#BingeWatch: WESTWORLD season 2 – An Appreciation

One of the positive things about being quarantined is you’ve got the luxury of time to catch up on some of my favorite shows. I LOVED the first season of WESTWORLD when it premiered in 2018. My hubby and I finally finished season 2 Thursday night and of course I’m still thinking about it. I’m surprised I didn’t have nightmares of Halores, ahah. If you’ve seen season 2 you know what that means!

It’s truly one of the most bizarre, inventive, meta, enthralling, and addictive shows I’ve ever had the privilege of watching. It’s perhaps the trippiest show, which is made all the more discombobulating given the non-linear timeline. In fact, one of the most fun things after binging shows like Westworld is consuming ALL of the articles, theories, explanations, etc. because truly, this is the kind of shows you want to pick apart and discuss endlessly with fellow fans.

Thanks to this Insider article, I can make some sense of the timeline of the show, I said some because everything is still trippy AF and you never really know which part is real. I also love how the show keeps us guessing who’s actually human and who’s a host, aka robot.

If you haven’t caught up with season 2 yet, here’s the trailer to wet your appetite… it took me waaay too long to finally catch up with it, but it’s so well worth the wait!!

There are SO many things to appreciate about this show… so consider this an appreciation post.

The Score & Opening Credits

I absolutely love is Ramin Djawadi‘s haunting score and this stunning opening credits! TV shows have really upped their game in creating truly beautiful and memorable opening credits, but I consider Westworld’s music and graphics one of the most innovative. It truly fits the tone and eerie, mystical vibe of the show itself.

 

Genre-crossing brilliance

We’ve seen countless human vs robots movies/shows but I think Westworld still sets itself apart because it can bridge multiple different genres – this season it shows there are other parts of the theme park explored, there’s the Raj as in the British Raj period in the Indian subcontinent, Ghost Nation with the Native American tribe and Shogünworld that’s modeled after Japan’s feudal Edo period.

I was just in Disney World in early March (yup, right before there was any COVID-19 cases reported in Florida!) and it’s eerie to imagine if a theme park like this exist… man, even just thinking about it gives me the chills!

The Production Values

This show has got to be a dream not just for the cast to work with, but the crew! The ultimate sci-fi western mixing gunslinging & futuristic, lifelike androids. In every episode I’m constantly in awe of the production design that sometimes it’s distracting! I love the juxtaposition between the desert landscape of the Old West and the super high-tech, space-age technologies with its cutting edge gadgetry, weaponry… and of course the ‘host’ aka robot-building mechanisms. After all, most of the technologies and concepts explored in the series are not only totally plausible in the near future (check out this Venturebeat article), some like 3D printing, intelligent machines, etc. are already here.

I love the BTS featurettes on how the filmmakers built the stunning world of Westworld, and these two on the sets and how they created those creepy-looking drone hosts (which are actually costumes that actors wear)… fascinating stuff!

Thought-provoking concept

The show-runners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have really upped the ante and took this show to a whole different level from the 1973 movie version, directed by its own writer Michael Crichton. I haven’t seen the movie but I can’t imagine I’d enjoy it after seeing this phenomenal series. But the idea of a futuristic theme park where visitors can live out their wildest fantasies without any consequences is inherently intriguing… of course we all know everything comes with a price, and not all of it is monetary.

The running theme of ‘what is real’ and of course, ‘what it means to be human’ is at the core of every good science fiction… and that’s why I love this conversation between Dolores and Bernard, further blurring the lines between fantasy & reality, constantly flipping the roles between the creator and the creation… these scenarios that could potentially make one question one’s own existence!

What separates humans from robots is our mortality. Most of humans vs droids stories usually focus on the bots wanting to be like humans, to break free from the codes and human control as they’re often created to serve us. But what if there’s a twist? The series explores a grandiose concept that perhaps it’s the humans who want to be like the bots, to be able to live forever.

The Riddle of the Sphinx is an especially eerie one with plenty of philosophical speeches to ponder. Immortality is an often-told concept and seemingly a constant humans’ obsession with trying to cure death. I guess this is a ‘disease’ for the wealthy… I mean, no matter how much money one has, they still only have the same normal life span like the rest of us. Of course that doesn’t stop many companies in reversing the course of aging and offering us ways to ‘cheat death.’ We certainly don’t need any tv show, no matter how brilliant, to tell us it’s futile and playing God has dire consequences.

Great actor Peter Mullan as James Delos

Humans aren’t meant to live forever, let’s drink to that, shall we?

Speaking of living forever… reading this Vulture article where a futurist discuss the plausibility of AI developing consciousness in our world today is pretty eerie. Now, since we are all now living under a global pandemic and self-quarantining to save our lives, I thought about if something like Coronavirus were to happen in Westworld and spreading throughout the vast areas of the park… well, wouldn’t it be the end of humanity as we know it? I mean, as humans would start dropping like flies, the bots would live on as they’re obviously immune to organic viruses. It would be catastrophic not just for the park, but the world beyond.

