Top 10 reasons I LOVE ‘Medici: The Magnificent’ series – PART 2

I’m writing this second part in front of my TV, with one of the final season’s episodes playing on screen. Well, you’ve [hopefully] read the first part of why I LOVE Medici: The Magnificent series. If not, well I hope this last post will convince you 😉

You could say that my Summer and now Fall, has been consumed by Medici. By now I think I’ve rewatched season 2 + 3 at least twice. That is rare when I love a series so much that I wanted to rewatch it right away after I’m done. I’m actually still having Medici-withdrawal now given there are mere sixteen episodes total of season 2 + 3. To help alleviate that, I started reading The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall by Christopher Hibbert (so many juicy details!), which I just finished last week. Right now I’m reading Magnifico: The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de’ Medici by Miles J. Unger.

Before I continue with the list, here’s the trailer for the final season:

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So in Part I, I talked about the Italian scenery, production design & costumes, music, the excellent bad guys and the amazing ensemble cast.

Well, without further ado, here are the last five reasons why MEDICI: The Magnificent is so binge-worthy:

5. Renaissance arts, politics & culture

You can’t make a series highlighting the Medici family without covering the important aspects of Florentine life. I love how the series doesn’t just show the iconic art painted by famous painters of the day, but entwined them brilliantly to the plot. Sandro Botticelli is a recurring character (played wonderfully by Sebastian De Souza), a personal friend of the family. I love the scenes that shows the inception of the Mars and Venus painting, using his bestie Giuliano de’ Medici (Bradley James) as Mars and the woman he loves, Simonetta Vespucci (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) as his models.

Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo also make appearances in season 3, and his Sculpture Garden at his palace was practically an art educational institution. They even depicted the famous story of Michelangelo’s time in the Garden where Lorenzo made a comment about his Faun statue.

As an Italian statesman, Lorenzo’s been consumed with the political affair of Florence, groomed for power since he’s a young man. Season 3 is even more intriguing in terms of how much the affairs of the state consumed him more and more. Lorenzo would often be off to Rome (on horseback no less!) to meet the pope and other important religious and political figures.

Though he’s not crowned, he’s practically a King as the Medici’s family dominated practically all aspects of the state. It’s certainly not the job for the faint of heart, Lorenzo has to constantly work on balancing power between the the Italian states like Venice and of course, maintain good relations with the Pope and the Papal state for the good of the Medici bank. Naturally the Medici also had a hand in the Pope selections too, in fact, his own son Giovanni de’ Medici became Pope Leo X and his nephew Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici became Pope Clement VII.

One of my favorite politically-charged episode in season 3 is when Lorenzo undertook a risky diplomatic journey to Naples to negotiate peace with the ruthless King Ferrante (Ray Stevenson) and somehow managed to succeed with the help of the King’s own daughter in-law Ippolita Sforza (Gaia Weiss). It’s an intense, suspenseful and also sexy episode rolled into one.

4. Fantastic direction + stunning cinematography

As with plenty of other series, there are multiple directors hired throughout the season. In series 2 and 3 however, there are two main directors who I should call out for their phenomenal work… both happen to be Italian: John Cassar and Jan Michelini.

One of the best episodes I’ve seen, not just in Medici, but even amongst other similar series, is no doubt the the season 2 finale, which depicts the brutal Pazzi Conspiracy. Michelini directed that episode and man, what a perfect end to a magnificent second season. Frank Spotnitz has said that the real event is actually far more brutal & bloody that it would be unsuitable for TV… I’ve just read that chapter in the House of Medici book and it’s certainly true). I’ve rewatched it half a dozen times and I’m in awe every time how they pull it off.

Bradley James + Daniel Sharman

Both Daniel Sharman (Lorenzo de’ Medici) and Bradley James (Giuliano de’ Medici) acted their heart out in this particular episode. The two have such a great chemistry depicting such fun brotherly love, which makes the final episode in season 2 even more agonizing. It’s truly one of the most memorable scenes I’ve ever seen on TV, not just in this series but amongst comparable series… suspenseful, dramatic, powerful and emotional… it’s surely violent without being overly gory or unnecessarily bloody. Totally an adrenaline rush every time I watch it.

I’ve mentioned how much I LOVE the Trust episode in season 3, but the quieter moments are just as great. One scene that jumped out at me in Season 3 (The Ten) is the moment between Lorenzo and young Giulio, the son of his late brother Giuliano, when he finally accepts him for who he said he was.

Medici The Magnificent - The Ten

I love how Lorenzo’s face changes when the boy showed him the Medici ring he’d kept hidden since he came to live with the family. The music, the acting, the atmosphere, everything just works here to create such an emotional and indelible moment.

I feel like I should’ve made a separate post to appreciate the cinematography of these series. I want to particularly single out Alessandro Pesci, the DP of the final season. For a film that touched upon the Renaissance art, it’s fitting that nearly every frame of this series is so frame-worthy! I feel like I cannot do it justice by posting stills of them, so you’d have to watch it to fully appreciate the beauty of Italy captured by this series!

Thanks to Medici Facebook for the photos. Click to see a larger version.

3. The formidable Medici women

I find that many of the period dramas that I love over the years… the Jane Austen’s adaptations, Jane Eyre, various films about British reigning queens such as Elizabeth and Victoria, The White Queen series which focused on the women during the War of The Roses, etc. have something in common. They all have strong women at the center… and by strong I don’t mean having superhuman strength, but an inner strength that made them all formidable.

Showrunner Frank Spotnitz has said that one of the great things about this Medici series have been the roles they’ve found for women to play, considering how in history, women’s roles have not been fully recorded. I’ve mentioned Clarice, Lorenzo’s wife (Synnove Karlsen) and Lucrezia, Lorenzo’s mother (Sarah Parish), the two important women in Lorenzo’s life.

