Trailer Spotlight: HBO’s THE NEVERS (2021)

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I LOVE period dramas and the superhero/fantasy genre, so The Nevers seems to have been made for me! I saw the teaser a few weeks ago and was like, WHOA!! It’s like Jane Austen meets Marvel… ok that’s an oversimplification as Jane Austen stories are set in Regency, not Victorian era… but in any event, you get the point.

So here’s the full trailer:

So apparently the original show-runner is Joss Whedon who left back in November 2020. Per Variety, he cited that he couldn’t meet the physical challenges of making such a huge show during a global pandemic. Well, can’t say I’ll miss him. He’s been replaced by Philippa Goslett, British screenwriter who’s developed shows for networks such as FX, BBC and Channel 4, but this marks her first time as a show-runner.

Thanks to HBO’s official show page, here’s the full synopsis:

August, 1896. Victorian London is rocked to its foundations by a supernatural event which gives certain people — mostly women — abnormal abilities, from the wondrous to the disturbing. But no matter their particular “turns,” all who belong to this new underclass are in grave danger. It falls to mysterious, quick-fisted widow Amalia True (Laura Donnelly) and brilliant young inventor Penance Adair (Ann Skelly) to protect and shelter these gifted “orphans.” To do so, they will have to face the brutal forces determined to annihilate their kind.

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Judging from the trailer, looks like it’ll be an action-packed series with [hopefully] some thought-provoking commentary about the societal issues of the time. Despite having a woman reigning as monarch, that is Queen Victoria women did not have the right to vote, sue, or own property… women are basically property of their husbands. So seeing them take charge and even banding together to save the world is surely revolutionary. The trailer show these women being persecuted, well, naturally the men would be threatened by powerful women and they’d do whatever it takes to maintain status quo (what else is new?)

The cast looks amazing!! I recognize a bunch of them from previous British series/movies: Olivia Williams, Nick Frost, James Norton, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ben Chaplin, and Tom Riley. (see below for the complete list). I also noticed Jodie Comer from Killing Eve, but her name is not on the list in Part 1 of IMDb. Now the reason for that is that this is a two-part series, which is similar to Netflix’s LUPIN.

Part One of the first season debuts on April 11, 2021 with six-episodes on HBO Max. Part Two’s six episodes will follow at a later date, to be announced.

There are SO many things to look forward to in this fantasy series! A terrific ensemble cast with a diverse set of women, beautiful costumes + set pieces, striking cinematography… and gadgetry? Well one of the main character is an inventor, so she might’ve invented this steampunk vehicle which would be handy to outrun all those nefarious guys trying to imprison them!

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So here’s the full list of cast + who they’re playing:

Olivia Williams (The Ghost Writer) as Lavinia Bidlow, the wealthy benefactress funding the orphanage for Amalia’s outcasts, who are also known as the Touched.

Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead) as feared criminal overlord Declan “Beggar King” Orrun.

James Norton (Little Women) as Hugo Swann, the rich and irreverent proprietor of a den of iniquity.

Tom Riley (Da Vinci’s Demons) as Augustus “Augie” Bidlow, Lavinia’s sweet, awkward, younger brother with a secret of his own.

Pip Torrens (The Crown) as Lord Gilbert Massen, a high-ranking government official leading the crusade against our heroines.

Ben Chaplin (The Thin Red Line) as Inspector Frank Mundi, who’s torn between his police duties and moral compass.

Denis O’Hare (American Horror Story) as Edmund Hague, a deranged doctor searching for the source of the powers.

Amy Manson (Once Upon a Time) as the tortured, murderous Maladie, who derives power from pain.

Rochelle Neil (Terminator: Dark Fate) as the fire-wielding Annie “Bonfire” Carby, one of Maladie’s motley gang.

Zackary Momoh (Seven Seconds) as orphanage doctor Horatio Cousens, whose turn equips him with healing powers.

Eleanor Tomlinson (The Illusionist) as Mary Brighton, a broken and resilient performer pursuing her dream of singing on stage.

Elizabeth Berrington (In Bruges) as Lucy Best, adaptive and streetwise, her quick-wit and high spirits mask the pain of a tragic past.

Anna Devlin (All the Money in the World) as Primrose Chattoway who, at ten feet tall and a dreamy demeanor, wishes to be an ordinary girl not taking up too much space.

Kiran Sonia Sawar (HBO Max’s Pure) as Harriet Kaur, a young Scottish Sikh and aspiring lawyer, determined to live her life as she planned.

