“The Father”–A Patriarch’s Decline

The Father is  a devastating, disquieting journey into the horrors of dementia, both for the afflicted and for those who are close to the afflicted.    Artfully helmed by French playwright Florian Zeller in his directorial debut, Zeller invites the viewer into a breathtaking and  wrenching look at advancing dementia through both the individual frightened by what is happening and to the no-less-terrified family and caregivers. Watching a loved one die is always harrowing, but dementia makes it especially so, as the patient not only slips away mentally, but lashes out in angry and hurtful ways as they do so.  Given the increase in movies about an aging population susceptible to dementia and Alzheimer’s, The Father nonetheless breaks new ground.   

The main character, Anthony (the astonishing Anthony Hopkins),   is the  unreliable narrator, forcing the audience to see what he sees and try to make sense of that world. In a superb feat of writing, directing, and acting, The Father hurls the audience into the main character’s head with    time and space revealing a more constricting and often confusing perspective.  In doing so, The Father  conveys the full tragedy and vertiginous confusion of dementia. Anthony slowly unravels into  someone almost unrecognizable to himself and to his daughter, Anne (Olivia Colman). 

Without any spoilers, we see  the brilliant way The Father  communicates Anthony’s increasing inability to differentiate  his loved ones from strangers. The viewer feels as trapped in this small, shifting space as Anthony does. The present invades the past to the point where it’s nearly impossible to tell them apart. To that end, the timeline is critical: a missing watch, changes in apartment decor and furnishings symbolizing Anthony’s chronological undoing. Are his daughter and nurse playing cruel games on him?  The conflicting scenes offer a puzzle with no easy solution.  That, essentially, is the prison of Anthony’s mind.  And Anthony’s confusion is, in itself,  disorientating for the viewer.

First and foremost, Anthony Hopkins, –in his career-best performance,– is truly astonishing as a shattered, aging, and fragile  soul slowly surrendering to his mind as an enemy inside his body.  To play a man who’s begun to lose his mental faculties, Hopkins methodically peels away everything until there’s nothing left but frailty,  distress, and despair. 

Olivia Colman is the keystone to Hopkins, giving a sympathetic and equally heart-wrenching performance as the daughter undeserving of her father’s hurtful responses. Colman is also tasked with the unenviable role of the concerned daughter trying to balance parental love with her own  needs, without seeming cold and egotistical.  She never fails to deliver.

Fantastic work from both actors is sustained throughout the film, with sensitively interpreted, nuanced roles by the seasoned supporting cast, especially Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams and Imogen Poots.

One day, everyone you know and love will die, the immutable truth we all carry  with us.  The inevitability of decay becomes a little harder to turn away from with every passing year. Rarely is the nature of death and dignity explored as terrifyingly andtenderly as it is in The Father.

With a profound sadness at its core , The Father is emotionally charged and upsetting, particularly in one of the last scenes.  You’ll think about The Father long after itends.

Note:  Both Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman have been nominated for Academy Awards this year for their performances.

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  1. I’m sure no one could a better job than Anthony Hopkins with this role.

    May or may not watch. For 4 years I watched my dear father through all stages of dementia. We lived in the same city. He taught art in school, was a watercolor painter and a published poet. Watching that all disappear was terrible. Nothing worse.

    Best,
    Lenore

“I Care a Lot”–Caregiver or Caretaker?

In this Netflix original movie, I Care a Lot, the highly successful court-appointed guardian, Marla Grayson (the astonishing Rosamund Pike of “Gone Girl” fame), masterminds a scheme to being appointed guardian of  wealthy elderly patients by the state court.   Marla is charged with  caring for the elderly who are identified by doctors as incompetent to manage their own health needs, daily living and assets.

Marla and her partner Fran (Eiza González) run a highly profitable hustle –a guardianship grift of elderly “wards of the state”.  To the judge who appoints her to be caregiver, she appears as highly professional, extraordinarily articulate, and convincing in asserting her qualifications. On first appearance, the onlooker sees a measured, seemingly trustworthy advocate for eldercare.    But underneath that veneer and polish, Marla is abusing a legal system by targeting wealthy seniors that actually aren’t incompetent,  throwing them in care facilities and assuming absolute control of their assets.  She understands this  system better than most: how she can manipulate (and sometimes) bribe doctors and the courts to her advantage,   essentially kidnapping the elderly, robbing them of  their assets, and separating them forever from their families.   She’s not a caregiver, not a caretaker.  She’s neither.  Marla’s an irresolute taker.