They weren’t just confined in the palace running the household, but while Lorenzo was often away on state business, they were were also instrumental in helping him run the bank. If it weren’t for Lorenzo’s mother and wife, the Medici bank

I have to mention three other key women in the Medici story… Lorenzo’s former lover Lucrezia Donati (Alessandra Mastronardi), Lorenzo’s sister Bianca de’ Medici (Aurora Ruffino) who’s banished by his own brother but later came back and helped him when he needed most.

 

Last but not least, there’s Medici’s unlikely ally, Caterina Sforza Riario (Rose Williams). Despite her brief appearance, she made quite an impact politically for the Medicis.

Rose Williams

I’ve already mentioned about Ippolita Sforza in the Trust episode in Part 1. Well she’s not the only Sforza who helped Lorenzo.

I love how in The Holy See episode we saw that the wife of his most bitter nemesis ended up coming to Lorenzo’s aid in a critical moment during the Papal election. The conversation between Clarice and Caterina, specifically about Caterina lamenting about the fate of women in a world of powerful men is a deep and thought-provoking one. But then she proves to be a woman with a plan… with schemes all her own to alter her fate. Total bad ass!

2. Solid writing right down to its epic conclusion

Apparently Frank Spotnitz is a history buff and it shows! Apparently the filmmakers took more artistic liberties with season 1 of Medici: Masters of Florence, but Medici: The Magnificent (season 2 + 3)  are more faithful to historical facts. I suppose the extraordinary life of Lorenzo de Medici lends itself to great drama and political intrigue.

If you were to ask me which season I love most, I have to say the final season, with season 2 being a close second. In an interview, Spotnitz said season 3 is the most powerful and emotional as it’s less plot-oriented. I love that because it’s more character-driven and the motives of the characters, especially Lorenzo himself, drives the story right to its heart-wrenching conclusion.

Lorenzo through the years…

In season 2, we see a still naive, idealist Lorenzo who wants to do good to be good. Yet, after the events in season 2, especially the violent death of his brother Giuliano at the hand of the Pazzi, Lorenzo is a changed man. Now his motto is ‘do whatever it takes to achieve good’ that is ‘good’ by his own standards, not anyone else’s. Thanks to the writing of lead writer James Dormer, we get to see an in-depth look of this important figure and how his new outlook on life impacts his family, Florence and its people.

The spiritual aspect of the Medici’s story is explored beautifully in the final season. The major change in Lorenzo the fact that he’s losing faith, even turning against God, which in that era is a huge deal. It not only impacts his relationship with a powerful, increasingly popular figure at the time, the friar Girolamo Savonarola (Francesco Montanari), but also his devoutly Christian wife Clarice.

It’s interesting looking back in an episode in season 2, after a tumultuous event,  Lorenzo lamented to Clarice how there’s blood on his hands… ‘by trying to seek peace, I brought war. By trying to save lives, I lost them’ and Clarice replied saying ‘God does not judge us by the outcome of our actions. He judges us by what is in our hearts. Your heart was and remains pure.’

Johnny Harris as Bruno Bernardi

Well, that version of Lorenzo had slowly deteriorated over the years and as he’s become a much darker, more ruthless leader who decided he wanted to mold the world as he saw fit. The introduction of Lorenzo’s new strategist, Bruno Bernardi (Johnny Harris) makes for an intriguing storyline as it shows just how far Lorenzo would go to wield his power over Florence and to avenge his brother. The more Lorenzo trusts Bruno, the more callous he becomes and the bigger the rifts between him and his own family.

Jacob Dudman as Giulio de Medici

I have to mention how heart-wrenching it is to see how Lorenzo is perceived by his children, which I think is a brilliant way to show his moral decay through the years. In particular, Lorenzo’s relationship with his brother’s son, Giulio de’ Medici (Jacob Dudman) who as a young boy wanted to avenge the death of his mother. But as he’s been training to be a priest, Giulio revealed to Lorenzo that he’s prayed for God to take away his anger. Thus, it’s quite a stark contrast to Lorenzo who increasingly become more and more driven to avenge his brother (ironically, Giulio’s own father), even to the point of murder in the name of Florence and the Medici family. The end of The Holy See episode shows Giulio’s reaction to Lorenzo’s brutality and it always takes my breath away.

1. Daniel Sharman – a truly magnificent Lorenzo 

So I’ve been saving this part for season 1 because I feel like Daniel Sharman‘s magnificent performance as Lorenzo de Medici deserves its own post. Now, I still might dedicate a post for him in the future. But here I’ll try to summarize just how much I appreciate his performance in this role.

I’ve actually never seen Daniel before this show. I learned since then that he’s been on the popular show Teen Wolf, but seeing clips in that show I can’t believe it’s the same actor. It just goes to show just what a skilled performer Sharman is and even the fact that he’s not familiar with the Medici story (by his own admission), he’s able to embody the character of Lorenzo so beautifully. Check out this video below that shows a clip of his audition… I agree with Luca Bernabei‘s assessment that Daniel possesses the charisma and confidence needed for the role.

As much as I appreciate how stunning Daniel looked in the prime of his youth in season 2, I absolutely love his soulful performance as the older Lorenzo. He’s made up to look much older, grizzled and more world-weary. But it isn’t just the make up that makes the character believable – Daniel sells me the transformation from being an idealist, dutiful young man who loves his country, to a ruthless statesman driven by vengeance and power in equal measure. It’s interesting that during Lorenzo’s reign, it isn’t just the Medici’s family that’s going bankrupt, towards the end of his relatively short life (he died at age 43), he’s also morally-bankrupt.

It is a testament to the show’s writing AND Daniel’s performance that even at his worst, one can’t help but sympathize with Lorenzo. No, I’m not excusing his actions, but even when he was driven to kill his adversaries, he seems more misguided and lost, not exactly a bloodthirsty sociopath. That’s why the title of the episode before the final one, Lost Souls, is such a fitting title.