Viola Prettejohn (The Witcher) as Myrtle Haplisch, a middle-class girl rescued from a family who cannot understand her – literally, as she can no longer speak any form of language they understand.

Ella Smith (Ray & Liz) as Désireé Blodgett, a prostitute with a power that gets her in trouble and a six-year old son who never speaks.

Vinnie Heaven as Nimble Jack, a rakish and charming young thief and an expert at breaking and entering.

So yeah, I know what I’ll be watching in April!! Perfect timing as I need something to fill the void of LUPIN and Ted Lasso, two of my new favorite shows.


Are you excited for THE NEVERS?

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – Episode 1 Review

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It’s a great week for superhero fans. I know that today DC fans are rejoicing for the #SnyderCut of Justice League. Well, even though I have enjoyed some DC superhero movies in the past, I’m not clamoring to see the 4-hour slog elongated version of what I think I saw back in 2017 that I could barely remember, ahah. I did rejoice when I saw an email from Disney saying I had a screener of episode 1 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (TFATWS) earlier this week! Captain America: The Winter Soldier is my favorite film of the MCU, and also the best of my favorite MCU trilogy. The Captain America movies are all solid but I dare say The Winter Soldier, where Falcon (Sam Wilson) and Winter Soldier (Bucky Barnes) first met, is more than a fantastic superhero movie, it’s a phenomenal movie period.

Ever since Disney+ launched in November 2019 in the US (boy that seemed like lightyears ago!), THIS is the series I couldn’t wait to see. Of course the pandemic delayed everything, including this one. Well, let’s just say it’s so worth the wait!! I rewatched Captain America: Civil War in anticipation for this miniseries, and even THIS scene alone made me wish there’s a movie dedicated to these two. So getting an equivalent of 3 movies but on TV is awesome!!

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This is only one of six episodes where, like WandaVision, will not have a follow-up season. I think it’s brilliant that Marvel Studio president Kevin Feige set up these miniseries so filmmakers can dive more deeper into intriguing MCU characters that don’t have their own dedicated movies. And when you’ve got terrific actors like Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, there’s plenty of opportunities to see them flex their dramatic muscles. It’s also cool to see a female director at the helm. Kari Skogland is no stranger to directing high-profile series, such as The Handmaid’s Tale, The Punisher, Walking Dead, The Americans, etc. though TFATWS’s $150 mil budget (for just 6 episodes!!) is no doubt the highest she’s been involved in.

TFATWS opens with a bang! A high-octane action in the vein of the opening sequence of Winter Soldier, but focusing on Falcon instead. The fight choreography is just as good as what you saw in the opening sequence, plus we see a familiar face of the antagonist Falcon is fighting against. If you love Falcon’s flying sequences (and who doesn’t?), well you’re gonna enjoy the spectacular high-flying action scene, the best Falcon flying-action I’ve seen so far! So glad to hear composer Henry Jackman back composing his kinetic score, which perfectly complements the dynamic action Even from the trailers, you can tell the production values is top notch. There’s a cinematic feel to it, which means Marvel isn’t treating these streaming-version content like a step-child amongst the MCU.

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But what I also appreciate is the slower, reflective moments for each character. Per Disney’s production brief, Skogland promises “…an epic, character-driven story. We get to go inside these characters and their world in a much more intimate way.” Timeline-wise, this one takes place six months since the events of Avengers: Endgame known as the Blip, where half of all life across the universe returned after the 5-year period where Thanos snapped them out of existence. So obviously things aren’t exactly back to normal yet for everyone, including these two Avengers. After five years in oblivion, they’re trying to find their place in a world that is no longer the same. The miniseries addresses some of those Blip ramifications in a personal way, displaying their personal baggage and inner struggles.

In terms of his home life, we get to meet Sam’s sister Sarah Wilson (Adepero Oduye) and his nephews who runs the Wilson Family Seafood business Louisiana. It’s a real and relatable moment seeing Sam trying to help Sarah save the struggling family business, even so far as helping her secure a loan from a bank. It humanizes the hero and show that they’re not perfect humans who are immune from ‘ordinary’ problems many of us face.

Meanwhile, Bucky’s struggles is more rooted in his identity. I mean, he’s the only Avenger who has done really heinous things such as murdering a fellow Avenger’s parents. Even though he wasn’t really himself when he did it, that is still an impossibly hard thing for anyone to reconcile with. We saw him being ravaged with guilt in Civil War even when Steve still stood by him, here we see his struggles haven’t gone away for the hero-turned-baddie-turned-hero-again. No wonder he’s in therapy, he’s been through SO much trauma! This episode explores Bucky trying to atone for his past sins, with flashback scenes of him on a mission when he was still brainwashed as the assassin Winter Soldier.

