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: 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.

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

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Weekend Roundup – BBC’s MIRANDA series, TESLA movie + Netflix’s Project Power

Happy Sunday everyone! Hope you all had a nice weekend. I haven’t done these weekend roundup posts in ages, but maybe now that the lockdown/quarantine or whatever you call it continues, I might make this a more regular thing… we’ll see.

I couldn’t pick a more different shows/movies to watch this weekend, don’t I? 😀 Well, I like to spice things up, ahah. On Friday I had a friend over and I actually watched a couple of episodes of MEDICI: The Magnificent (again… I’m trying to convince her to keep watching this series as they’re SO good!!). So we watched the TRUST episode, which is one of my faves of season 3… and trust me when I said I’m still working on a massive MEDICI post, it might have to be broken into 2 parts as it’s really, really big!

Well, when we’re done with a couple of episodes, my friend tried to convince me to binge LUCIFER (why? well… have you LOOKED at Tom Ellis?? If you know me at all, I have a penchant for Welshman, and he practically looks like a young Timothy Dalton!). As it turns out, I find LUCIFER rather meh, I just cannot get into it at all… but we thought about checking out what other series Tom E. has been in, thus… MIRANDA!! And guess what, I was completely hooked right away!!

I’d been a fan of Miranda Hart for a while, she’s so hilarious in SPY, EMMA. and all her Graham Norton’s appearances. But for some reason I just never got around to seeing her popular BBC sitcoms that ran from 2009-2015. Per Wiki, developed from Hart’s semi-autobiographical BBC Radio 2 comedy Miranda Hart’s Joke Shop (2008), the situation comedy revolves around socially inept Miranda, who frequently finds herself in awkward situations. Even her opening sequence is simply adorable!!

So I’ve finished season 1 and 2 (I even tolerated the ads on IMDb TV!) this weekend and SO looking forward to season 3! I’m hoping I could find the Christmas special and other special episodes. I can’t get enough of Miranda… and the funniest & most adorable moments are between her & Gary… I mean we’ve all been there, making a fool of ourselves in front of our crushes!

Here’s the very first episode if you’re curious… the scene of her with Gary (5:50 and 12:20) are hilarious!! I love it when characters break the fourth wall in such a fun way, and Miranda does it a lot!

Of course any sitcom has to have a great cast to support the main star and this show is chock full of the best British comedians … Sarah Hadland, Patricia Hodge, Sally Phillips, James Holmes. Of course the best part of the show is Miranda herself… she’s just a naturally funny and the show is absurd but yet relatable. It’s been a while since I watch anything w/ a laugh track, and it takes a while to get used to, but here, I was laughing along with them every time that soon it didn’t bother me. Ok, here are some hilarious bloopers… man I wish this show is still around, I just can’t get enough!

So thanks Lucifer for introducing me to Gary AND Miranda… funny how you end up finding certain shows. Oh well, better late than never!


Now, the other show I watched this weekend was Netflix’s PROJECT POWER.

An ex-soldier, a teen and a cop collide in New Orleans as they hunt for the source behind a dangerous new pill that grants users temporary superpowers.

It’s got a great cast of Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but it’s newcomer Dominique Fishback who’s the scene stealer. The movie is pretty cool with sleek visuals and dynamic direction, but I feel that overall it’s more style than substance type of action thriller. There are some really dumb, cheesy moments that threaten to ruin all the good things about it, especially in a particularly bombastic scene towards the end… not to mention the undercooked superhero-twist plot, scratch-your-head logic (well lack thereof) and caricature villains.

Ted S. will review it fully sometime later, so stay tuned for that.

Oh, I also watched the new TESLA movie starring Ethan Hawke as the visionary inventor Nikola Tesla, his interactions with Thomas Edison and J.P. Morgan’s daughter Anne, and his breakthroughs in transmitting electrical power and light.

It’s a rather unusual take on a biopic, employing surrealistic technique in its narrative. The filmmaker bills it as a distinctly modern voice to a scientific period drama which, like its subject, defies convention. Stay tuned for my full review later this week.


So, what did you watch this weekend? Anything good?

 

Guest Post: 5 TV Shows to Continue Your Child’s Education Over Summer

Just because school has ended and your child is on break, it doesn’t mean they can’t still continue learning over summer. While everyone is on quarantine due to COVID-19, it can be hard to engage your kids with new and exciting ways to read or do homework every day. Luckily, we’ve gathered a list of television programs focused on kids and teens to be entertaining and educational.

1. She-Ra and the Princess of Power

She-Ra is a reboot of the 80’s character of the same name. In this version, a teenage girl named Adora happens across a sword when she gets lost in the woods. When she touches the sword, a blinding flash of light warns her about the responsibilities of what it means to wield the weapon. Upon agreeing to fight for justice, Adora is transformed into the 8-foot princess with superhuman strength, reflexes, invulnerability and communication with all creatures. 