And then the “cherry”–Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest in an unforgettable performance)  is introduced to them by an unscrupulous physician.  A “cherry” is a very wealthy old person with no family or friends to look out for them, ready for the picking.  But,  unexpected trouble arises when Jennifer Peterson is not who she seems.  A very difficult “cherry” indeed.   The  predatory guardians, Marla and Fran, soon become the prey.

Unfortunately for Marla, Jennifer has an undisclosed and mysterious relationship with a powerful mobster (the delightfully malevolent Peter Dinklage from “Game of Thrones”) who will go to great lengths to protect Jennifer.  He releases her from Marla’s clutches.

It’s a stomach-churning ride with a lot of venom and dismay that people assigned to be guardians for the most vulnerable may get away with highly irregular, if not criminal behavior.   Resources are stretched allowing the court-appointed caregivers to  conceal bad acts  because they are  trusted.

They come in and steal under false pretenses and strip the victim of all credibility.   And Rosamund Pike’s and Peter Dinklage’s twitchy, angry staggering performances menace one another in a vicious death spiral. Until the very end of I Care a Lot the viewer is treated to unexpected twists and turns, in one traumatic scene after another.

What is most unsettling about I Care a Lot , however, is the picture it presents of eldercare:  Just park them, rob them, and then move on to the next one.  What seems like a  con game — a gangster’s operation–is taking advantage of loopholes in the law.  Watching Marla game the system to her own ends is far from comforting.  The viewer has to ask:  Is this amoral predator behavior really widespread?  Is the eldercare/guardianship system  susceptible  to people like Marla and Fran to manipulate? Do some guardians stretch the rules as far as they possibly can?

Make sure your parents and grandparents are protected at all costs!  I Care a Lot  is a cautionary tale for all of us!

Availability:  On Netflix streaming and Golden Globe-nominated for a best film.

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  1. Well, I do like Peter Drinkage! What a good actor. However, not sure this is a film I’d want to see. I’ve watched Eldercare in real life. I’m sure the acting will be great. I’m behind on films. Mostly watching PBS although a few series are on a break now. Watch some on my computer. What I really need to do is to read more!

    Hope all’s well with you. Had my second shot and had no problems. Glad that’s done, looking forward to a better spring and summer.
    Cheers, L.

  2. Very good review on a disturbing look at what can happen, when the Legal system is used against people. The plot, acting, etc, Viewers are fortunate that this year there are excellent thought provoking movies up for Best Picture.

“Soul”—The Spirit of Rebirth

Guest Blogger:  Mahshid Zamani Bozorgnia,   film critic

[Edited by Diana Y. Paul]

Soul,  an animated and  complex film from Pixar directed and created by Pete Dokter (who also created “Toy Story”, “Inside Out” and “Monsters Inc”), refers to the jazz music genre and tackles the theme of what is the spirit or soul, the distinction between passion and obsession, and what constitutes the “spark” of happiness.

There is something compulsively watchable and comforting about Pixar movies with their photo-realistic imaginary worlds. But there is much more.  There are built-in  philosophical questions of life and death and self-identity embedded in the story, which appeal to adults with the openness of a child.

The main character, Joe Gardner–an African American middle school music teacher (who, like his father, is passionate about jazz music)–deals with the choice of wanting to make a living or following his passion.  But this decision-making entails an existential life crisis.

(One finds traces of the transcendental philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, with  some of his actual words adopted into the film’s dialogue.)

Joe, an ambitious pianist aspiring to accompany one of the great saxophonists, Dorothea Williams, feels that his life has been, at best,  ordinary, and more likely an epic failure.  In order to understand Emerson’s view  that “there is no object so foul that intense light will not make it beautiful,” Joe has to rebuild himself. And what can be a better metaphor for being reborn than actually dying and coming back?

In Soul, the Great Beyond and the Great Before, –the interstitial space between life and death– are the universe’s recycling of nature and soul. Joe is not ready for the rare moment of “transcendence,” or “Great Before,” Yet, when he realizes that he either has to mentor a baby soul (called “22”) to be given “a new and unique personality” or go to the Great Beyond, he decides to stay and take the training in the “You Seminar”. During the presentation, the seminar instructor, Jerry, explains that souls are missing “the spark” and that they can only enter a body if they find that spark. Joe believes his spark is jazz and that his life can inspire other souls.  Matched with recalcitrant soul number 22, who has never found her spark and has no desire to go to earth, Joe is determined that she is his ticket to rebirth.