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Though Steve Rogers is no longer around in this MCU timeline, Captain America’s spirit permeates through the entire episode. There is a solemn moment where Sam paid homage to his personal friend and fellow Avenger, and we get to reflect on that memorable passing-of-the-shield moment scene in Endgame and what it means to Sam personally. Obviously it’s a huge responsibility to take on that mantle… and this interview with the miniseries’ creator Malcolm Spellman talks about how he “…saw the show as an opportunity to be frank about race in America” In regards to the shield with the American flag symbol, “…being as a Black man, is it even appropriate to have that symbol? That symbol means something very different in Sam’s hands than it does in Steve’s.” It’s certainly timely to have this conversation and I’m glad they didn’t shy away from it.

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Though the tone of trailers are more comedic filled with witty, even silly banters between the two, the start of the miniseries is more serious before Sam and Bucky meet up. I actually don’t mind it as the story is still engaging and it makes me anticipate the action-packed adventure in store for these two! I’m also curious to see how the journey of some familiar characters in this miniseries, particularly Daniel Brühl‘s Zemo, the Sokovian special forces whose vengeful tactic was to get the Avengers to fight each other. Unlike Red Skull, Zemo isn’t one of those sociopath villain hellbent on controlling the world, his evil scheme was motivated by grief when he lost his family in Sokovia. Last we saw him in Civil War, he’s confined in a German prison, so I wonder what the story is with him and why/how he’s out in the world again.

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There’s also Emily VanCamp as Agent Sharon Carter returning, and the one major new character is John Walker played by Wyatt Russell (yep, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn’s son). In the comics, Walker a.k.a. U.S. Agent is actually a baddie called Super-Patriot. But in this miniseries, he supposedly will partner with Sam and Bucky to protect the world from a new threat. There are scenes of Falcon with a mysterious character who’s a US soldier, played by Danny Ramirez (who’s curiously missing from the IMDb page). He seems to play a prominent role but we’ll see what his story arc will be.

So yeah, so far so good! I think this episode is a strong start that ticks all the boxes for MCU fans and get us even more excited for Phase Four. I certainly appreciate that it’s not all action + explosions, it’s got a nice blend of drama, suspense and action that allow these two characters to shine. I’m also curious to see which Avenger cameo(s) we will see. The cinematography is fantastic, which I expect given the huge budget. I only wish they’d go easy on the extreme close-ups though, it’s fine if used sparingly but I really don’t need to see every strand of Bucky’s eyelash for an uncomfortably long period of time.

In any case, I won’t be reviewing every single episode, but might do a recap once the entire miniseries wraps.

4/5 stars

Here’s a sneak peek that just dropped today at the Virtual Launch:


Anyone else excited for this series? If you have seen ep. 1, well what did YOU think?

Top 10 reasons why I love Netflix’s LUPIN series

LUPIN was one of my most-anticipated series on Netflix which I’ve talked about briefly in this post. It’s a 10-part miniseries inspired master thief Arsène Lupin, created by French novelist Maurice Leblanc.

Here’s the trailer again if you haven’t seen it yet:

Now, so far only 5 episodes of the miniseries have been released. Per Wiki, the second set were already filmed by the end of 2020 and are slated to be released in mid-2021. So you have plenty of time to catch up before the final 5 eps arrives.

Here’s just 10 reasons why you should absolutely watch LUPIN:

(There might be some SPOILERS in this post but I’ll be sure to warn and hide them if you haven’t seen this series yet) 

1. Great source material

I used to read a bunch of Dutch & Belgian graphic novels like Danny & Katia (which I can’t seem to find anywhere here in the US), Adventures of Tintin, etc. I also read some thriller novels like Agatha Christie and Sidney Sheldon, but for some reason I’ve never heard of Arsène Lupin. Created in 1905 Maurice Leblanc – part Sherlock Holmes, part Robin Hood but decidedly French.

Like Robin Hood, Lupin is a force for good even though he operates on the wrong side of the law. His victims are usually big establishments or the extremely wealthy who are basically worse than him. Apparently Leblanc’s novels also inspired Leslie Charteris’s The Saint, aka Simon Templar who’s also a master of disguise.

2. Omar Sy

I had only seen Omar Sy in Intouchables and I remember he has such a great screen presence. He plays another French-Immigrant from Senegal here as Assane Diop, a stylishly-dressed gent who uses his undeniable charm as well as masterful thievery + disguise skills. Though he’s not exactly an honest man, you just can’t help but be drawn to him and that charming smile.