Westworld Season 2 MVPs

I might do a separate blog just to talk about the cast. Man it’s really tough to pick just one as this show thrives on a talented, eclectic ensemble of phenomenal actors! It’d be too easy to pick

Ok for the sake of an argument, I’ll go with these two.

Thandie Newton – Maeve

It’s always clear from season one that Maeve Millay, a brothel madam in the local Mariposa Saloon, is much more than meets the eye. I knew she’s a special host, but just how special is she? Well, season 2 explores that brilliantly, boasting Thandie’s best performance yet. The kind of host never to trifle with and in the Akane No Mai episode in Shogünworld she proves just how mighty Maeve can be. I’m not going into details for spoiler sake, but when it happened I literally gasped! There’s also a scene where she finally get to humiliate one of her creators for constantly degrading her fellow robots, it’s one of the show’s funniest moments. Let’s just say he finally got his comeuppance.

Zahn McClarnon – Akecheta

While some sites have said the Kiksuya (which means “remember” in Lakota) is the best episode of season 2. That might be debatable, but I’d think it’s the most emotional one, which is quite a feat considering the episode consist almost entirely of expository flashback. Zahn McClarnon delivers an absolutely moving performance as Akecheta, delivering a monologue to a young child (in Lakota language no less), telling his story of his lost love and how he came to figure out just what kind of world he’s been living in. That whole bit of ‘take my heart when you go’ could’ve come out so mawkish and schmaltzy, but his performance holds it together and really made you care. It seems the show, just like the park’s creator Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins), is pro-host, and when you have character like Akecheta, it’s easy to see why.


Season 3 – beyond the park

Season 3 has started on HBO, and boy the trailer looks freaking amazing!! I’ve been waiting to see just what would happen if the hosts goes into the real, human world that they’ve been forbidden to enter. I’m salivating but I’d rather wait until all episodes are available as I prefer to binge on shows, I mean I find it torturous to have to wait a whole week to see what’s next!

Right now, I’m actually still reading all kinds of stuff about season 2! So if you have some great articles about it (NO SPOILERS for season 3 please!), please do share!

Have you seen WESTWORLD season 2? Let me know your thoughts!

What I’ve Been Watching During Self-Quarantine

Hello everyone! Happy Friday! Hope all of you are coping as well as can be expected during this strange and difficult time. My hubby and I have been working from home this past week until the end of the month, who knows it could be longer. Despite all this, I’m counting my blessings and keeping my spirits high as we ride out this Coronavirus pandemic!

Well, thank goodness we live in a world where we have streaming services available! These in-home entertainment helps during a time where social distancing has become the new normal. We have been watching a lot more shows/movies since we have been cooped up at home. I saw on TV Guide that some streaming services even extended their FREE TRIAL to 30 days!

So last weekend I binged on …

BEECHAM HOUSE

I’ve been a huge fan of Tom Bateman and had been waiting for quite some time for this UK show to finally make it to the US! It’s not available on broadcast, but I had joined PBS Passport member in order to watch Sanditon a month ago, so I’m thrilled this one’s finally available to watch in early March!

A look at the lives of residents living in a Delhi mansion during the cusp of 19th century.

Check out the trailer…

Set in the 1795, amidst the clashing forces of British and French militaries and the decline of the centuries-old Mughal Empire. It’s billed as Downton Abbey India, and it’s also got Lesley Nicol who played Downton’s longtime cook Mrs. Patmore, this time she’s playing one of the masters of the house as the protagonist John Beecham’s mother. Bateman is perfect as John, the conflicted former soldier who’s left the ruthless East India Company and made a living as an art trader.

I’m a big fan of filmmaker Gurinder Chadha as well, the creator of the show. I love that Beecham House is partly filmed in the UK and India, the sets in the latter is especially sumptuous, all the costumes, set pieces, actors, etc. all lend to authenticity of the show. Not to mention the opulent house itself with its magnificent details. I love the diverse cast, too! I’ve been crushing on Tom Bateman for some time (he’s terrific in Vanity Fair) and here, his charismatic yet mysterious presence has proven himself ready to be a major leading man.

Glad to see Leo Suter once again after seeing him in Sanditon… thankfully he’s got more screen presence on this show as I had complained how wasted his talents was there. He’s proven to be a versatile actor as his character is quite different from Sanditon, but I definitely fancy him more as a bit of a rascal! The Indian actors are equally fascinating. Pallavi Sharda and Shriya Pilgaonkar are both stunning as two headstrong ladies who refuse to be a shrinking violet (I say that as the English woman named Violet here is a rather silly woman). I love Viveik Kalra in Blinded By The Light, here he’s playing the house caretaker who’s loyal to John Beecham. I hope to see more of him in future projects!

I might dedicate a blog post for this show, but for now, let’s just say it’s absolutely binge-worthy!