One thing I LOVE about Daniel’s performance is how he never resorted to over-acting, which could’ve easily been the case with a less-skilled actor. It’s such a juicy role that I’m glad the show-runners found the right performer to bring it to life. I love how Daniel constantly acts with his eyes to express certain emotions – subtle expression changes, body movements, even altering the tone of his voice, can be more effective than an overblown declaration or a grand gesture.

In the final season, Lorenzo also suffered from gout, a joint disease that has plagued his family, and Daniel believably portrayed this with his body language. This role requires so much physicality from an actor. The horse-riding, sword-fighting, jousting, etc. are not easy things to master, but I’d think the scenes where he has to appear frail and weak must be equally difficult to do, if not more, especially for a young actor.

Pardon the clichéd statement that there’s beauty in sadness… but it’s truly the case with Daniel’s performance portraying Lorenzo’s final days. There’s unspeakable sorrow in his eyes that almost feels too much to bear for one man. His utter heartbreak when Giuliono was savagely murdered and when Clarice suddenly died was palpable… it’s not just grief of losing someone he loved, but also immense guilt that ravaged him as he felt responsible for their demise.

The heart of that final episode is Lorenzo’s inner tumult… a once-powerful man who realizes he’s lost it all and must decide what legacy he has to leave his family, especially his children. As Lorenzo had plotted to kill Girolamo Savonarola, in the last minutes leading up to that event, the camera showed multiple close-ups of his conflicted face. It’s a powerful scene with crowds gathering at Piazza della Signoria, and Lorenzo tore up the cross bead necklace… his past flashed before him as the beads scattered to the floor…  then at the last minute he did the unexpected that shocked everyone, even himself. It’s such a suspenseful and emotional scene every single time I watched it.

Ok, I could go on and on about Daniel’s performance as Lorenzo. I think I’d have to dedicate an entire post for that at some point. For now, I’ll leave you with this terrific fan video that shows clips of Lorenzo from both seasons.


 

Well, I think it’s time you check out the MEDICI series if you haven’t already.

If you’ve seen the show, I’d love to hear what YOU think!

Top 10 reasons I LOVE ‘Medici: The Magnificent’ series – PART 1

It’s been a while since I actually have time to write a lengthy post. This is perhaps one of the longest posts I’ve ever written. In fact, I started writing this in the Summer months, about a month after I discovered the series in May. I’m fortunate that I manage to have a steady job all throughout the pandemic which keeps me busy 40 hours a week. With the death of the cinema, we can only rely on streaming platforms to keep us entertained. So I’m glad I found a new obsession… that is MEDICI: The Magnificent!

Strangely enough, I had actually watched season 1, Medici: Masters of Florence (2016) with Dustin Hoffman and Richard Madden, but though I think it was a decent show, I wasn’t all that moved by it and so I completely forgot about the Medici series. I ended up bingeing on another show by show-runner Frank Spotnitz, The Man In The High Castle, after that. So it wasn’t until season 3 came out in the US in the Spring of this year that I finally decided to give it a shot. Little did I know it would launch a whole new obsession for me.

Behold the trailer for season 2…

Season 2 follows Italy’s legendary Medici family, taking place 20 years after Medici: Masters of Florence. The second season takes us to the heart of the Renaissance through one of the most important historical figures of all time, Lorenzo the Magnificent – where an attempt on Piero de Medici’s life forces his son Lorenzo (Daniel Sharman) to assume leadership of the family-run bank. Once in power, young Lorenzo resolves to do things differently, which swiftly brings him into conflict with the head of Florence’s other powerful banking family, Jacopo Pazzi (Sean Bean).

Ok, ok, if you’re like most people, including me, you’d probably be thinking ‘Oh how long would Sean Bean last in the season?’ 😆 It won’t be a spoiler to say he’d last the entire 2nd season. It also won’t be a spoiler to say he’s terrific in it!

Before I get to the Top 10, check out this absolutely gorgeous Opening Sequence… I’ll be talking about more of the music later 😉

(Just a warning, this post might be riddled with spoilers so if you haven’t seen ANY of the Medici series and don’t know much about the historical background about this family, proceed with caution. Consider yourself warned)


Now, I’ve been quite carried away writing about this show that it’s gotten to be quite a long post… so I’ve decided to split it into two parts. The main focus of this two-part article is on Season 2 + 3 as both seasons center on Lorenzo de’ Medici, played brilliantly by Daniel Sharman. Season 2 focuses on his younger years (starting at the age of 19) when he took over his family’s banking business from his father. Then the final season focuses on Lorenzo’s later years as an Italian statesman who wants to protect Florence at any cost, which leads to even his own downfall.

10. The Italian scenery/filming locations

This series has provided such a glorious escape from being confined in lockdown during the pandemic. As Americans are still forbidden to enter Europe, I live vicariously through the show’s characters roaming around Italy during the dawn of Italian Renaissance. Per this website, filming took place in 30 locations across Tuscany, Lazio and Lombardy, including Volterra, the cathedral and the Palazzo Contucci in Montepulciano, and the cathedral and the Palazzo Piccolomini in Pienza. Per the Location Guide site, Location manager Daniele Di Biasi estimates that his department has “managed over three hundred spectacular locations, and some of the most beautiful places in Italy”.

Check out this video that made me wish I could beam myself to Florence right about now!

Under the lens of gifted Italian DPs Vittorio Omodei Zorini and Alessandro Pesci, the cinematography is simply stunning. Filming in real locations close to where the actual events took place certainly lends the show a huge dose of authenticity and gives you that immersive quality. The scenery is just so spectacular that there are times I’d pause to just admire the scenery, whether it’s the lush Florentine landscape or the grand interior of whatever building they used to sub for the Medici Palace or Vatican’s Saint Peter’s Basilica.