The first time I saw the trailer I immediately thought he’s basically a French James Bond, and well, Sy himself confirmed the apt comparison.

Given how much I wish to see Idris Elba as Bond, watching the equally charismatic Omar playing Lupin is such a treat. I can even say Assane is even better than Bond as he is his own Q-department!

3. Intriguing plot that keep you guessing

The series creator George Kay is no stranger to British TV. He’s one of the creators of the various Criminal crime thriller series such as Criminal: UK, Criminal: France, etc. and he’s also been writing for The Tunnel and Killing Eve series.

I think it’s brilliant that Kay takes the source material as a base for the lead character, but then subvert and update it to make something suitable for the modern audience. Per his interview in Variety, “…Kay kept the sense of mischievous, adventurous crooks and criminals intersecting establishment, but  felt it was equally important to take everything we loved in the books, subvert it, update it and create a really modern story through the heart of it.” 

I think that made the story fresh while still in keeping with the mystery and suspense of the novels. There’s a parallel story between Assane and the team of detectives, particularly Youssef Guedira (Soufiane Guerrab), that culminates in the fifth episode (last ep of part 1). All of that adds to the dynamic storyline that makes the show so much fun to watch.

4. Emotional backstory

I have to credit the show runner and the writers for interweaving Assane’s past in such a clever way. Sometimes flashbacks don’t work well and can slow the pace down, but here, the flashback is done quite seamlessly. It also helps that they cast the right actors for the role of young Assane (Mamadou Haidara) and his father Babakar (Fargass Assandé). It shows how Babakar used to work for Hubert Pellegrini, a powerful figure of the French elite who owns the Marie-Antoinette diamond necklace. It’s a relatable immigrant story that’s relevant in today’s world.

The tragic past that befallen Babakar is what drives Assane to do what he does now, and of course it’s also his father who first introduced the Lupin novels to him. It shows how the teenage Assane is obsessed with the gentleman thief novel, and 25 years later he uses everything he learns from it to avenge his father and expose Pellegrini.

5. Great blend of comedy + action

French filmmaker Louis Leterrier (who directed The Transporter, The Incredible Hulk, etc.) is no stranger to action-packed movies. I love how LUPIN is packed with thrilling action with a large dose of humor right from the start. The elaborate heist scene during an action at the Louvre (shot at the actual famous museum) is reminiscent of something out of Mission Impossible movies, complete with impeccable timing and a crazy car chase AND a red Ferrari crashing through the museum’s iconic glass ceiling!

There’s a foot-chase through rooftops that are really fun to watch as well, but my favorite action scene has got to be this exhilarating chase involving a food delivery bike riders through a Parisian park! It’s just one of Assane’s genius scheme to fool the cops while he effortlessly escapes from their grasp.

6. Parisian scenery

Well, that brings me to the stunning scenery of the City of Light. I think we’re all dying to be able to travel again so all we can do is live vicariously through the characters we watch on screen. I’ve been on a French kick lately, following Call My Agent! (Dix Pour Cent) which is also set in Paris, and I just can’t get enough!

This Condé Nast Traveller article lists all the locations used for the series which I’ll definitely refer to next time I go to Paris again. I love the the café where Assane meets his wife Claire (Ludivine Sagnier) in episode 1, that’s L’Appartement Saint-Martin, with views of the 17th-century Porte Saint Martin. I also love the flea market where Assane’s bestie Benjamin (Antoine Gouy) owns an antique shop. It’s located in Marché Biron, north of Paris. Speaking of Benjamin, I really like the deep friendship between these two, which apparently has started since they were in school together.

The fifth episode also takes us out of Paris to Normandy coast, a town called Le Havre. I actually did a bunch of research of that port city for my script Hearts Want (as my lead character actually took a ferry from Portsmouth, UK). Apparently there’s an annual festival dedicated to Arsène Lupin where everyone is dressed like the character with the top hat.

7. Formidable villain with ties to the hero’s past

If Robin Hood has The Sheriff of Nottingham, Assane Diop’s primary antagonist is Hubert Pellegrini (Herve Pierre), a wealthy, powerful member of the Parisian establishment. Just as power and corruption often go together, SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) Pellegrini even has police inspector Dumont (Vincent Garanger) to do the dirty work for him in framing Assane’s father.

There’s also a mysterious connection between Assane and Hubert’s beautiful daughter Juliette (Clotilde Hesme), also shown in flashback where the pretty teen seduced the young, naive Assane in her mansion’s swimming pool. SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) One episode even hints that perhaps Juliette harbors unrequited feelings for Assane?