The Mayo Clinic: Faith – Hope – Science

If you like documentaries, here’s one you should check out. It’s particularly intriguing to me because I live just an hour away from Rochester where the Mayo clinic is, but given their impact all over the world, it’s worth learning about just how they got started. It’s truly inspiring stuff!


Yesterday I wanted to see something light and funny, so we watched The Secret Life of Pets 2 on Netflix. It wasn’t as funny as the original, but still entertaining for the most part. My favorite bit is the one with the farm shepherd dog Rooster voiced by Harrison Ford. He’s so perfect for the part, a grumpy, adventurous veteran who’s teaching the city dog Max on how to overcome fear.


Thanks to that TV Guide link, I can finally watch this show on SundanceNow!

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.

 

It’s been around since 2018 and I remember really wanting to watch it when I saw the trailer… I mean hello, Matthew Goode!! 😍He sure makes one heck of a sexy vampire, oh la la! Interesting that the series about vampires and witches are set in the field of academia, Oxford University to be exact, and it’s actually filmed on location in various parts of the world… Oxfordshire, Scotland, and Venice. It’s definitely a great escapism for the time being since we cannot be physically traveling to any of those countries until this outbreak dies down.

I quite like Aussie actress Teresa Palmer as well, interestingly enough the first time I saw her in was in Warm Bodies, a zombie comedy. She must have a thing for movies about the undead. She looks so much like Kristen Stewart too, and she’s on that massively popular vampire movies. Apparently this one is also based on a novel, The All Souls Trilogy, by a woman writer, Deborah Harkness. I wonder why they didn’t just keep that title, , rather than what the have now that’s so long and clunky.

I’ve seen four episodes so far as of today, and I like it more and more. Story-wise, there’s enough going for it to keep me watching… there’s the enigma and mystery surrounding the Congregation which is comprised of representations of demons, vampires and witches (though the person who takes care of the location is a human, ha!)… and these species live under some strict rules.

The acting is a bit uneven, but the two leads Goode and Palmer are great and they have a good chemistry. An important factor given the core of the story is a forbidden romance, a bit like Romeo + Juliet but with warring species, not just families. I do have some issues with directing choices and the use of modern songs that kind of cheapen the show a bit, it just doesn’t jibe with the elegance of the setting. Oh, and what’s with these vampires not being affected by sunlight or even Crucifixes, and they go about like humans in their daily activity… eating, drinking, playing with their cellphones, etc. Seems all too convenient to me since they can live for hundreds of years!

In any case, I have four more to go in season 1, and I just learned that season 2 has been greenlit but according to this article, they have wrapped filming. But given some of the filming is in Italy, there might be a major delay if they have to do some more shooting done over there given the Covid-19 situation.


So that’s just a sampling of what I’ve been watching the past week and a half… 

How about you? What have YOU been watching during self quarantine?

 

JUNE Viewing Recap: INDIAN SUMMERS, Netflix’s Murder Mystery, Unlocked, etc.

I can’t believe it’s July already… I feel like once July 4th is behind us, we’re already more than halfway done with Summer 😦 Well, I actually didn’t really do much movie/tv watching around the Fourth weekend as I prefer to make the most of Minnesota Summer outside.

I did watch quite a few things in June, some of which I haven’t reviewed nor even mentioned on the blog. But for those looking for new releases reviews, here’s a handy list:

Aladdin | Godzilla: King of Monsters | Rocketman | Dark Phoenix | Always Be My Maybe | Late Night | Dead Don’t Die | Toy Story 4 | Spiderman: Far From Home | Midsommar | Yesterday

Oh I also saw MIB: International which I can’t say was a good movie (read: it was awful!). Review coming sometime next week.


Let me start with the show I’ve been bingeing. Thanks to my friend Vony B who has a similar taste as mine in regards to British shows [and hunks 😉 ], she recommended me INDIAN SUMMERS on Amazon Prime.

Period drama set in 1932 during the final years of British colonial rule in India.

I finished Season 1 in about a week, but took my time with the 2nd season as I kind of don’t want this series to end (there are only 2 seasons). I LOVE it, it’s kind of like Downton Abbey but with even more intrigue and higher stakes, and also feature a diverse cast. The show centers in Simla, in the foothills of the Himalayas, during the Summer, hence the name. The British colonialism story has been told before but what I love about this one is how the story is told by both sides, the British and the Indians. The characters from each group are both multi-dimensional… not every British are evil and all Indians are good or vice versa, lots of gray areas that make the show so compelling and intriguing. Kudos to show creator Paul Rutman for making such an addictive show and each episode always ends with a breathtaking cliffhanger!

Nikesh Patel & Jemima West

My initial draw to the show is Julie Walters who plays against type as the ruthless and conniving Simla club owner. But soon I was rooting for Nikesh Patel’s Aafrin, the Indian man in a British suit who’s rising through the ranks in the Indian Civil Service. What period drama without romance? The secret ‘forbidden’ romance between Aafrin and Alice (Jemima West) is downright juicy! I’m only about 3 episodes in on season 2 but I’m savoring every moment. Even though I’m not done with the entire series yet, based on what I’ve seen so far I’m giving it a high rating.