It’s nearly impossible to pick my favorite filming location, but if I had to choose a couple, for sure one of them would be in S3/Ep. 3 Trust where Lorenzo traveled to Naples and bargained with the ruthless King Ferrante to side with Florence. The scene of Ferrante’s daughter-in-law Ippolita walking around the grounds of her magnificent seaside villa is simply magnificent. It’s also one of my favorite episodes of season 3.

Another one is in S3/Ep. 5 The Holy See when Lorenzo was talking to then-Cardinal Cibo (later Pope Innocent VIII) in this glorious villa with a cascading water staircase where the water flows down to a stone basin with a huge statue on top.

It took me a while to find just where this exact mansion is, but I found out it’s called Villa Farnese, located in the town of Caprarola, north-west of Rome. I remember the first time I watched this scene, I was so mesmerized by the scenery that I had to rewind it so I could actually listen to the dialogue.

9. The production design & costumes

Speaking of authenticity, any period drama, especially one so steeped in history like this one owes themselves to masterful craftsmen who could make viewers believe the era the show’s supposed to be set in.

Italian production designer Illia Boccia did an astonishing job transforming modern-day Italy to look like the Renaissance era…

Photos courtesy of Illia Boccia’s official site

The way the scenes were shot show Florentine streets bursting with life… merchants, noble men/women, politicians, priests, and general street dwellers walk about on the cobblestoned streets and convene in the town square, Piazza della Signoria. I feel like I was transported to the 15th century, it’s as if I could even smell the streets and taste the air the people breathed in… and when they scene shows an aerial view of the Tuscany countryside, with its vineyards and cypress trees, its tranquillity gives us a respite from the bustling city.

Now the costumes…

Italian costume designer Alessandro Lai  created the vibrant costumes for both season 2 + 3.  I’ve actually produced a short historical drama a year ago and I knew that the challenge in creating period costumes is to create something authentic that are flexible enough as to not restrict the actors’ performances.

I think they did a phenomenal job and the costumes also did an excellent job conveying a sense of time and maturity. In season 2, his costumes makes Lorenzo were designed to highlight his dynamic youth and virility in a more fitted cut and vibrant colors, but in season 3, it’s a lot more loosely-draped in darker colors. It also felt heavier, as if to depict the heavy burden our protagonist has to bear to keep Florence–and the Medici bank–at their prime.

8. The music 

For the past month and a half, I live and breath Medici… if I’m not rewatching the show, then I’m reading a book on Medici or I’m listening to Paolo Buonvino‘s gorgeous and dynamic soundtrack. The song Revolution Bones sang by British singer Skin in the opening sequence (see video above) is soul-piercing, the lyric so perfectly describes the Medici’s passion, grand ambition, but also their ruthlessness.

Thought the dust of you is gone
And the word of what is done
Fate reclaims the throne
Of revolution’s bones
Come with me
Drink away our beauty
We can fight them
I can say that I can change the world
But if you let me
I can change our world for us
Come with me

The entire soundtrack is wonderful to listen to, but one of my favorites is La Congiura dei Pazzi (The Pazzi conspiracy) which plays during, well you guessed it, the scene depicting the famous 26 April 1478 event during an Easter mass at the Duomo.

It’s even more amazing when you listened to this music during the choreographed scene of the brutal attack. I get chills when I rewatched that scene as I’m writing this post. As I just read the actual events of the Pazzi conspiracy, it’d actually be too gruesome for TV… Giuliano was actually stabbed in the head that his skull was split in two! [shudder]

7. Worthy adversaries

Speaking of the Pazzi… well, the show picked perfect actor to play Lorenzo’s worst enemy. Since most of the Medici actors are from the UK/Ireland (in fact, in season 1 the actors playing Cosimo and his brother Lorenzo are Scots), it’s no surprise they go with an Irishman, Sean Bean as Jacopo Pazzi. In season 2, Jacopo and his nephew Francesco, played by Italian actor Matteo Martari, are Lorenzo’s main nemesis. I think most people already know Bean is a terrific actor who often plays a ‘guy one loves to hate’ so well that you’re still captivated by him even if you know he’s a scoundrel. Well here, Jacopo is more than just a scoundrel, he’s downright devious and filled with hate for the Medici, as the Pazzis descended from a more noble blood than the Medici family, and Jacopo longs to reclaim the glory of his family and rule Florence once and for all.

Francesco on the other hand, was more of a frenemies to Lorenzo… they grew up together as boys, before Francesco and his brother Guglielmo lived with Jacopo. While Guglielmo ended up marrying Lorenzo’s sister, it’s Francesco who’s torn between the two sides. I’ve never seen Martari before but I think he’s really terrific here and could match Bean’s intensity. Francesco actually appears more multi-dimensional than Jacopo who seems consumed only by his ambition to rule and his hatred for the Medici. You could see the conflicted emotion in Francesco’s eyes, before he finally succumbed to his uncle’s maniacal desire to obliterate the Medici entirely from the face of the earth.

In season 3, the arch nemesis role goes to Girolamo Riario (played by Jack Roth). If you think he looks familiar, it’s ’cause he’s the splitting image of his dad, Tim Roth. Now, Riario played a key part in the Pazzi conspiracy, but since he’s Pope Sixtus’ nephew, he’s the only conspirators left alive as most were hanged/mutilated by the angry Florentine mob. In season 3, Riario is the Captain General of the Church with a predilection for violence and bloodbath.

Lastly, there’s Dominican preacher Girolamo Savonarola (Francesco Montanari). Though he was initially Lorenzo’s the spiritual mentor, as he became more and more radical in his teachings, Savonarola’s conflict with the Medici family deepens to the point that he wanted to banish Lorenzo out of Florence. They are already political rivals, but another source of conflict is Lorenzo’s deep love and admiration for the arts, which Savonarola despises and considers as distractions and mere vanity. I love how this relationship played out between these two strong characters in season 3, down to the finale which is truly heart-wrenching.