One thing for sure, the Pellegrini is a ruthless force to be reckoned with. Episode 4 is particularly suspenseful as Assane teams up with a journalist, Fabienne Bériot (Anne Benoît) whose reputation been tarnished by Pellegrini because she tried to expose him in her book.

8. Wonderfully-diverse characters

I think just by having a black French actor as the lead reflects the reality of a more ethnically diverse country. It also gives the show an international appeal, so I’m not surprised that the show’s been well-received all over the world.

It’s great that the show-runner also fills the supporting roles with non-white actors. The actor who play police lieutenant Youssef Guedira (Soufiane Guerrab) was also in a Call My Agent episode. He’s the only one who believes there’s a connection between the Louvre suspect (that is Assane) with Arsène Lupin, yet his peers always brush him off.

The team of police investigating the Louvre incident – Youssef is the one on the far right

Besides hiring a good number of actors of color, I also appreciate that the show also doesn’t always show the glamorous side of Parisians and all the chic luxury we often associate with the fashionable city. I mentioned about Fabienne Bériot above, well, the disgraced former journalist now lives in a rundown apartment with her dog. It wasn’t until Assane approached her that she finally feels alive once again. This is perhaps one of the most heart-wrenching episodes given what happens to Fabienne in the end.

9. A multi-dimentional hero

Assane is more than a gentleman burglar and master of disguise. Unlike Sherlock Holmes or Simon Templar, what sets Assane apart is that he is a family man. Right from the first episode, we see Assane meeting his ex-partner Claire (Ludivine Sagnier) and has a son together. Though they’re no longer together, they still have an amicable relationship and he still supports them.

I love the relationship between them, there’s a certain playfulness and also realism in the way Raoul (Etan Simon) behaves as a teenager. Of course, given that Assane lost his own father at a young age, he really tries to be there for his son. The Lupin novel ends up being passed down through generations as there’s a lovely scene where Assane gives the book to Raoul. Now, obviously given the difference in life circumstances, the book might not mean as much to Raoul as it did to Assane in his youth.

Assane is also not a violent man and though he’s been hurt in the past, he doesn’t become a sullen nor vicious. The way he deals with Inspector Dumont is a great example and it’s refreshing not to see any of the brutality you see on SO many shows these days. I love how he fools the entire police department while teaching Dumont a lesson in the process.

10. Fun escapism with style + plenty of heart

The series’ great production values is fantastic – the cinematography, action set pieces, locations, etc. all makes for a fun escapism series. It’s definitely the most fun crime caper series on TV right now. So many crime shows are way too serious for its own good, but LUPIN has the right balance of humor, mystery, suspense, as well as emotional familial story that makes you care for the hero’s journey.

Oh, I have to say Assane Diop’s got to be one of the best-dressed hero on TV, not surprising given the Parisian setting. My husband and I always comment on all the cool outfits and footwear he wears every episode. Whether formal or casual, Assane looks like he’s straight out of a GQ photoshoot!


Can’t wait for Part 2!!

Now the worst part of LUPIN is there’s only 5 episodes!! I don’t know why Netflix isn’t releasing all 10 episodes as I believe they’re done filming them. The cliffhanger on episode 5 has me reeling as it finally ties Assane with Youssef who’s also a big fan of the Lupin novels.

SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read)
Of course the big question is whether Youssef would turn Assane in, but my gut says no, as technically Youssef is off the case thanks to Dumont who clearly hasn’t learned his lesson and is still working with Pellegrini, ugh!



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

Bingeing on ‘The Expanse’ – the best sci-fi series I’ve seen so far

I don’t know about you but I LOVE when I discover a new show that I love, especially those that have been around for a while with tons of episodes to catch up on. THE EXPANSE has been around since 2015 and I’ve often seen the banner pop up on Amazon Prime, but somehow I haven’t felt compelled to check it out. About a month ago, my hubby said a few colleagues of were talking about that show on one of their Zoom meetings and they highly recommended it–saying that it’s one of the best, most realistic sci-fi shows they’ve seen. So we decided to give it a go, since we actually loved Battlestar Galactica (the early 2000s version by Ron Moore) that we binged on a decade ago.

Well, right from the very first episode, we instantly LOVED it and we had been catching up to the first 3 seasons in just 3 weeks, so one season per week which is actually pretty fast as we usually don’t watch anything on weeknights. But fortunately each episode is only about 40-minutes long and always ends on such an awesome cliffhanger that it’s hard NOT to keep watching!