New to VOD

Isn’t It Romantic

So my friend Holly has reviewed the movie here, and I agree with her that it’s a lot of fun! I’m not the biggest fan of rom-coms (unless it’s written by Nora Ephron or Richard Curtis) and I love that this movie pokes fun at the genre while paying homage to it at the same time. “I had you at hello-copter” had me in stitches! I adore Rebel Wilson and she’s definitely the reason to see this.


Netflix Shows:

Murder Mystery

Ok so when Netflix bragged that over 30million people saw this movie in its opening weekend, I was curious what the fuss is about. Well Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston are made for each other in this lush but vapid vacation comedy that’s practically devoid of suspense. Ok I gotta to admit the gorgeous locations are pure escapism, heck I’d love to be invited aboard a yacht by a perfectly-tanned tycoon who looked like Luke Evans. I told my hubby that if that’d ever happen to us, I’m definitely saying yes, ha! Of course I’d be hit by lightning long before that’d ever occur in my lifetime. It’s entertaining in parts, but I likened it to eating McDonalds… yes you enjoyed it but once you finished eating, you wished you’d eaten something far more nutritious.

Unlocked

I had never even heard about this movie before I saw its image suddenly flashed on Netflix. This is the fourth action movie of Noomi Rapace on Netflix I saw in the past couple of years, the previous three were What Happened To Monday, Bright and Close. Boy, the petite Swedish actress is truly a force to be reckoned with.

Here she plays a CIA interrogator who’s lured into a ruse that puts London at risk of a biological attack. It started out really intriguing but as soon as Orlando Bloom showed up, it became an old school spy flick where nothing is what it seems. It’s not as smart as you think however, which is disappointing given its gripping first act. The cast is filled with talented actors, Michael Douglas, Toni Collette, John Malkovich, but most of them are pretty wasted in bit parts. Rapace’s is interesting to watch however despite her stoic expression and no-nonsense demeanor. I’d say it’s still worth a look if you’re a fan of spy thrillers, and at 1hr 38 minutes, it’s pretty darn efficient.

The Chef Show

I think this show’s got more unwanted PR from Gwyneth Paltrow when she apparently didn’t remember she was in the first Spider-Man movie that Jon Favreau had to remind her. It’s too bad as it’s a really good show… just make sure you don’t watch it hungry.

Favreau was chef Roy Choi’s apprentice when he did the indie movie Chef (which I highly recommend). In the first two episodes, they made even the simplest food like grilled cheese so mouth watering. I don’t even like grilled cheese that much and I was salivating! Nice that Favreu has plenty of cool friends to stop by his show. In an Atlanta restaurant, a few Avengers (and its honcho), Robert Downey Jr.Tom Holland and Kevin Feige joined them for lunch.

I love the casual vibe of the show and the camaraderie of the chefs. Favreau and Choi seemed to genuinely each other’s company, and obviously enjoy what they’re doing that their joy is infectious. Can’t wait to watch the rest of the season!


My fave JUNE movie has got to be Always Be My Maybe

…with Spider-Man: Far From Home closely behind.


So what’s the highlight of your JUNE viewing?

FlixChatter Review: Netflix’s VELVET BUZZSAW (2019)

Netflix has truly become a force to be reckoned with in terms of original content, the fact that they apparently planned on making 90 original movies this year alone… with budgets up to $200mil! In the Winter time, streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon are a staple for me, as weather can wreck havoc on your moviegoing plans (esp when we’re plagued with Polar Vortex!). Thankfully, many of Netflix original programming are pretty high-quality, and they attract high-quality filmmakers and talents.

In Velvet Buzzsaw, Dan Gilroy re-teamed with Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo, who were both excellent in Nightcrawler. It’s a satire thriller with a rather whimsical tone, offering a tongue-in-cheek commentary about the relationship between art and commerce. Right from the first trailer, I was hooked by the premise of a thriller set in the L.A. art world AND the outstanding cast.

The main players of the movie are art critic Morf Vandewalt (Gyllenhaal), gallery owner Rhodora Haze, and an ambitious agent Josephina (Zawe Ashton). One fateful day, Josephina found her neighbor Vetril Dease dead in her apartment complex. As it turns out, Dease was a painter and a plethora of his unseen work are stored in his apartment. Josephina stole a bunch of them, and upon showing them to Morf and Rhodora, they’re convinced they’ve stumbled into something truly lucrative and decide to profit from Dease’s work. So voilà! Rhodora showcased Dease’s paintings in her posh gallery along with some over the top pieces like a talking [creepy-looking] robot and a giant interactive sphere. Everyone was mesmerized. Everyone from curator assistant Gretchen (Toni Collette) and another artist who’s kind of in a funk Piers (John Malkovich), Rhodora’s rival Jon Dondon (Tom Sturridge), are all equally enamored. Dease’s work becomes a social media hit and the paintings can net 8-figure sum. But of course it’s all too good to be true. There’s evil lurking behind those paintings, ready to exact vengeance upon whoever tries to profit from them.