6. The amazing ensemble cast

Behind a fantastic show there’s got to be a terrific ensemble cast, and it certainly is the case with Medici. I love how internationally diverse the cast is, not just UK actors but featuring Italian talents as well. Many of the season 2 cast (pictured below) also appear in season 3 in varying capacity.

Two characters I have to give special shout outs to are Synnove Karlsen (as Clarice, Lorenzo’s wife) and Sarah Parish (Lucrezia, Lorenzo’s mother). Two actresses I wasn’t familiar with before watching the show but I’ve become a fan of now. Karlsen especially, whose transformation from an innocent, mild-mannered girl who desired to be a nun, to a formidable wife of a statesman who became a vital backbone for her husband.

As they say, ‘behind every great man is a great woman’ (more on this topic later)… well in the case of Lorenzo, there are TWO great women, and perhaps that’s why he’s magnificent!


So that’s the first five reasons why I find this show so binge-worthy! Stay tuned for part 2 where I talk about even more reasons why YOU should binge watch this one!

Well, have you seen the MEDICI series? I’d love to hear what YOU think!

HallowStream Edition – Disney’s SO WEIRD series (1999–2001)


HALLOWSTREAM Series

I grew up in the golden age of Disney Channel shows. As a  tween, I would have killed to trade my middle school uniform for Lizzie McGuire’s bedazzled jeans and flashy tops, I would have ruled the world with Raven Baxter’s precognitive powers, and I totally would have been best friends with Ren Stevens. But my all-time favorite Disney Channel show, So Weird, is one that kind of flew under the radar and never got as much hype as the others. To be fair, it had a significantly different tone from the sparkly and neon pop vibe of the others that seemed to define a lot of preteen entertainment in the late nineties/early two thousands; it was more like X-Files for kids. And it played a huge part in developing my love of the horror genre.

So Weird follows Fiona “Fi” Phillips (Cara DeLizia), a preteen girl girl obsessed with the paranormal, as she travels the country with her musician mother Molly Phillips (Mackenzie Phillips), older brother Jack (Patrick Levis), her mother’s manager and best friend Irene Bell (Belinda Metz), Irene’s husband and tour bus driver Ned (Dave “Squatch” Ward), and their sons Clu (Erik Von Detten) and Carey (Eric Lively). Fi seems to encounter strange things wherever she goes, from the standard aliens and ghosts to folkloric figures like will o’ the wisps and banshees, all the while learning that her late father, Rick Phillips (Chris Gibson), might have been just as entangled in the world of the supernatural as his daughter.

SO WEIRD series w/ Cara DeLizia as the protagonist

The thing I love most about So Weird is that it doesn’t shy away from mature subjects despite it being a kids’ show. Death is an overarching theme; Fi constantly mourns the absence of her father, who died when she was two years old, several episodes focus on life after death, and there are multiple instances where characters are actually in danger of dying. The show also focuses on familial strife. Molly struggles with being a single mom on the road and mourning her late husband; Fi and Jack argue often and struggle to find common ground; there are even several episodes alluding to Molly’s difficult home life growing up and her strained relationship with her parents.

These themes wouldn’t land nearly as well without a strong cast, and fortunately So Weird has that. Cara DeLizia as Fi gives a likable and relatable performance, and she and Patrick Levis have amazing chemistry as brother and sister; they butt heads but still clearly love each other, and this dynamic never feels cheesy like a lot of other TV sibling relationships. Erik Von Detten as Clu provides plenty of comedic relief while still giving some touching, emotional performances. Belinda Metz as Irene and Dave “Squatch” Ward are a delight to watch and work so well together. And Mackenzie Phillips as Molly is extraordinary and gives some truly heartbreaking performances throughout the series.

Image courtesy of episodate.com

Phillips doesn’t only give a strong acting performance in the series; her character is a musician, after all, and her musical skills are one  of the things that makes So Weird extra memorable. The show’s opening song, “In the Darkness,” sets the tone so well, but there are several other songs throughout the series that have stuck with me over the past 20 years; “Rebecca” and “The Rock” are especially haunting. Seriously, if they ever release a So Weird soundtrack, I will be the first to buy it.

That said, the series did weaken in the third and final season due to a major tonal shift. If IMDB is to be believed, the show-runners wanted the third season to be a lot darker, but Disney rejected it and demanded a lighter storyline. Fi leaves the show altogether and is replaced with Annie (Alexz Johnson), the daughter of one of Molly’s old friends. It’s not Johnson’s fault-she gives a fun, solid performance throughout the season- but the episode plots in season three feel a lot goofier with lower stakes.

SO WEIRD series w/ Alexz Johnson replacing Cara DeLizia

Despite the show’s underwhelming ending, So Weird has endured as a fun, spooky show for young horror fans. It’s been off the air since 2001, and for years you could only watch poorly-rendered uploads on YouTube, so I’m thrilled it’s available on Disney+ now.  If you don’t have time to binge the whole series but still want to watch a few spooky episodes to get into the Halloween season, I would recommend “Angel” (season 1 episode 7), “Will ‘O the Wisp” (season 1 episode 13), “Boo” (season 2 episode 7-the show’s Halloween episode with a delightful performance from guest star/show producer Henry Winkler), “Banshee” (season 2 episode 11), and “Strange Geometry” (season 2 episode 12).


If you have kids who are interested in horror, or you just want to find a family-friendly show to watch during the Halloween season, I would absolutely recommend this one.

laura_review


Have you seen the SO WEIRD? Well, what did you think?

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FlixChatter Review: ENOLA HOLMES (2020)


When I first saw the name of this film, I didn’t think right away that it’s somehow connected to Sherlock Holmes. Well, the trailer sure revealed she is indeed the teen sister of that famous literary sleuth. Apparently it’s also based on a book series by Nancy Springer called The Enola Holmes Mysteries.