Apparently this show was originally on SyFy Channel, which cancelled the series in early 2018 just before airing its third season. Thanks to fan-campaign to save the show, Amazon picked it up and currently the show is on its 5th season. I’ve only finished season 3 so far, but I think we’ll be caught up with all four season by the time season 5 drops on December 15.

PREMISE

Hundreds of years in the future, the Solar System has been colonized by humanity. The three largest powers are the United Nations of Earth and Luna, the Martian Congressional Republic on Mars, and the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA), a loose confederation of the asteroid belt and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

Sci-fi shows are a dime a dozen but I find The Expanse unique given that it takes place on multiple planets including earth, and instead of humans + aliens fighting or co-existing, all of the characters on Earth, Mars and those living in the asteroid belt (hence called Belters) are all humans who have since colonized other planets.

The series follows a disparate band of antiheroes – United Nations Security Council member Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), police detective Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane), ship’s officer James Holden (Steven Strait) and his crew – as they unwittingly unravel and place themselves at the center of a conspiracy which threatens the system’s fragile state of Cold War. I love the detective noir aspect of Miller’s narrative in trying to find a missing young woman, and the show-runners did an outstanding job mixing the noir elements with science-fiction and relevant political climate & intrigue that actually feels relatable to what’s going on in our world today.

L-R: Thomas Jane, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Steven Strait

Based on the book series of the same name by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey), they also serve among the show’s producers and writers. It’s the kind of shows that are super fun to sink your teeth into because of their excellent world-building and scientifically accurate of depictions of life in space.

Well, if the Rotten Tomatoes ratings are any indication, this is one of those rare series that consistently get high rating that get better and better each season. In fact, the first season’s rating of 77% is the lowest of the four seasons so far, with season 3 and 4 getting 100% fresh rating!

Here are just some of the reasons I LOVE The Expanse:

FANTASTIC ENSEMBLE CAST

I LOVE the racially-diverse cast who are massively talented but not big-name stars. I have to say the only two people I knew prior to watching the show are Thomas Jane and Shohreh Aghdashloo but I grew to love all the main cast, especially the four main crew of the Rocinante, the Martian gunship the crew managed to escape in when their original ship Canterbury was destroyed. 

  • Steven Strait as James Holden, the Earther executive officer on the Canterbury, later the captain of the Rocinante
  • Cas Anvar as Alex Kamal, the Martian pilot of the Canterbury, later the pilot of the Rocinante
  • Dominique Tipper as Naomi Nagata, a Belter engineer of the Canterbury, later the engineer of the Rocinante
  • Wes Chatham as Amos Burton, an Earther mechanic of the Canterbury, later the mechanic of the Rocinante

This is a memorable scene when they renamed the ship Rocinante.

Each of the characters has an interesting backstory that’s slowly revealed as the series progresses, and the show feels like a terrific ensemble-piece instead of the merely focusing on just one or two characters. It’s hard to pick a favorite as I LOVE the four of them pretty much equally. Holden is an idealist reluctant leader whose principles somehow command loyalty from the crew… I like that he’s not a typical captain that just barks orders at the crew. Alex is a brilliant yet fun pilot, he always makes me smile, plus he’s a great cook, who doesn’t love that!! I gotta get some of those space pasta! I’ve grown to appreciate Amos more and more, I love his brutal honesty, his hot temper is actually endearing (though I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of his!). All the guys are super easy on the eyes as well, which makes them extra easy to love, ahah.

I think the real MVP of the Roci (love the cute nickname for the ship!) is Naomi Nagata, the super-engineer who can fix practically anything and she’s tough as nails!!

I bow to thee, Naomi Nagata!

The four crew member have such a great chemistry and despite their different personalities, they somehow complement each other nicely. Of course they don’t always get along, which is realistic given each came from different backgrounds and their viewpoints/ allegiance don’t always align. Plus it adds to the dynamic element of the show when they do butt heads… or when sparks fly (as in the case with James and Naomi).

Let’s highlight the three other characters I love on the show:

Shohreh Aghdashloo is so bad ass as Chrisjen Avasarala (what a fun name!) one of the UN Security Council members who’s sharp and resourceful in maneuvering the fragile political situations between the three planets, definitely a stand-out amongst the cutthroat, male-dominated field. I LOVE how colorful and intricate her costumes are in this show, she’s always decked in sparkly jewels in nearly every episode, such a respite from the austere military uniforms most of the characters wear.