Strange things start to happen, as people begin to notice that the paintings actually move. I’m glad I don’t have many paintings in my home as those scenes are really quite eerie. I don’t know who the actual artists are who created the paintings for the movie but some are really amazing. Predictably, people who stand to profit from Dease’s work are starting to get killed one by one. It kind of lessens the suspense of it all but I don’t think Gilroy intends to make a ‘twist-y’ movie a la M. Night Shyamalan. I started to play a guessing game with my hubby as who’s gonna be offed next. It didn’t quite descend into the Final Destination franchise banality where the writers just have to figure out a ‘creative’ way to kill their characters. That said, some of the death scenes are pretty creative. It seems Gilroy decidedly made Velvet Buzzsaw a kitschy satire, as if he didn’t really take this story too seriously.

Toni Collette & the giant interactive sphere

Performance-wise, I think most of the actors are solid. Gyllenhaal seemed to relish playing a neurotic, flamboyant, ‘sexually-fluid’ art critic, delivering an over-the-top performance with such glee it was amusing to watch. Glad to see Russo in a meatier role here and she looked absolutely convincing as a gallery owner. Collette doesn’t have much screen time but she’s always memorable in any role and here she plays the pretentious museum curator with aplomb. I’ve never seen the British actress Zawe Ashton portraying the loathsome snob Josephina, well she definitely made quite an impression here.

Overall Velvet Buzzsaw didn’t have quite the shock value as Nightcrawler, which is still the better Gilroy-Gyllenhaal collaboration. This one feels shallow, one might even say frivolous, which is ironic as the outside world often views the art community that way. It’s also lacking a deep emotional resonance as most of the characters are so unsympathetic. In fact, I got so annoyed by Josephina and her greedy, duplicitous ways that I can’t say I was sorry to see her go. As a non-horror fan though, I was pretty entertained by it and thankfully it’s not as gory as I had been led to believe. (if you haven’t seen the trailer yet, I suggest you avoid it as some of the ‘deaths’ actually happen in the trailer!)

I read later that apparently Gilroy was inspired to write the script because of the whole Superman Lives debacle. He was the writer of that project that was supposed to be directed by Tim Burton starring Nicholas Cage. He was dismayed that Warner Bros pulled the plug, he’s quoted as saying ‘Wow, I just spent a year and a half. Nothing I wrote is gonna ever be seen…I was looking at the waves and I was like, ‘I might as well come down and write words in the sand and have the waves just wash them away.’” (per The Playlist) Interestingly, he wrote a scene with one of his character on a beach. So I guess if there’s one takeaway from this movie, at least the way I think Gilroy envisioned it, is that, an art is more than just a piece of commodity and the level of success shouldn’t define it.

Despite its flaws though, props to Gilroy for his creativity and taking us to a world rarely depicted on screen. Heck, the character names alone is ingenious… Morf Vandewalt, Vetril Dease could be such fun band names! One thing for sure, I probably won’t be able to see an art gallery/museum the same way again after this.


Have you seen Velvet Buzzsaw yet? I’d love to hear what YOU think!

Musings on TV Series Recently Watched: Howards End + Call My Agent! (Dix Pour Cent)

Ok so before we close out the month, I thought I do another quick review/commentary of some shows I’ve been enjoying. As most of us in the Upper Midwest are forced to hibernate thanks to the darn Polar Vortex, well, here are shows well worth binging on. Yes I’m well aware most of the shows I’ve been watching are European shows… as you know I’m a self-proclaimed Anglophile, and at times Francophile 😉

HOWARDS END

If you read my blog, you’d also know there are few period dramas I do not like, esp. those set in Britain! But believe it or not, I actually have not seen the film version of Howards End, despite my longtime love & admiration for Emma Thompson.

Howards End examines “the changing landscape of social and class divisions in turn-of-the-century England through the prism of three families: the intellectual and idealistic Schlegels, the wealthy Wilcoxes from the world of business and the working-class Basts.”

Well in a way that is a good thing as I’m largely unfamiliar about the story, based on the much-revered book by E. M. Forster. What intrigues me about this series was that it’s adapted by American writer/playwright Kenneth Lonergan and one of my all time fave British actress Hayley Atwell.