Well, let’s just say the cast for the role of Enola is spot on! Millie Bobby Brown, who at 16 is exactly the age of the character she’s playing (at least by the time of its release) is the kind of smart, spunky heroine that can carry a movie on her own able shoulders. Even with co-stars such as Helena Bonham Carter as her mom, Henry Cavill as Sherlock and Sam Claflin as Mycroft, Millie is the one who commands attention and I was immediately invested in her journey.

The movie shows young Enola (Sofia Stavrinou) who grows up with her mother Eudoria in an English cottage as her two older brothers are off studying abroad. Naturally the two are close and Eudoria practically teaches her gifted daughter everything she knows, from literature, art, physics, to martial arts. With a mother who’s also her best friend, things are rosy for Enola… until one day, her mother goes missing.

Now, as someone who actually lost a mother at the exact age of 16 (actually my mother passed on my sixteenth birthday), the film resonates with me in a strong way. In fact, I remember tearing up a bit as Enola is in distress when she can’t find her mother. Naturally, Enola isn’t going to be in mourning for long, her mother didn’t raise her to simply wallop in self pity.

Soon she summons her older brothers, and the meet-up by the train station is quite amusing as neither of the brothers recognize her. Granted she was just a baby when they went away. I love that the movie emphasizes the sleuthing aspect in a fun way, and I cheer every time Enola figures out a clue left by her mother. The playful way of Harry Bradbeer‘s direction, where Enola often breaks the fourth wall and address the viewers, made for a fun, entertaining family movie. Though there are certain intense fighting moments, this is a safe movie to watch with the whole family, especially young girls, given the uplifting message of female empowerment.

I don’t want to give too much away with the plot, but given election time is near in the US, the film’s message is perfectly-timed. Yet it doesn’t feel preachy, but comes organically as Enola discovers more revelations about her mother’s disappearance. Along her journey, she encounters a mysterious young Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) who somewhat distracts her from her mission to find her mom. But the one person I find the most memorable, and also essential in Enola’s personal growth, is when she meets Edith (Susan Wokoma) at a martial art class.

If you want to stay in London, be tough… be tough! Live the life. But don’t do it because you’re looking for someone. Do it because you’re looking for yourself. – Edith

Wokoma sure has some of the feminist-friendly quotes in the film. Upon meeting Sherlock himself, she astutely points out this observation…“Politics doesn’t interest you because you have no interest in changing a world that suits you so well.” Touchè!

I wish there were more interactions between Millie and Bonham-Carter, but certainly, the few times they do meet feels quite special. Much has been made about Cavill’s softer, more emotional portrayal of Sherlock (Netflix was sued by the Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate for this exact reason). I actually laughed when I read that. Yes, Cavill’s Sherlock portrayal is certainly ‘nicer’ here, but compared to Claflin’s callous and overbearing Mycroft, naturally he seems far more sympathetic. I was actually more distracted by Cavill’s ginormous torso that threatens to bust out of that form-fitting Tweed suit. Sorry but I prefer skinnier/leaner Cavill before he bulked up as Superman. His acting skills is pretty average that his Sherlock isn’t really anything special (nowhere near as fun as Benedict Cumberbatch’s version). It’s no hyperbole to say that Enola doesn’t just outwits her highly-educated older brothers, but Millie also runs circles around those two actors effortlessly. But Claflin at least manages to act and portray a character quite different from his usual roles. Oh and despite playing Cavill’s older brother, Claflin is actually 3 years younger than him.

There is as much battle of wits and actual physical battle here, especially for Millie. There are at least two really intense fights between her and Burn Gorman who plays a hired assassin. Given Millie is also a producer in this movie, she must have wanted to do more action-y roles. It’s quite a feat to watch her fight not only a much older man + a skilled fighter, but she does it in a Victorian dress! I recognize that one of the locations used in the final action scene, also involving Frances de la Tour as the Dowager, which is the Hatfield House. I immediately remember the Armoury’s black and white checkered floor as it’s also used in various movies, most recently Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

I thoroughly enjoy this movie and as I mentioned before, Millie’s portrayal is definitely a huge factor. I love that she fully embraces her fearless spirit, but her rebellious nature isn’t simply to get attention, but it’s part of who she is. Yet she’s also not heartless, and I appreciate certain moments where she gets emotional. Now, I am glad the movie resists a full-on romance between her and Tewkesbury, while there’s obviously a hint of a crush between the two attractive teens. It’s definitely a beautiful movie for the senses, thanks to cinematography by Giles Nuttgens and music by Daniel Pemberton. The witty script by Jack Thorne and Bradbeer’s energetic direction sure makes for a delightful adaptation. I don’t even mind seeing more of Enola Holmes’ adventures!

4.5/5 stars


Have you seen ENOLA HOLMES? Well, what did you think?

SEPTEMBER 2020 Viewing Recap + Movie of the Month

Well, happy first full week in October!! I do love Fall in MN, though I wish we had a much longer Autumn than Winter. Though at least with working-from-home situation, I don’t have to worry about having to scrape my windshield after work or worry that my car wouldn’t start when temps gets way below zero!

Well, it’s a rather quiet month movie-watching wise, as we only managed to venture into the theater once in early September to see TENET. Have you seen it yet? Well here’s my review if you’ve missed it. Somehow I didn’t get to see too many new movies this month… September was quite a busy month at work so I was often too tired to watch movies on weeknights that I’d rather read a book instead. So I did finish The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall by Christopher Hibbert. Hopefully I have more time to watch movies this month.

Anyway, here’s my recap:

New-to-me Movies

TENET

Love, Guaranteed
Somehow I was intrigued watching this Netflix rom-com, and y’know what, despite its inherent cheese and predictability, it actually wasn’t as horrible as I had feared.  Come to think of it, this is perhaps the first movie I saw Rachael Leigh-Cook in a lead role. She’s got such cute outfits in this movie.

Lady J
My friend who knew my predilection for period dramas recommended this French film to me and I’m glad I watched it! It’s a gorgeous film set in the 18th century France about a widow who plans a rather elaborate revenge against a notorious ladies-man marquis who breaks her heart, but it’s got quite an unexpected twist.