Thomas Jane’s Josephus Miller (with his iconic detective hat) is quite a fun character as he seems like he’s sort of disillusioned and just cruising through life, that is until he starts investigating the disappearance of Julie Mao (Florence Faivre). In a way, she brought his mojo back as he’s becoming more inspired the more he learns about her life. 

Last but not least, one of my fave characters from season 1-3 is Mars’ Marine Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams). I love her no-nonsense character from the moment she was introduced in Mars, and she’s got tons of memorable moments that just makes me love her more and more. 

The meticulous world-building that as scientifically-accurate as can be

It’s always important for any series that they come up with a compelling universe and its own sets of rules… I think even more so in a science fiction that deals with worlds other than our own. The show-runners have definitely done a phenomenal job setting up complex, intricate narratives with high stakes that build genuine tension from one episode to the next. 

For example, the zero gravity concept which this Wired article sums it up nicely ‘There are no pew-pew lasers or faster-than-light space travel here—just serious science.’ For example, unlike many sci-fi shows where humans can just walk normally on a spacecraft, in this show, they’d be floating around if they’re not strapped in, unless they wear magnetic boots that ‘lock’ them to the ground so they can walk. This article talks about the science of spinning aircraft, which the show also depicts in a much more realistic way than other similar shows.

The opening of the first episode sees a girl trapped on a ship that’s apparently has been abandoned. It’s the scene that started it all, which also does a good job in introducing the kind of world The Expanse is set in.

Now, obviously The Expanse is a fantasy sci-fi show, but I like that the showrunners at least has a pretty good understanding how science works. One of them, Naren Shankar, holds a PhD in physics and engineering from Cornell and he also said the book authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck also have extensive knowledge about science.  This Wired article talks about how the show paid great attention to real physics, such as how gravity or orbital trajectories work. I read this interview with Shankar on Sciencemag and I definitely come away with the notion that this show raised the game for other shows in similar genres.

It’s not just the space science the show get right, but also the cultural ramifications that resulted from humans living in different planets. Instead of racial tension between people of different skin colors that we have today, in the future we have tensions between the Earthers, Martians and Belters who are all humans that have ‘evolved’ to have different physical appearances due to the climate of the planets they occupy.

For example, Belters suffer when exposed to Earth’s gravitational force, due to their altered physiology from growing up and living in low gravity environments. So Earthers would use Gravity torture is a form of torture that is used on Earth against Belters, such as the one seen in this scene.

It’s interesting how watching the show reinforces how we earth-dwellers have taken so many things for granted–blue sky, breathable air, oceans, etc. which are foreign to Martians and Belters. The Belters are raised in low gravity environment which makes them have longer bones and larger skulls than the humans of earth. Martians are highly efficient society as everyone there are laser-focused on the terraforming project, that is trying to make Mars to be the new earth. Martians are highly advanced in terms of military and technology, as the terraforming project is considered the greatest engineering project in human history. 

The culture of the show is so fascinating stuff but yet somehow relatable because despite the show being set mostly in space, the story is about humans and their journey navigating the new reality. The discrimination, prejudices and other sources of tensions between the three planets feel eerily similar to what’s happening in our world today.

The genuine mystery + terror of the mysterious enemy

Out of the many mysteries presented on the show, the protomolecule is at the heart of it as it affects the lives of all human kind. Per The Expanse Wiki, The protomolecule is an infectious agent of extra-terrestrial origin that has the ability to radically alter infected life forms and utilize their biomass in various ways. The show’s main villain, a wealthy tycoon Jules-Pierre Mao (François Chau), has been working on a project to weaponized the protomolecule which leads to unfounded war between Earth and Mars.

The horrific Eros-incident revealed in Critical Mass is downright horrifying and heartbreaking. The stakes are truly high here as Miller and Holden + crew have to figure out just what evil they’re dealing with that could do such unimaginable horror to the Belters in that space station. The moment Marine Bobbie Draper first encountered the Protomolecule Hybrid on Ganymede Station is pretty darn scary as well and deepens the mystery of the whole illicit project.


Video Cheat-sheets

Whenever I’m watching shows that are full of intricate concepts, I find it helpful to get a crash course on the world it’s set in after I watch the first couple of episodes. I only watch them if I decide the show is worth investing my time on, so I found this one that explains the many worlds presented in the show without any spoilers:

Now, this Kevin Smith one is fun but I recommend waiting until you finish all three seasons as it has quite a few spoilers. It definitely made me anticipate season 4 even more!

More of The Expanse series in the works, yay!