Hayley Atwell and Matthew Macfadyen

Besides Atwell, the film is boasted by a strong cast of Philippa Coulthard, Matthew Macfadyen & Tracey Ullman. Julia Ormond also has a small but important role as Ruth Wilcox, a conventional woman who’s the matriarch of the Wilcox family. I love that the story is encompasses SO many social themes and is so expertly-written that almost every dialog is captivating. I am constantly in awe of Atwell as I’m watching this, and Hettie MacDonald‘s direction of Lonergan’s story structure is simply marvelous. People who love constant action on a show/film might argue that few things happen in this movie, but for me, I appreciate the intricate layers of complexity the key characters face. The sharp contrast between Atwell’s Margaret Schlegel and Macfadyen’s Henry Wilcox is palpable and often frustrating to watch,  but the character transformation/redemption in the end is quite heart-wrenching.

Philippa Coulthard & Hayley Atwell as the Schlegel sisters

If I had to nitpick however, I’m not too fond of Joe Bannister as Charles Wilcox. Yes I know the character is supposed to be unsympathetic but must the actor also be utterly loathsome to watch? I’d also like to see a stronger actor than Joseph Quinn as Leonard Bast, overall he’s not memorable given how crucial his role is.

Overall I think the cast is really strong however, esp. the mesmerizing Hayley Atwell. As much as I’m a big fan of romantic period dramas, I also appreciate the fact that they downplay the romance here. Instead it’s more of a character study and astute commentary of social themes of the time (beginning of the 20th century), which deals with women’s emancipation as well as economic prejudices, etc. that are still relatable to today’s climate. I also appreciate the ‘color blind casting’ as they employed actors of color in traditionally white roles. Overall it’s a gorgeous miniseries that’s well-written and beautifully-filmed. In fact I don’t even mind rewatching it at some point as I might’ve missed some of the nuances of this complex story.


Call My Agent! (Dix Pour Cent)

Dix pour cent plunges us into the intense and madcap world of talent agents as we meet four colleagues who struggle to save their agency’s reputation after its founder’s death. With humor and wit, the agency partners juggle their chaotic personal lives with the needs of the demanding celebrities they represent.

I couldn’t find a trailer with English subtitles but you should get the gist. The Netflix show has subtitles of course.

I started watching this show late last year and we immediately binged on two seasons within a week. A feast of cameos, esp. if you enjoy French cinema. But even if you aren’t you’d likely recognize big names like Monica Belluci, Isabelle Adjani and Jean Dujardin, Oscar-winner for The Artist.

Super agent Gabriel and his client miss Belluci

The cameos are fun as they’re basically playing themselves, but even without them, the show itself is well worth a watch. The show is apparently produced by former agent-to-the-stars Dominique Besnehard so he’s got the insider knowledge of what it takes to manage the careers of some of the top French talents/filmmakers. The lives of these agents at ASK here seem ‘stranger than fiction,’ probably more over-the-top and hysterical than the movies their clients star in. Some of the storylines may seem absurd, well some are inherently absurd, i.e. the constantly-overbooked Isabelle Hupert. But many actually have genuine intrigue and emotional resonance. A method actor who can’t escape a role as a woodsman, an older actress fighting a director set on filming her nude, a wanna-be agent maneuvering his career and his desire to be loved… and perhaps the most dramatic of all, a pregnant agent trying to comfort her lover as their daughter’s biological dad want more control. There’s even a childbirth scene right in the office!

Never a boring day at the ASK office

Even from season 1, I have come to adore the main characters. We get to know them more in season 3 and it’s tough to pick a favorite. I’m always amused by the shenanigans of super-agents Andréa Martel (Camille Cottin) and Mathias Barneville (Thibault de Montalembert), but I really feel for the plight of Gabriel Sarda (Grégory Montel) and Mathias’ daughter Camille Valentini (Fanny Sidney) who’s getting a hang on becoming an agent. Arlette Azémar (Liliane Rovère) continues to surprise me, and hunky-boss-from-hell Hicham (Assaad Bouab) is perhaps not as bad as we think. This season, there’s also more drama involving the agents’ assistants Hervé (Nicolas Maury) and Noémie (Laure Calamy) who are just as neurotic as their bosses.

The assistants’ lives are just as complex as their bosses!

All of this drama, humor and bizarre scenarios are fun escapist stuff. At times it made me think how fun would it be to be agents to the stars, but they practically have no personal life as they’re on call 24/7 and these stars can be such babies! The setting is mostly in Paris which means the setting and fashion alone is fun to watch. This is such an addictive show that I hope there’ll be season 4 and more in the future!


Have you seen either one of these shows? I’d love to hear what you think!

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Musings on TV Series Recently Watched: Bodyguard & SS-GB

HAPPY NEW YEAR! (I think you can still say that until at least mid January, right?)

It’s a relatively mellow weekend for me and I realize I haven’t actually written a review in 2019 yet but I’ve been bingeing a ton of shows in the past month or so. I’ve blogged about Daredevil Season 3 in December, which I absolutely love!

So here’s my quick thoughts on these four series I saw in the past couple of months…

BODYGUARD (2018)

Right after Daredevil Season 3, my hubby and I actually binged on BBC’s Bodyguard which is the perfect show to watch after ending on such a fantastic series!