Together, they enter the “the zone” that 22 defines as “the place between space and physical.”  Baby soul 22 takes Joe to Moonwind, who tells them that he himself was once a lost soul: “There is not much difference between souls in the zone and  lost souls:  joy can turn into obsessions and some people cannot let go of their anxiety and obsessions, leaving them lost and disconnected from life.” However, Joe does not yet understand what Moonwind is saying.  

Soon 22 sees the spark in every element in New York City, where they both temporarily land.  From the smell of pizza to small seed pods, 22 is ready to get life on Earth, believing that she has found her spark, but Joe remains unconvinced.  After a sensational performance with Dorothea Williams, she recalls a story of a fish who was in the ocean and yet dreamed of getting to the ocean. This wonderful analogy is a turning point for Joe.

And if we believe that Emerson’s theories were mostly about the idea of America–“that its existence matters, not its past nor its future”–what better place for Joe to become a transparent eyeball and define for himself what success is than on the streets of New York City?

Availability: Disney+

Note: Certainly an important curriculum topic for college freshman.  A very mature theme about what makes life worth living—may need to proceed with caution for some youth.  Young children may not be that interested, especially in the beginning of Soul.

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  1. Hey,
    I don’t tend to watch cartoons any more. My grandson has outgrown them, and I certainly have.

    Hope all’s well with you. Working on a new manuscript and reading, have to do more research to go much further in the manuscript.

“Your Honor”–Judge Me Not

Unconditional love–are there limits?  In Your Honor, a ShowTime mini-series,  a highly respected recently widowed New Orleans judge, Michael Desiato (Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad”) is known for his fair and impartial sentencing of young criminals. But the judge  gets personal   to protect his teenage son, Adam (newcomer Hunter Doohan)   from the consequences of his reckless actions. At first, the  judge advises his son to turn himself in to the police, and explain how he panicked after hitting another teen. But then he discovers that the boy his son ran over was the son of a notorious mafia don, Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stuhlbarg of “Call Me By My Name” and “The Shape of Water”). The judge knows that the mafia will wreak vengeance. Time after time the judge tries to use some moral principle to justify bad acts, and it all goes horribly wrong.

Adam is a total screw up, a clueless teenager who can’t think straight and is painfully annoying, causing the viewer to lose patience. Who doesn’t know a teenager who acts that way–reckless driving, too much alcohol or drugs, and unintended consequences for bad judgment?

There’s a certain tone reminiscent of “Breaking Bad” because the viewer is  put in the position of sympathizing with a scofflaw, albeit with a higher motive to protect as only a parent can. When it comes to your family, what would you do to save them? Where would you draw the line? And what effect would that have upon your moral code, your relationships with others and your honor?

Kudos to the director for crafting an ending that was totally unexpected. What would I do in similar circumstances?    Judge me not until you’re there.

Availability:  ShowTime streaming.

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  1. Probably will watch this. Like Bryan Cranston. I’ll look for it.

    Hope all’s well with you!

    My writing is moving a bit faster, closer to my usual writing pace. Slowly things are opening up!

“Promising Young Woman” –Breaking Over and Over Again

Promising Young Woman, written and directed by Emerald Fennell,  is a revenge thriller on a brutal topic–Don’t let the title mislead you.  Cassie (Carey Mulligan), a 30-year old former medical student, is now a barista living with her parents  In the opening scene we see a very inebriated Cassie barhopping and wandering the city streets at night.

The viewer doesn’t know why this bright and attractive woman is engaged in such risky, dangerous behavior.  To say much more about the film’s artistic and courageous story would ruin it.  But this is an extraordinary directorial debut that explores sexual aggression, objectification of women, and the denial of women’s voices.

Promising Young Woman not only portrays male antagonists, but also  “non-believers” who are women and enablers to the trauma.   This will inevitably be a controversial film because it depicts people hiding behind their smiles, popularity, and success without the underbelly of their criminal behavior being exposed or punished. 

There is no redemption in Promising Young Woman and none can be expected.  The bold ending was a surprise but satisfying in a way, and changes the entire tenor of the film and the perception of Cassie.