The Social Dilemma

Enola Holmes (review upcoming)

The Bookshop
A slow yet captivating film set in 1950s in a small coastal town in England. Florence Green, a widow who opens a bookshop to help with her cope with the loss of her husband, faces a polite but ruthless local opposition. It’s quite slow going at first, but yet it has a mesmerizing and mysterious quality. It somehow made me want to open my own book shop (though not sure I could be as patient as Florence with the townsfolk!)


TV Shows/Miniseries

The Imagineering Story – Disney+

As someone who grew up watching Disney movies and have been to several Disney parks in the US, this is definitely a fascinating in depth-look at the history and creation of the Disney theme parks and attractions around the world.


 Rewatches

It’s kind of an eclectic rewatch collection this month… you probably wonder, why Reign of Fire??! Heck, I have no idea either, there’s no explanation for why I wanted to rewatch a grim, humorless movie where Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale are battling fire-breathing dragons (in a year that’s supposedly 2020 no less!).  Now of course I have to have a dose of period dramas, especially Jane Austen, hence Persuasion and Possession (two very different movies btw, and the latter is NOT based on Austen novel).

I rewatched only about 3/4 of The Proposal as I was spending a couple of nights in a resort in Brainerd Lakes, MN and that was the only thing worth watching on TV. Oh I did buy Gladiator 4k blu-ray after listening to The Art of the Score podcast during our weekend getaway up north. Give that podcast a listen if you love soundtracks, it’s a lot of fun and insightful!


First Watch in October

PERRY MASON – HBO

My hubby decided to get HBO Max again after we got the free trial to watch Westworld season 3 a while ago. There are SO many good shows to watch, but we settled on PERRY MASON even though we’re not familiar w/ the original series. We do like a good mystery show and Matthew Rhys is such an underrated actor. We’re only two episodes in and I definitely want to see more!


MOVIE(S) OF THE MONTH

The Social Dilemma + Enola Holmes

Social Dilemma + Enola Holmes

I’ve reviewed The Social Dilemma and I have Enola Holmes‘ review in my draft folder. I highly recommend them both and I do think these two movies are good to watch with your family, albeit for very different reasons.


Well that’s my viewing recap of September. What about you, and what’s YOUR favorite film of the month?

FlixChatter Review: Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House (2018)


HALLOWSTREAM Series

Shirley Jackson‘s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House is a classic work of horror literature. Eerie, atmospheric, and poignant, this ghost story has been adapted on more than one occasion with varying degrees of success: the 1963 film The Haunting is a mostly faithful adaptation and a classic in its own right, while the 1999 version with the same name is…to put it nicely, a product of its time. And while Mike Flanagan’s 2018 Netflix mini-series is pretty much an “in name only” adaptation, it still manages to capture the tense, beautiful, heartbreaking tone of its source material.

Victoria Pedretti

The Haunting of Hill House sees the Crain family forced to confront memories of their old home after the youngest sibling, Nell (Victoria Pedretti), dies there, seemingly having taken her own life. Flashing between the past and present, we see how trauma they endured at Hill House has followed them throughout their lives- and how hard it is still trying to pull them back.

Because this show premiered two years ago and was wildly successful, resulting in tons of articles and videos reviewing and analyzing it, I doubt I’ll have any new hot takes, but because its highly-anticipated follow-up, The Haunting of Bly Manor (loosely based on the Henry James novella The Turn of The Screw), is coming out next month and will be covered in my HallowStream series, it seemed like a good idea to revisit Hill House in preparation for the new season.

Henry Thomas as father Hugh

While the mini-series isn’t a retelling of the novel, there are so many little references to it that fans of the book can appreciate. The most obvious are the names of the Crain family members: father Hugh (Timothy Hutton/Henry Thomas) is the name of the house’s original owner in the novel; siblings Nell (Victoria Pedretti/Violet McGraw), Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen/Julian Hilliard), and Theo (Kate Siegel/Mckenna Grace) are the names of the three guests of Hill House; and Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser/Lulu Wilson), of course, is a reference to author Shirley Jackson. Besides the names, there are smaller details- Nell’s cup of stars, the “Welcome home, Eleanor” message written on the wall, the phantom hand holding, Olivia’s story about rocks falling from the sky, and probably several others that I missed during both times watching. My favorite nod to both the book and the ’63 film is a cameo from Russ Tamblyn, who played Luke in the original film, as Nell’s psychiatrist, Dr. Montague- the name of another character from the book. Despite the show not being a direct adaptation of the novel, there’s clearly still plenty for book fans to nerd out about.

The Haunting of Hill House not only appeals to book nerds, but theater nerds, because so much of the show feels like a play- unsurprising, as the novel lends itself well to theatrical adaptation. Each of the main characters gets at least one beautifully written monologue in the series; Theo’s monologue toward the end of episode 8 is gut-wrenching, Luke’s eulogy in episode 7 will break my heart every time, and Nell’s farewell to her siblings in the last episode has already become an iconic television moment. Even some of the supporting characters (Mrs. Dudley, played by Annabeth Gish, Poppy Hill, played by Catherine Parker, and Leigh Crain, played by Samantha Sloyan) have some juicy monologues that I kind of want to borrow the next time I audition for any community theater productions. Episode 6 feels especially theatrical thanks not only to some excellent dialogue, but to the nearly 16-minute-long uncut and unedited take at the beginning of the episode. It’s done so seamlessly and so skillfully that I didn’t even notice it during my first watch, and I had to keep reminding myself of it during my second watch.