Well, the good news for fans is the show is far from over!! Season 5 will arrive on Amazon Prime on December 15 and according to this article, it’s already been renewed for season 6!

I’m excited to start season 4 next week, as soon as I’m done watching The Queen’s Gambit (which is also very good but glad it’s only a limited series with 7 episodes!). I actually miss the characters of The Expanse already after not watching for a few days.


Have you seen The Expanse? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the series!

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FlixChatter Review: Netflix’s The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)


HALLOWSTREAM Series

Sorry for the delay on this one! Turns out watching 9 1-hour episodes of a mini-series is difficult to do quickly when you have a full-time job, and for some reason my boyfriend didn’t want to stay up until 3am watching every episode back to back (what a killjoy).

However, I have finally finished The Haunting of Bly Manor, Mike Flanagan’s follow-up to 2018’s The Haunting of Hill House, and am eager to share my thoughts with you. Unlike Hill House, I haven’t read the book this series is based on (Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw) yet, but I plan to, and I’m looking forward to re-watching after reading it and hopefully catching more connections and references.

Victoria Pedretti

The Haunting of Bly Manor follows Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) as she starts a job as an au pair to two young orphans, Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) at their enormous mansion in the small English village of Bly. Their previous au pair, Rebecka Jessel (Tahirah Sharif), died tragically not long before Dani’s arrival, and her memory, along with Dani’s own dark past, loom over her.

Tahirah Sharif

While I didn’t like Bly Manor quite as much as I liked Hill House, I still think it’s an incredibly well-done series. It’s even more of a slow burn than its predecessor, so people hoping to be scared a lot in each episode might be disappointed, although there are still plenty of suspenseful moments and creepy imagery; like Hill House, there are several hidden ghosts throughout the series, and I only managed to catch a few of them on my first watch. There’s much more of a focus on the ghosts’ lives (er…afterlives) and how their existence on the grounds of Bly Manor works, which is an interesting concept that I really appreciated.

Like Hill House, Bly Manor has an incredible cast. There are several actors from the former that appear in the latter; in addition to Victoria Pedretti as Dani, we have Henry Thomas as Henry Wingrave, Flora and Miles’s tormented uncle, Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Peter Quint, Henry’s manipulative and conniving valet, Katie Siegel as Viola Lloyd, the original lady of Bly Manor, Katie Parker as Perdita, Viola’s sister, and Carla Gugino as the storyteller. It’s a lot of fun seeing these familiar faces in different roles getting to stretch their acting muscles, especially Jackson-Cohen, who goes from this heartbreakingly vulnerable character you want to hug in Hill House to a villain you want to punch in the face in Bly Manor.

Rahul Kohli and T’Nia Miller

But while seeing the returning actors in this new season is great, the new cast members are the ones that really shine. Rahul Kohli as Owen, the cook at Bly Manor, is delightful; I adored him in his role in iZombie, and he brings the same humor and likability from that performance to this one. T’Nia Miller as Hannah Grose, the housekeeper, gives a beautiful and gut-wrenching performance, and her chemistry with Owen is so lovely. Tahirah Sharif as Rebecka Jessel is absolutely haunting. Amelia Eve as Jamie, the gardener, is so engaging. And, like Hill House, the child actors in Bly Manor are spectacular. Amelie Bea Smith as Flora is so sweet and funny, but Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as Miles gives the most impressive performance, especially considering how complex his role ends up being.

Amelia Eve

My only serious gripe with Bly Manor is that it seems to have some pacing problems. This series is one episode shorter than its predecessor, which makes it even more difficult to fit in all the backstory and subplots without it feeling messy. Because there’s less time to flesh out some characters, their character growth feels unearned (specifically Peter Quint), some exposition feels clunky and rushed, and some subplots that were built up as more important are dropped altogether (seriously, what happened with SPOILER [highlight to read] Dani’s confrontation with the ghost of her ex-fiance at the end of episode 4?! They spend the first few episodes hinting at this dark part of her past, and we finally get this moment that might resolve everything, and then it’s just dropped for the rest of the series! Why?! I can understand potentially not having enough material for 10 full episodes, but if they had maybe made each episode a little longer, the pacing might not have been as much of an issue.

Despite the pacing issues, and despite it being less straightforward horror than Hill House, I would still recommend checking out The Haunting of Bly Manor. It’s visually stunning, beautifully written, and expertly performed, and I’m already racking my brain for other classic ghost stories that Mike Flanagan could possibly adapt for season 3. If you have any you think would work, let me know in the comments!

laura_review


Have you seen The Haunting of Bly Manor? Well, what did you think?

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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!