Police Sergeant David Budd, a heroic British Army war veteran suffering from PTSD, who is now working as a specialist protection officer for the Royalty and Specialist Protection Branch of London’s Metropolitan Police Service. He is assigned to protect the ambitious Home Secretary Julia Montague, whose politics stand for everything he despises.

Right from the first episode where Budd foils a female suicide bomber’s plot to blow up the train he’s riding on, the intensity of the show never lets up. I love that right away we see a flawed protagonist, as Budd is dealing with PTSD and is separated from his wife. Richard Madden just won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Budd and it’s a well-deserved win, perhaps a high in his relatively-young career. Yes I think there ought to be a category for ‘Best Jawline on TV’ as Budd oozes so much sex appeal even just standing there guarding his client (those secret agent earpiece never looked so sexy on a man).

Also kudos to Keeley Hawes as the conservative MP Julia Montague, torn between her high-profile political career and her undeniable attraction to Budd. Boy, the chemistry between these two is quite scorching!

Yet the series smartly plays on the ‘opposites attract’ theme and able to keep the tension high from one episode to the next, making this one of the most intriguing and addictive psychological thriller. I think the political plot is pretty absorbing, but it’s the character-driven storyline, portrayed wonderfully by the key cast, that makes this such a satisfying show to watch. Bring on season 2!!

 

P.S. I knew that as soon as I saw Madden on this show he’d go on to be the frontrunner for the next Bond. Heck, why not?? He’s definitely got the looks and can balance the sex appeal + grit for the role. Plus, I’d love to see another sexy Scotsman as 007!


SS-GB (2017)

Speaking of James Bond, SS-GB is written by British screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who co-wrote the six James Bond films from The World Is Not Enough to Spectre.

Set in a 1941 alternative timeline in which the United Kingdom is occupied by Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Detective Superintendent Douglas Archer, of the London’s Metropolitan Police is called in to investigate a murder in a flat in Shepherd Market.

The series is based on Len Deighton‘s novel of the same name, which was a pretty intriguing read despite being overly too-detailed for my liking. I always love alternative universe, and this series share major similarities with Amazon’s Man In The High Castle except instead of US, it’s set in Britain. I’m also a huge fan of Sam Riley who I think is an underrated actor, so I’m convinced I’d LOVE this series.

Alas, despite its gripping premise, there’s something so lackluster in the way the show is written and directed (by German director Philipp Kadelbach). Yes I know London is mostly grey and perhaps even murky, but must everything be so drab and dour? And the pacing just lacks energy. At first I was intrigued by its quiet intensity and smoky atmosphere (literally, as Archer lights a cigarette every few seconds!), but after a while it just feels too sluggish with only a handful memorable moments that are too few and far between. Now, I love Riley’s gorgeous profile, but I feel like the close-up shots of him are way too indulgent that it starts to look like a photoshoots for Burberry coats and Fedora.

I expect a lot from the writers of Bond movies, but then again they’ve made duds like Quantum of Solace and Spectre. I have to say that the production design and set pieces made for a convincing look of alternative Britain under Nazi occupation, and everyone looked appropriately grim. Yet there’s no sense of real urgency to the whole thing, and there’s few heart-wrenching moments that make you care for the characters. I do like James Cosmo as Detective Sergeant Harry Woods, Archer’s friend and colleague, just wish there were more memorable scenes of these two.

My least favorite character is Barbara Barga, an American reporter played by Kate Bosworth. I think she is a bit miscast here, not to mention lacking chemistry with Riley. I think she’s actually a tad more convincing as Lois Lane in Superman Returns, though a far cry from the spunky Margot Kidder in the role. I was quite intrigued by Standartenführer Oskar Huth (Lars Eidinger), an SS officer newly-arrived in London who initially made Archer’s life a living hell. Eidinger is a brilliant actor that has some memorable moments, but I think he’s far more interesting in the book. The same with the entire series, I find Deighton’s novel far more engrossing by a long shot. Ultimately it’s a thriller that lacking any real thrills, which is a shame considering the talents involved and promising source material. That said, if you like these types of alternative WWII stories, it’s still worth renting.

 

 

P.S. Given the Bond connection, at one point people were talking about Sam Riley as a possible candidate for the next 007. Hey, I’d be down for that. At this point though, I think Madden certainly has more edge to play the role.


Have you seen either one of these series? I’d love to hear what you think!

Netflix Original Movie Review: A Christmas Prince (2017)

When a reporter goes undercover as a tutor to get the inside scoop on a playboy prince, she gets tangled in some royal intrigue and ends up finding love – but will she be able to keep up her lie?

Ok so this movie was recommended to me by a dear friend and fellow Jane Austen fan a year ago. Though yes I do enjoy period dramas, especially the Austen or Brontë variety, I had trepidation about this one as it has that ‘so bad it’s good’ vibe. Well, I was absolutely right!