Carey Mulligan gives an Academy Award-worthy performance unlike any in her previous (mostly historical) films. She has to pivot from a fiery vessel of rage to a vulnerable young person hoping for change.   Caught in a web of pain, rage, and broken dreams,  Carey Mulligan’s character cannot imagine an alternative web of healing and mercy.

The supporting cast also is very strong:  Bo Burnham as Ryan Cooper, a pediatric surgeon and love interest for Cassie, Alfred Molina as a conscience-struck lawyer filled with regrets, and Allison Brie as a medical school classmate. 

Promising Young Woman is one of the darkest, most painful films I have seen in a very long time.  It may stay with you for days after viewing, clotting your thoughts and feelings on this brutal subject.

The movie delivers its sucker punch when you least expect it.  Not for everyone but for those who are intrigued by the relentless depth into human crimes and misdemeanors, don’t miss it!

Note:  This film has echoes of “13 Reasons Why”, “Lila and Eve”,  the classic “Goodbye Mr. Goodbar”, and “Killing Eve”.

Availability:  Amazon Prime Video

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  1. Nope. Not for me. Since I was a therapist for 40 years I’ve heard many things from clients. I could write a book like this, but won’t.

    Hope all’s well with you!
    Best wishes,
    Lenore

“The Life Ahead” –And Then the End

This 2020 Italian drama stars Sophia Loren in an adaptation of the Romain Gary novel, The Life Before Us.   Directed by Sophia Loren’s son, Edoardo Ponti, The Life Ahead is the third film based on Gary’s novel.

The Life Ahead  has two main characters:  Madame Rosa, an octogenarian ex-prostitute and former  Holocaust survivor, and a 12-year old Somalian child.  To support herself Madame Rosa  cares for the children of local sex workers in her apartment. Consequently, Rosa is the glue in her neighborhood and the lifeline for women desperate to maintain a sense of motherhood as they prostitute themselves.

Near the end of Madame Rosa’s  life, 12-year old Momo (a vivid performance by Ibrahima Gueye), abruptly is thrust upon her. A local doctor who has been trying to find a foster home for Momo pleads with Rosa to accept the Somalian child into her informal daycare center. 

A Muslim boy from Senegal, Momo has no memory of Senegal, except for the trauma of watching his father kill his mother when she refused to prostitute herself. Abandoned by the father, now Momo is  a  tough, angry, and lonely street kid  who makes money selling drugs.   Madame Rosa suspects  the boy is engaging in criminal acts and endangering his future. She wheedles a local store-owner (Babak Karimi, from “The Salesman” and  “A Separation”) into giving Momo a job a couple days a week in his carpet  store.

The Life Ahead

Very slowly Momo starts to open his heart, first towards another little boy  he shares a room with at Madame Rosa’s.  Then with the  carpet store owner who shows him how to repair valuable rugs, and finally with the small community of women who wish to protect Madame Rosa as she starts to decline. Most of all, however, it is the Momo-Madame Rosa friendship which becomes fierce and protective.  When Rosa most needs support to fulfill her dream, she tells Momo:  “You’re a little shit but I know you keep your word.”

Momo very gradually learns to understand and appreciate  Madame Rosa, taking in all she gives him .  Through their pain and fear and need, they still see beauty:  in the boy’s drawings and in the old woman’s memories of her childhood.  Momo draws lions when his memories become unbearable.  When Madame Rosa’s trauma is  too much, she retreats into the building’s basement to listen to her music.  Almost  incredibly, both characters are  still capable of acts of great generosity. Both the very young  and the very old are exceptional  as they forge their friendship, despite their scars and unhealed wounds.

Sophia Loren’s Madame Rosa is alternately imperious and vulnerable, warm and cranky, strong and fragile.  It is  a heroic role for her.  She foregoes cosmetically softening that once glamorous and beautiful face for one that is almost unrecognizable. But it is a masterful decision for her to make. Loren’s exterior has been toughened for this role.     In those moments when she is trying to protect her traumatized soul, Loren seems truly broken and unreachable. Except for the boy.  Theirs is an unlikely friendship, to say the least.  Momo has never heard of Auschwitz—he thinks she is saying “house witch”.

A small but surprising film, quirky with only a bit of a saggy middle and an unnecessarily weak ending. Charming and endearing performances make a sometimes ordinary story quite masterful.  Highly recommend.

Availability:  Netflix streaming; released on November 6, 2020.

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  1. I’ll look for this one. Probably good. Thanks.