Though she was raised by the Horde, Adora quickly learns that the evil militarized society has been trying to take over the world. When Adora joins the opposition, a group of princesses fighting for freedom, her best friend and Horde cadet Catra is enveloped by abandonment and assumes the role of She-Ra’s mortal enemy. As the events of the war unfold, the two on their differing ideologies in regard to their relationship in the past.   

The animated series is packed with imaginative action, humor, and deep character arcs that focus on relationships.

What it Teaches Teens:

She-Ra portrays a range of well-developed relationship between young adults throughout the series. Highlighting important emotions such as admiration and support, jealousy, self-doubt, romance, and hatred, this show teaches teens how to manage their emotions while transitioning into adulthood.

In She-Ra, the creators primarily examine the pitfalls and potential solutions to address abusive relationships. The close nature of Adora and Catra’s bond, now divided by their political differences, is a perfect example of how friends and family members can deal with intimate relationships facing turmoil.

Conversely, the Princess Alliance demonstrates to teens how they can practice mutual aid and support for one another. As teens begin to enter the adult world of competition and varying degrees of social status, She-Ra is a good source of entertainment to teach teens how to be supportive of one another through thick and thin.

2. Scooby-Doo: Mystery incorporated

The Scooby gang is back … in high school. This version of Scooby-Doo branches off from the classic telling of the mystery series in two ways: 1) The gang are more involved with each other through romantic teen relationships and 2) There’s an overarching story that keeps Mystery Inc. guessing throughout season as they continue to solve crimes in each episode.

Set in their hometown of Crystal Cove, the gang must deal with locals who are invested in the continued criminal streak as a source of tourism and revenue for the city. Chief among them are Mayor Fred Jones Sr. and Sheriff Bronson Stone. Each adversary feels the need to maintain the town’s spooky atmosphere in order to bring in visitors, regardless of constant fear that citizens endure. Despite these challenges, the gang are set on solving every mystery that comes their way. 

What it Teaches Teens:

Because the show is set in high school, the characters are portrayed as more relatable to today’s teens than past iterations. The Scooby-gang largely explore teen technology use, social dynamics, and common problems that teens face while transitioning into adulthood. For instance, both Fred and Daphne are confronted by their parents in the show about picking a “real” career for the future. Their parents point out that the children’s escapade as crime-fighters isn’t a long-term career. Consequently, the gang talk about what the future will look like and what kind of planning comes with being an adult. 

3. Teen Titans

Based in Jump City, the Titans are made up of Robin, Batman’s sidekick; Cyborg, an athlete who required body part replacement after a violent accident; Starfire, an enthusiastic space princess with the ability to fly and throw energy blasts; Beast Boy, a literally green vegan who can turn into any animal at will; and Raven, a demon’s daughter who must keep her emotions in check to use magic and sorcery. As the defenders of their town, it’s up to this team of mismatched teens to get along, stop villains from antagonizing the citizens, and do their laundry from time to time.

What it Teaches Teens:

Without adults around, this group of heroes must engage in serious conversations about what it means to be responsible and self-sustaining. Robin, the team’s leader, is often at odds with the rest of the group because of his strict upbringing under Batman’s tutelage. He’s constantly pushing the others to live a well-composed lifestyle of balancing work and playing. As teens in real life pursue higher education or job opportunities for themselves, it’s important to realize self-agency. As the Titans’ willpower is constantly tested throughout the show by supervillains, the more intimate tests of strength come from taking personal responsibility over their lives.

4. Parks and Recreation

Probably the most direct way to continue your child’s education over summer out of all these shows is Parks and Recreation. This mockumentary follows the golden-hearted exploits of Leslie Knope, a dedicated and energetic civil servant looking to provide the best public services she can through the local parks program. Standing in her way is her boss and close mentor, Ron Swanson. Ron’s no-Government, no-nonsense, no-people outlook on life make for a comedic foil to Leslie and a tender look at the larger political spectrum in Pawnee, Indiana.

If the premise of a show about municipal government work sounds boring, just remember that The Office was specifically made to derive humor from a boring situation with lively characters and an earnest heart-warming plot. (The folks who made The Office also created Parks and Rec, The Good Place, and Brooklyn 99). Parks and Rec is also the show where stars like Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, and Aziz Ansari made their big break alongside performances by comedy alums including Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, and Megan Mullally. 

What it Teaches Teens:

Parks and Recreation teaches teens just how important local government is. As Leslie makes the climb through the stages of government, we see her take on positions like City Councilwoman, and Regional Director of National Park Services in the Midwest Region, and Deputy Director of Operations at United States Department of Interior. Other characters fill positions such as the city Manager, city Mayor, and interns for the Parks Department. This show might teach your teen about local, state, and federal government more than a high school government class.

Teens can even get a look at how they might be able to participate in creating change in their communities through April, Aubrey Plaza’s seemingly detached intern who is dragged into caring about her work because of how infectious Leslie’s enthusiasm is for helping others. This show makes local government entertaining and interesting enough to pique your child’s interest in a potential summer job as well.