Honestly I’m amused by how popular these Christmas romance movies are which have been Hallmark/Lifetime specialty. I’ve never been a fan of them, but looking at dozens of them on Netflix, there’s clearly a huge market for these types of movies.

Amber’s pathetic attempt at a royal curtsy

Though The Crown proved to be one of the most successful Netflix original shows, do NOT assume this one has the same quality just because it involves the royals. Set in a fictitious foreign land called Aldovia, it’s basically every aspiring young American magazine journalist’s dream (or nightmare??). Amber Moore (Rose McIver) was unexpectedly sent by her boss to cover a press conference of Aldovia’s crown prince Richard (Ben Lamb, a Brit version of Taylor Kitsch). The young prince is a rumored playboy who’s been partying all over the world instead of preparing to take the throne following his father’s death. Now, we’d understand the appeal of a rich, good looking bad boy with a foreign accent, especially to a naive girl from a small town in Minnesota (yep, I didn’t make that up!). Well except that Richard isn’t quite the sexy bad boy we dreamed of expected, and soon we learn he’s actually a really, really good guy. I mean heck, according to his little sister Emily (Honor Kneafsey), his favorite pass time is practicing archery in his palatial garden.

The ‘hobo’ prince… but no worries, he’ll clean up real nice

Now, the storyline is actually quite amusing. The plot involves a secret identity, a mysterious poem and a pair of deceitful villains ready to snatch the throne, what more could you want? At 92 minutes however, the movie moves at a relatively breakneck pace that there’s barely any time for character development at all. But who has time for character development when there’s not even room for a sensible narrative? Apparently the Kingdom of Aldovia has zero concern for security, not a single bodyguard for their future King (who rides from the airport in a cab!) and none in the entire palace that Amber could easily sneak in and wander off (even most houses in Minneapolis suburbs has security cameras!).

Mrs Averill with Little Emily meeting the new ‘tutor’

Once Amber is in the palace, the level of incredulity is off the charts. She manages to fool everyone, including the seemingly discerning Mrs. Averill, palace secretary/head of communication (if you’re a Superman fan like me, you’d be amused by the presence of Sarah Douglas who played Ursa), that she’s in fact a tutor hired by the palace. Little Emily, who’s confined to a wheel chair due to spina bifida, immediately warms up to Amber (despite having driven her previous governesses away). Suddenly their instant besties and baking Christmas cookies together. Their friendship is utterly unconvincing, but of course it’s written in a way so the story can just move along to the actual romance.

The ‘archery’ scene where the two supposedly fall in love (cupid arrow, get it?)

Now, speaking of the romance, I’d be willing to forgive a lot of things in this movie if at least the romance is swoon-worthy. Unfortunately, I think it’s the biggest fail here as there’s simply zero chemistry between the two leads. Prince Richard is so wooden and awkward (not Hugh Grant awkward mind you, which can be endearing). Heck, those Nutcracker prince toy/ornament hanging around your house right now is likely more expressive than this guy!

I actually recognize Ben Lamb from the exquisite BBC/Starz series The White Queen and he’s far memorable there in a small supporting role. I had never heard of the New Zealander McIver before, but I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt that she’s a much better actress in a more compelling role. Here, neither of them is given much to do in a formulaic and decidedly-schmalzy script by Karen Schaler & Nate Atkins, and Alex Zamm‘s direction is serviceable at best. But I think the pair still fare better than the villainy-duo Simon (Theo Devaney) and Lady Sophia (Emma Louise Saunders) who are more annoying and lame than possessing any real threat.

The face I’d make if I were stuck doing this movie

The royal kerfuffle involves even more identity issues, on top of the fact that Richard has no idea who Amber really is, there’s a scenario questioning whether the Prince is the rightful heir of Aldovia. Those are pretty heavy subjects in a different, more substantial movie, but here everything just resolves itself nicely and conveniently. Richard doesn’t even have to change his expression at all throughout this whole ordeal. I rolled my eyes at the decidedly Bridget Jones-esque wintry finale complete with Christmas lights, snow falling and kissing.

Where’s Colin Firth when you need him?

I have to say though I had a big grin on my face when the movie ends. As far as feel-good rom-com goes, A Christmas Prince does have that warm & fuzzy quality if you’re willing to accept it for what it is. Incredulous, extremely predictable and even a little insipid, yes, but it’s also kind of sweet with its own kind of charm. I think young girls would love this flick, just like I did growing up watching those oversimplified Disney Princess movies. Come to think of it, Prince Richard’s royal garb looked exactly like Prince Charming’s in the animated Cinderella! Shot in Romania, the movie looks quite beautiful, and Netflix sure spends money creating the Aldovian castle and the quaint little town. If only they’d actually spend more money and time developing the story and characters instead.


Ok so apparently this movie is SO popular that Netflix has spawned a sequel! [oh lucky me!] So yeah I definitely will try to see The Royal Wedding and see what other shenanigans Amber would get herself into (and if Richard manages to actually conjure up a different expression this time around) 😉