    Hope all’s well. Still working on a couple books in different levels of completion. Tomorrow I’ll take Brook’s 6 day memoir class, my second time and probably all I need to finish that project.

“The Accident”–Unexpected Trauma

The Accident Hulu series

The Accident , a four-part  British series, plunges into a  Welsh community’s fight for justice after an explosion on a construction site kills several local teenagers.

The town of Glyngolau, Wales is comparable to many Appalachian  coal mine and steel mill towns. Most have lost their main employers, leaving everyone in financial ruin. To the rescue is a large real estate developer, Kallbridge Developments.  It  swoops in,  promising a thousand local jobs, and the residents breath a sigh of relief.  Iwan Bevan, head of the town council, has worked hard to secure the project.

Fifteen-year-old daughter, Leona Bevan,  rebellious and bored, has experimented with drugs and is looking for a good time in a town with very little going on.   In the opening scene, Iwan’s wife, Polly (Sarah Lancashire of “HappyValley” and “Last Tango in Nova Scotia”), catches Leona in bed with a forty-year old man and warns her of the father’s reaction. Sullen, Leona takes eight of her teenaged friends to sneak into the Kallbridge building site, to vandalize the yet-unfinished interior,  and most of all, to annoy her dad. A tragic accident occurs and legal recourse follows.

Harriet Paulsen (Sidse Babett Knudsen of “Borgen”), the senior vice-president of Kallbridge, is responsible for the construction site and is implicated. Polly, who understands her husband’s tempestuous behavior all too well, suspects Iwan is culpable in the accident as well.  Harriet, romantically involved with a junior employee she supervises, soon reveals her moral compass in defending her position as do Polly, Iwan, Leona and individual residents.

As the town mourns the tragedy, attention towards the grieving parents shifts to who is to blame: A fellow townsman who managed the construction? Harriett Paulsen fronting the greed of the Kallbridge corporation? Or ,the councilman and some of his peers?  What price is worth pursuing justice?  Does the cost seem too high when the grieving parents put up their houses as collateral to cover the legal expenses?

The Accident is about who is to blame, the power of greed and relationships crumbling to save oneself.  The ending is somewhat weak, but the performances and the narrative, for the most part, support the drama and the suspense.

Availability:  Hulu streaming and Channel 4 (BBC).

Note: There are powerful, deeply disturbing, and– unfortunately,– convincing  scenes of domestic violence and the battered woman syndrome. Distressing to witness and  certainly harrowing.

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  1. Hey,
    I’ll pass on this one. I used to be a therapist and know about horrendous abuse.

    Hope all’s well with you!

    I’ve written a wizard book, now out to 3 people and waiting for opinions. Then look for a publisher – not a SWP genre. Back to writing a sequel to Shelter of Leaves, some research needed with this book.

“Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am”–Dissembling the American Dream





Toni Morrison (1931-2019), the 1993 Nobel Prize winner in Literature, was a complex artist who did not hold back from confronting the worst of human history. The documentary, Toni Morrison:  Pieces I Am, is a historical panorama of a slice of history dating from the 1930’s until the conclusion of the film in 2019.  Morrison emerges as a powerful, iconic, and formidable moral and intellectual force. The film gives us a retrospective of her groundbreaking novels which challenged the literary status quo,   rewarding the reader with imagining black lives on their own terms, devoid of the “white male gaze”.

Toni Morrison, born in Lorain, Ohio, a steel-town she remembers as being integrated, recalls experiencing segregation in the 1950’s only after she arrived in Washington, DC to attend Howard University. She published much later than most writers, but her college experience textured her writings.  She wrote from the vantage point of wounded women who had the strength and will to find often unexpected and hard-won redemption and triumph, not victimhood.  But her novels speak to people globally, to their traumas and their joys, in a language which is pure inspiration. Places and people– previously invisible or unnoticed– become powerful voices.

The documentary deftly reveals that Toni Morrison’s work is the essence of beautiful storytelling.  Despite the fact that her novels are about private pain as well as  collective trauma, both raw and searing, tender and compassionate, Toni Morrison is an electrifying and positive personality. Perhaps startling, — given the dark and sobering themes of her novels,– the viewer sees an ebullient, charismatic and theatrical mind of extraordinary talent:  both buoyant and vivacious.  Friends repeatedly describe her as a party-goer who loves clothes and is joyful in being herself and celebrating any occasion with friends. Many were invited to her Nobel Prize parties.  But she doesn’t tolerate fools easily, either.