5. Avatar: The Last Airbender

12-year-old Aang is the Avatar, the only person in the world who can control all four elements -water, air, earth, fire. In a world that is divided into four nations based on the element their citizens can “bend,” it is the Avatar’s job to unite the world and usher in peace where there is political and spiritual discord. However, when Aang first learned of his responsibilities, he fled into the ice where he remained frozen for 100 years. In that time, the Fire Nation has largely succeeded in achieving world domination. After completely eradicating the Air Nations from which Aang was raised, the Firelord has closed in on the remaining two elemental populations.

The show takes place as Aang is woken up by two Water Tribe kids, the waterbender Katara and her non-bending brother Sokka. Along their travels to undo the harm that has been done, they pick up new friends, including the blind earthbender, Toph. Together, the gang visit small villages and large cities across the globe that have been damaged by the Fire Nation’s imperialism and conquest.

Avatar is wildly creative, action-packed, and includes some of the most widely praised and well-developed character arcs in the history of television.

What it Teaches Teens:

Because the show is set in a fictional world facing an imperialist army, this children’s animation is primed for teaching kids about lessons that parallel real-life issues. Many of the main storylines throughout the show explore the experiences of refugees, people from different social classes in different nations, and emotions like grief, loss, and acceptance.

The main antagonist, Zuko, is actually the son of the Firelord who has been banished until he captures the Avatar for his father. Throughout his journey, he changes perspectives about the violence of his actions while exploring his personal motivations, wants, and needs. Widely praised as one of, if not, the best redemption arks in a series, Zuko’s journey teaches audiences that there is nuance to disagreement and that soul-searching is a long and drawn out process.


Learning from Home Made Easy

Ranging from topics like how to deal with grief and acceptance to the importance of local government and addressing political differences, these five TV shows are guaranteed to teach your teen valuable lessons for the future. We hope these programs will spark a discussion between friends and family about the themes and lessons you encounter.


Author Bios

Brian Grant is the Director of Content for Talking to Teens. His creative work includes screenwriting, ghostwriting, copywriting and more.

Eric M. Earle is the founder of Tutor Portland and Tutor San Francisco. He focuses on improving students’ math grades to better their college acceptance rates.

Thursday Movie Picks: TELEVISION EDITION – BOOK TO TV ADAPTATIONS

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy almost Friday everyone! I’m a bit late to the TMP party but I love this week’s topic that I still want to participate. The Thursday Movie Picks blogathon was spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… TELEVISION EDITION: BOOK TO TV ADAPTATIONS.

It’s been a month or so since I participated in TMP, but when I saw this week’s topic I decided to do a post since I’ve actually been reading books about the MEDICI family, as I’ve just finished season 2 and 3 of Medici The Magnificent on Netflix.

I’m not including it here as I don’t think the show is based on a certain books/novels, most of it is based/inspired by historical events. I LOVE the last two season and will be sure to blog about them at some point.

In any case, here are three of my fave books-to-tv adaptations in the past few years:

WESTWORLD

Set at the intersection of the near future and the reimagined past, explore a world in which every human appetite can be indulged without consequence.

This HBO science-fiction series is based on a novel by Michael Crichton. Per IMDb Trivia, apparently Warner Brothers had been trying to remake the 1973 Westworld movie since the 90s, Crichton even wen to J.J. Abrams who later in 2013 pitched the idea of a TV series to creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. Well, I think the show runners did a terrific job and making it a series certainly is a wise move given how complex the story is and the number of opportunities to explore the world-within-world and various characters, from the robots (er, hosts) to humans.


A Discovery Of Witches

Diana Bishop, historian and witch, accesses Ashmole 782 and knows she must solve its mysteries. She is offered help by the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, but he’s a vampire and witches should never trust vampires.

This series is based on All Souls Trilogy, a three-book series written by Deborah Harkness. I was immediately hooked because of the lead cast Matthew Goode and Theresa Palmer. I know the forbidden romance storyline’s been done to death (no pun intended), but the setting in England and Venice are pure escapism stuff. The series’ pacing can be much improved and some parts can be quite cheesy. The two leads were still able to keep me engaged however, and having Lindsay Duncan as mother vampire (Goode’s mother) is inspired casting! I do enjoy vampire movies/shows so long as they’re not too gory. I’m glad there’s season 2 that’s reportedly going to be set in Elizabethan times!


KILLING EVE

Eve is a bored, whip-smart security services operative whose desk-bound job doesn’t fulfill her fantasies of being a spy. Villanelle is a talented killer, who clings to the luxuries her violent job affords her. These two fierce women, equally obsessed with each other, will go head to head in an epic game of cat and mouse, toppling the typical spy-action thriller.

The BBC America/AMC show was adapted from Luke Jennings’ Codename Villanelle novellas. I got to this series a bit late, but hey better late than never! I love the London setting, perfect for any spy thrillers, and the two lead actresses are amazing! Sandra Oh is such inspired casting and she immediately hooked me. The chemistry between Eve and Jodie Comer as Villanelle is truly what makes the show works so well. I also love Fiona Shaw as Eve’s mysterious boss. It’s definitely the best cat-and-mouse thriller out there, with a healthy dose of humor thanks to show-creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s witty writing!


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen any of them?