The eponymous Hill House

Obviously such rich dialogue and such demanding scenes wouldn’t be nearly as impressive without a talented cast, and The Haunting of Hill House absolutely has that. The actors playing the five siblings-both in the present and in flashbacks- have such fantastic chemistry, especially Elizabeth Reaser as Shirley and Katie Siegel as Theo (my sister and I have definitely had the “Did you just punch me in the boob!?” fight from episode 8 on more than one occasion). The young actors playing the siblings in flashbacks are unbelievably good, but the standouts for me are Lulu Wilson as Shirley, who had already started making a name for herself in horror before this (in Flanagan’s Ouji: Origin of Evil-which, incidentally, was the first movie I ever reviewed for FlixChatter- and Annabelle: Creation), and Violet McGraw and Julian Hilliard as twins Nell and Luke, who, besides being incredibly cute (Violet’s reading of “Maybe it’s a cotton candy machine!” in episode 2 melts my heart), are given some seriously heavy scenes to perform and do so spectacularly; their nightmare speech to Olivia (Carla Gugino) in episode 9 is especially chilling. Speaking of Carla Gugino, she gives a captivating performance throughout the series; seeing her go from a warm, loving, free-spirited mother to an unhinged wretch is magnificent.

Carla Gugino

Of course, I can’t end this without talking about the real reason I’m including it in my HallowStream series: the scares. While The Haunting of Hill House has more of a slow burn than other horror series, being half family drama, it is still a ghost story. There are several jump scares throughout the show, but they all feel earned. The hidden ghosts all over the house add a level and tension and unease, because you’re not sure if you saw something. The production design of the enormous, decrepit, labyrinthine mansion is everything you could want in a haunted house. My only real critique is that the CGI can look a little cheap and unimpressive at times, but those moments are few and far between.

Even after watching The Haunting of Hill House twice, I can easily see myself returning to this show, finding new things to appreciate, and still jumping out of my skin at the scary parts. It’s a great one to watch this Halloween season, and I can’t wait to see what Mike Flanagan has planned for The Haunting of Bly Manor.

laura_review


Have you seen The Haunting of Hill House? Well, what did you think?

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FlixChatter Review: The Social Dilemma (2020)

To say social media is addictive is really putting it mildly. Even as someone who’s relatively new to social media (I’ve actually opened a personal Facebook account just three years ago when I made my first short film), it’s impossible to refute the impact of social networking. Gone are the days when we actually use our phone to make/receive a phone call… that’s hardly the reason why we can’t put our phones down.

Set in Silicon Valley, the documentary fuses investigative documentary with tech experts who helped build the social networking platforms, and narrative drama that present how a family is dealing with the social media addiction. The concept being presented here is hardly surprising, but it’s still pretty alarming to reflect that the obsessive appeal of social networking isn’t a bug, it’s a feature – that’s the exact logline on Netflix.

I personally don’t think the dramatic narrative are necessary to grasp the concepts director Jeff Orlowski and his subjects are presenting here, but they are quite entertaining and certainly makes the big ideas like social engineering, and surveillance capitalism more relatable on a human level. What I find most fascinating are the fact that the experts being interviewed had a hand in building the platforms they are exposing and calling disturbing, even malevolent.

Two of the experts in particular, Tristan Harris, a former Google Design Ethicist and Justin Rosenstein, former Google & Facebook Engineer (who’s one of the people who invented the LIKE button) have some particularly damning revelations about the Big Tech industry. While we think of them as innovative industry that create ‘tools’ to make our lives more connected are nothing more than profit-driven industry that gain their billions trillions from manipulating human behavior.

”There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software.”

”If you’re not paying for the product, then you’re the product.”

”Social media is a marketplace that trades exclusively in human futures.”

Many of these tech experts admit that they too became addicted to their own products, even after spending hours building them, they too still fall prey to what those platforms are build for. One of the most intriguing part of the dramatization is when multiple AI (played by Vincent Kartheiser) are manipulating a teenage boy (Skyler Gisondo), complete with a digital dummy akin to a voodoo doll, to keep him engaged on screen as much as possible. It seems funny and hyperbolic, but the experts, especially Tristan Harris are saying the engineers behind these platforms are paid big bucks to ‘enslave’ us for their own gain. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. are not a passive ‘tools’ like a bicycle waiting to be used, but on the other side of these platforms, there are engineers who work with acute, unscrupulous precision to ensure that their users are addicted to their products.

I’ve already limited my time on many social platform and disabled notifications even before I watch this film, and I’m not one of those people who check their phone first thing in the morning either. But I have to admit that on occasion I had been so distracted by social media that an hour or two have gone by without me realizing it! It’s really terrifying to take in just how dangerous social media has become as the AI and algorithm become increasingly smarter and adept at predicting what we want to see/hear/buy/vote, etc. Most people who weren’t born in the age of social media (I’m going to date myself here, but I still had to do my college research using a Microfiche machine at the library!), I realize that technology as powerful as social media is going to have an evil, dark side to it, but I doubt many young people are conscious of it. Even if they are, they probably are too pressured by their peers to limit their use of it.

My heart goes out to the parents of Gen Z, those born between 1997 and 2012, as mobile phones have become available to them since they’re in middle school. It’s no wonder that there’s skyrocketing levels of depression among children and teens… it’s bad enough kids get bullied in person, but being bullied through social media that reach beyond their own school/community is another matter. The film also touched upon some of the dire social implications all over the world. For example, it talks about how Facebook is used to spread false information, including Covid misinformation, and how it’s used to incite violence by white supremacist, etc. It even has an influence in something as horrifying as the genocide in Myanmar against the Rohingya Muslim minority.

The Social Dilemma might seem hyperbolic at times, and I feel that is on purpose for a cautionary tale such as this one. I certainly find if eye-opening and sobering, even downright terrifying at times. It potently illustrates just how important it is for people to connect on a human level outside of the digital ecosystem. It’s also a visually-arresting film with beautiful animation to illustrate various points. I think it’s important for documentary filmmakers to use creativity to deliver information in an entertaining way, and Orlowski certainly did that. If there is one documentary you should watch this year (well, of any year), I can’t recommend this one enough.


Have you seen The Social Dilemma? I’d love to hear what you think!

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