First and foremost,  Morrison is a literary warrior reflecting the dark mirror of untold truths, things unsaid.   When asked by Dick Cavett on his nightly talk show if she dislikes being praised as a Black writer, she beams and answers that she is proud of being a Black woman writer but cringes at being asked that question by white interviewers.

Blowback was inevitable in the context of her meteoric rise in popularity.  The New York Times declared Morrison too talented to “remain a recorder of black provincial life” in its review of her book, Sula.  The mid-1980s furor that followed resulted in a petition signed by prominent Black authors urging that Morrison be given a major literary prize. In 1993 it was in Europe that her magnificent work was first awarded  the highest honor any author can receive:  the Nobel Prize in Literature.

But we also see a private, delightful writer who has the heft and electrical charge of a powerhouse to be reckoned with. Her prose is intricately woven with intelligence, wit, unpredictability, toughness and fearlessness.  And so is the woman–who challenged the inflection and fantasy of the American dream in every sentence she spoke publicly and in every line she wrote.  Moving photographs–some of her family threaded together with  19th-century engravings  and contemporary art by Kerry James Marshall, Jacob Lawrence, and Romare Bearden among others–contribute to the memorable beauty of Toni Morrison and the world she has created.

I watched this and was transfixed. The wisdom of Ms. Morrison is eternal…it touches us all.

Availability:   Hulu, Amazon Prime, Netflix.

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  1. We are going to watch this documentary thanks to this write up about the film and your thoughts aboutToni Morrison. THANK YOU.

Ragnarok–Thor on Steroids

Ragnarok,  a Norwegian fantasy series, takes place in the fictional town  of Edda, in Hordaland, the home of the mythological Norse god of thunder, Thor.  This modern day Ragnarök follows the story of  the Norse mythology of the god Thor.  Ragnarok stands for the end of the world and the twilight of the gods, with natural disasters leading to a battle between the gods (Thor) and giants (Jutuls).  In this reimagining of the myth, Ragnarok is environmental disaster due to climate change from corporate giants.  Edda is owned and controlled by the Jutul family, the fifth richest family in Norway, and the owners of much of the town’s economy as well as responsible for its rampant industrial pollution.

Magne Seier, a reincarnation of the thunder-god Thor, is a teenage boy who has recently moved to Edda with his younger brother and single mom, recently widowed. The mom has returned to work for her former classmate and lover, Vidar Jutul, the patriarch and corporate power that dominates Edda.  In a duplicitous scheme, Vidar is advertising the town as a nature destination while polluting it with company effluents.

Slowly Magne begins to realize he has the superpowers of a god, which becomes evident and threatening to the Jutuls.  Magne’s first and only friend at school is an environmental activist, a sort of Greta Thunberg,  with a YouTube channel she uses to expose pollution, glacial melt, and mutant trout guts. One teacher asks Magne to make sure his whole project isn’t about how “old white men” are destroying the world. Magne’s comeback: “Well, aren’t they?”

Ragnarok mini-series

Can Magne, this awkward, , dyslexic, good-natured teenager save the world against some formidable enemies? And how is this teenage hero going to handle his newfound power?  Magne soon discovers that the illness and death arising in the town is due to the toxic waste from Jutul Industries.

Ragnarok is a novel approach to the Norse legend story, fun to watch, and a break from the Marvel comic blockbuster  version of Thor and his superpowers.

Availability:  Premiered on Netflix streaming on January 31, 2020.

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  1. This looks good. I’ll put it on my list.

    Hope all’s well. Finishing wizard book ms. Sending it to a couple folks to look over – a new venture for me. Will get back to Sharp&Sabine ms. now.

    Are you working on anything new? Staying home in some ways helps writers. Cheers!

The Spanish Princess–An Imperial Royal Highness

The Spanish Princess is a ShowTime limited series based on the novels The Constant Princess (2005) and The King’s Curse (2014) by Philippa Gregory.  This is a  drama about the teenage Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon (Charlotte Hope who played Ramsay Boulton’s lover Myranda in “Game of Thrones”). She becomes  the first queen of England betrothed to King Henry VIII  (Ruairi O’Connor).

