It didn’t happen that way, oh, well. And who knew that France went bankrupt because they helped the colonies during the Revolutionary War?  News to me.  And poor Marie never said the words, telling the poor peasants, “Let them eat cake!”  And let’s not forget the recent movie The Favorite.  Was Queen Anne really a . . . ?

If you missed the shows, you can see it on PBS Passport or view on Amazon for $2.99 a pop.  Hey, you spend more than that on coffee or tea at Starbucks.

Needless to say, Lucy has been putting on these great shows since 2009.  To see the long list from the past, visit Wikipedia – Lucy Worsley.  Besides being a hoot of a host on these episodes, Lucy is the Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces.

See, history doesn’t have to be boring! With the right presenter, it’s actually a lot of fun.  So go eat cake, have a cup of tea, and enjoy it.


Defending Jacob (Apple TV 2020)

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Well, it was a boring Sunday/Monday scenario, and I binge-watched another series, Defending Jacob, which is an Apple TV production.  Let me just say that I’m impressed by the quality of these series.

This one is based on a book written by William Landlay, but takes the liberty of changing the ending. I’m definitely not going to tell you the change, and if you just can’t wait, you’ll have to Google it yourself.  However, I suggest if you do, wait until you’ve watched the entire series. Each episode runs an hour long.

Based on the story of a family living in a small town in Massachusetts, it revolves around the murder of a fourteen-year-old boy. Meet the family in the center of this tale, which is the son, Jacob, played by Jaeden Martell, his father the Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber, played by Chris Evans, and the mother, Laurie, played by Michelle Dockery (who ditches her English accent for an American part). They are the perfect family until suddenly evidence points to Jacob being the murderer of a classmate by the name of Ben.

If you think by the title that this is an eight-part courtroom drama, you can put away that assumption. Although you will be part of the courtroom for two different proceedings, the story is mainly focused on the family dynamics of two parents whose son is accused of murder. The trial itself is only two episodes, but the episodes are not entirely in the courtroom.

So the crux of the story revolves around the unconditional love question. Do you believe Jacob when he says he didn’t do it or do you stand by him in the belief you know your son would never do anything like murder a human being? This is the conundrum that Andy and Laurie find themselves in as they vacillate back and forth from did he or didn’t he.  Being the great drama that it is, it does a fine job of throwing your own assumptions back and forth and never gives you a clear-cut answer to that pointed question.

Other characters are (1) the grieving parents of the dead boy, (2) Cherry Jones who plays the defense attorney, (3) Pablo Schreiber who plays the prosecuting attorney (who by the way is annoying as hell); and Betty Gabriel, a police detective. The only dynamic that I didn’t quite understand was this hatred by Neal, the prosecuting attorney against his coworker Andy, who taught him the ropes. Not sure if that was a plot hole why he hated Andy so much or if I missed it during a bathroom break.

I have to say that it’s a five-star show, keeping audiences engaged. Acting is top-notch and frankly makes you wonder how you, as a parent, could survive such an ordeal yourself. As far as the fourteen-year-old son, who is the focus of the story, the young Jaeden Martell does an excellent job of jerking your chain by not quite giving you a hint either way.

It makes me admit that this show is as good as it gets with drama and mystery, nearly giving my beloved Brits a run for their money. It’s high octane acting by all, well played, throughout, and filled with a few twists and turns. You’ll just have to make your own decision in the end – did he or didn’t he do it?

Also, after reading the ending of the book versus the movie, I probably would have gone for the book ending instead. Nevertheless, you know those writers, directors, and producers in Hollywood have to give things their own twist.

Beecham House (PBS 2020)

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This is going to be a lackluster review.  Now streaming on PBS is Beecham House, which formerly aired in the UK on ITV in 2019.  I watched this series a few months ago on my PBS Passport subscription and frankly was bored to death. About the only redeeming quality of this series is the luxurious costumes and background, as well as the good looking, but terribly brooding male lead of Tom Batement.  Other than that the story is flat, the acting is flat, and the end is another cliffhanger of epic proportions with no season two to tie up the loose ends.

Read this review on The Guardian. It says it better than I can and gives it one star.  I’m being generous with two.

Sorry, but this one fell flat in my opinion, and the general opinion of others, which is a shame. I cannot quite come to terms with whether it is the story or the acting that makes this show a yawner.  The only excitement is the rotten ending that will never come to a resolution.

Again, it brings up my prior point that British television has been toying with the cliffhanger endings on some famous shows recently in hopes of a season two.  It really leaves a sour taste in this viewer’s mouth, and I wish they would rethink their tactics when doing these shows in the future.

Okay, I’m done ranting.