Teenage princess Catherine of Aragon, daughter of  the Spanish Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, travels to England  in 1501, to meet her husband by arranged marriage to  Arthur, Prince of Wales, heir apparent to Henry VII of England.  Smitten with the love letters she had been receiving, Catherine assumes that Prince Arthur is the man of her dreams.   Betrothed since she was a young child, the marriage is also an economic negotiation for wealth from Spain to a sorely needed English court desperate for funds. Unwelcomed by some as a foreigner and by others as too headstrong for a future queen, Catherine of Aragon and her diverse court retainers struggle to fit in. Soon Arthur’s younger brother, the magnetic Henry, Duke of York, reveals he is  the author of the romantic letters she has cherished. When Arthur dies suddenly, her fate becomes perilous.  She longs to marry Henry but– as she had been married to his brother– Catherine is confronted by  the Old Testament ban on  marriage to a brother’s widow.   Only a papal dispensation can allow the marriage to take place.  Furthermore, Catherine maintains that she is still a virgin because her marriage to Arthur was never consummated (a lie).

With court intrigue mounting between Henry’s diabolical mother, Lady Margaret (Harriet Walter) , who severely disapproves of Catherine, and Catherine’s fighting for the status and security of a queen, the viewer is treated to several subplots.  One  is a lady-in-waiting deeply involved with a Muslim knight who is accused of being a “heathen”. Another is  the burden on the royal family to broker marriages which will provide male heirs.   To ensure continuity of the regime, their hegemony, and their exorbitant property holdings,  court intrigue was not for the faint of heart.  And the draining of court coffers due to the high cost of continual war  ensured that marriage was a business negotiation for national interests and power struggles.  Catherine of Aragon is merely an asset from Spain to add to the British court’s  wealth through her dowry and her family’s alliances. But Catherine of Aragon  won’t be dismissed easily.  She is imperious, manipulative, and scheming–everything that makes The Spanish Princess so entertaining!

Note: The first eight episodes premiered on May 5, 2019. The remaining eight episodes– Season 2– premiered on October 11, 2020. The series finale aired on November 29, 2020.

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“News of the World”–A Gift for the Heart

News of the World is based on the Paulette Jiles’s bestseller by the same name. The story follows a sixty-something curmudgeonly widower,   Captain  Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks), a traveling newspaper reader. Captain Kidd  entertains and informs townspeople–some of whom are illiterate– in small communities all over  Texas:  for the price of a silver dime. The year is 1870, five years after Reconstruction, and Texans still are disgruntled by their defeat after the end of the Civil War.

In the opening scene a Black man has been lynched and a ten-year-old blonde white girl (Helena Zengel) is hiding from Union authorities looking for her.  The girl speaks only Kiowa, the language of the tribe who has raised her after killing her parents and her older sister in retaliation for the government’s land grab of their territories.  She yearns to be with her Kiowa family.

At the insistence of the Union authorities  Kidd reluctantly assumes responsibility for returning the girl to her German immigrant relatives, a task the girl resents. Kidd feels ill-equipped to accompany her there, a trip of several hundred miles, while continuing his itinerant life as a newspaper reader.  But this is no ordinary Western and Kidd and the little girl he calls Johanna have challenges in establishing communication and trust in each other.

News of the World is marketed as a Western involving a horse-and-wagon road trip in a fight for survival in inhospitable, unwelcoming regions of the Texas Panhandle.  But primarily it is a feel-good “old man and little girl” story of human decency and the need for family.  Both Tom Hanks–who is made for this role–and Helena Zengel who performs the feat of conveying all of her angst without uttering more than a few words of English, Kiowa or German–make News of the World  a gift for the heart.

Availability: Paid “theater” ticket for streaming.

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5 Replies to ““News of the World”–A Gift for the Heart”

  1. Your light review sums up the movie and the book. I recommend reading the book before seeing the movie. The book has some interesting points, such as using the dimes instead of bird shot in the shotgun cartridges. Your description of a feel good movie with Tom Hanks being perfect for the part is right on.

    1. Using the dimes was part of the film as well, though it took me a while to figure out what she was doing and how could it work… time to ask the Science Guy.
      The acting was right on. Hanks nailed it again.

  2. Hey,
    thanks for the info. I’m a Tom Hanks fan, an actor for all seasons. I’ll put it on my list.

    I’m working on 2 new books, editing a final draft of a wizard book and writing a new book that’s a sequel to Shelter of Leaves. Staying home most of the time, good for a writer to get work done. I do miss seeing friends. But at least the vaccines are getting around more, since we have a savvy president now.
    Cheers to you, hope all’s well with you,

    Sending best,
    Lenore

  3. One of the best of the year. Tom Hanks is America’s Everyman. And the little girl is magical — a shoo-in for a best supporting actress Oscar nomination (and the likely winner).

  4. An engrossing western in the old style. Hanks was powerful in his portrayal of a widower curmudgeon. The twists and turns were well timed – some comfortable, some violent, but the ending left one with hope.

“Bridgerton”–“Downton Abbey” Meets “Pride and Prejudice”

Produced by Shonda Rhimes as her first Netflix Original debut, Bridgerton  is based on a series of best-selling historical romance novels by Julia Quinn. Set in the Regency era, at the height of London’s aristocratic society, Bridgerton  tracks the lives and loves of the sprawling Bridgerton clan.

Bridgerton  is an amalgamation –part Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and part class snobbery (Downton Abbey).–  Queen Charlotte (played with astringent haughtiness by Gilda Rosheuvel) is black. So too is the highly sought after Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page). The Duke,  who appears during the  debutante season, leaves a string of “cat fights” in his wake.  This is compounded by mothers frantically arranging introductions of their daughters to society’s most eligible bachelors.  And no bachelor is more desired than the Duke.  And no debutante, at least at first, is quite as flawless as Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor), whom Queen Charlotte has declared “the diamond of the season”.  Of course, the Duke of Hastings and Daphne Bridgerton are repulsed by each other’s presence at the first debutante ball, only to very slowly fall in love. 

The intrigue of romance, arranged marriage, and fortune-hunting in social circles rivals Macchiavelli in strategy  and ruthlessness in a  highly entertaining story.  There are unwanted pregnancies, mistresses, highly desired but forbidden pregnancies, fortunes lost and won.  There is even a gossip-sheet, a daily newsletter by an unidentified Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews) to overlay mystery on the sumptuous balls and family secrets. A word of scandal in Lady Whistledown’s newsletter can ruin the reputation of any debutante or suitor in a matter of minutes.  With a lemming mentality, the once “diamond of the season” becomes tarnished, polished, and then tarnished again by pure whim and schadenfreude by those who compete with her.

The identity of Lady Whistledown, mastermind of all this turmoil,  is revealed in the very last scene and there were many red herrings skillfully crafted.

Bridgerton is at its best when it is a commentary on marriage, its pitfalls, and the expectation imposed on women to wed.  Imagine 1813 London with an ethnically diverse aristocracy who thrives in high society, focused on marriage and family, and maintaining high social status.  “Downton Abbey” in living color?

Bridgerton‘s early 1800s London is a subtle, ironic, and humorous depiction of social mobility, gender, and ethnic limitations in a caste system.  It is  highly original and overdue in casting diversity to remind the viewer that overt themes of discrimination are unnecessary. Now it is time for the industry to step forward and help us move forward.

Groundbreaking and inspirational, I hope we will see more of this nonconventional casting in the future.  Forget about historical accuracy, this is not a documentary. It is fiction and a charming one at that. A beautiful and reimagined 19th century. The actors are excellent and the diversity feels right.

Note:  In a brilliant stroke of writing, Shonda Rhimes places the story during the marriage of (Mad) King George III and Queen Charlotte.  There has been some historical researth that Queen Charlotte may have had African ancestry.  Bridgerton accepts it as fact, imagining that the queen grants titles and land to other people of color.

Availability: Netflix streaming

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2 Replies to ““Bridgerton”–“Downton Abbey” Meets “Pride and Prejudice””

  1. I hate to be the one to throw cold water on this superficial series, about a petty romance. Watch it for the costumes and nothing else.

  2. I wanted to know what everyone loved about this series. Because it was a Shondra Rhimes production I thought it would be light, romantic and fun with diversity undertones. Well, I was right.
    The first time I tried to watch it, I only made it through the first 10 minutes before I I thought it silly, shallow and unrealistic…
    The second time I tried to watch it, I made it through another 10 minutes still finding it unrealistic historically with no redeeming qualities and thinking this was a piece that should be saying something more about class and diversity.
    Then one night when I couldn’t sleep and didn’t have anything else on my play list, I finished the 1st episode and went onto the next episode. I was hooked.
    Aside from the fact that Queen Charlotte may have had some African ancestry, the diversity aspect of this series had very little “enlightenment” to it. Once I got over that the diversity aspect was not really racial but was a subtle statement about race and class, it became much more fun. I enjoyed the rest of the episodes very much. It was light, romantic and fun with diversity undertones.