Let’s Talk About Bridgerton

Ok, my fellow friends, we need to have a conversation about Bridgerton, the hottest new Netflix show, if you’ve somehow managed to not hear about that.

Over the course of a 3 day weekend, I watched the whole season. (I was pacing myself. Could I have watched it faster? Yes, but I wanted to savor it.)

I’m going to break this post into two parts: Review and Frustrations.

Shows like Bridgerton: Period. drama pieces to watch if you loved Bridgerton

Review

As far as being entertainment, this met my mark. I thought it was melodramatic, scandalous, and witty enough to keep me interested. There are a whole host of characters to follow–which means plenty to love and hate. And there is one character who had me cursing at the TV all the time, so the hate was real.

The plot is what you expect from your basic Regency romance: Daphne Bridgerton is newly out in society and searching for a husband. Quickly described as the “Diamond” of the season, she’s held in high esteem…until her prospects suddenly dry up after her overprotective brother drives all the suitors away. Now, if Daphne has any hope of landing a husband, she needs a new plan. Enter the Duke of Hastings, her brother’s best friend. He’s practically fending off mothers with a stick to keep his vow never to wed. He agrees to help Daphne become more desirable to the men of society if she will help him keep the mamas away.

So yeah. Guess how that one ends.

But just because I knew where it was headed didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. Daphne is one of eight Bridgerton children, so there was always a lot going on. There were also the Featheringtons next door who were constantly getting into trouble. So while I may have known how Daphne’s story was probably going to go, I didn’t know about the other plot lines. And that was fun to discover as I watched and thought I knew how it would go.

The casting is interesting. At first, I was a bit of a historical purist, in that the casting is very multicultural and that didn’t mesh with history. Like they made Queen Charlotte a woman of color. But after watching the first episode, it was fine. In fact, it made the story all the more interesting. It’s basically a slightly alternate version of history in which King George and Queen Charlotte’s marriage actually ushered in the acceptance of different races in this society–including as Dukes and other noblemen. It’s very Shonda Rimes, I’m discovering, from my very limited knowledge of her shows.

Sometimes the plot/show did get a little tedious, but I overall enjoyed it. And it was also kind of awesome (and distracting at times) that the music in this was a lot of current pop music in string instrumental versions. I got super distracted at one pivotal moment in the series because it was playing Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” instrumentally in the background. I spent a good chunk of time trying to place the song rather than watching the show!

Frustrations

The other day at school, I was talking about this show with my coworkers at lunch. It was five women, all of us socially distanced around a large room. Three of us had seen the show, two had not.

Immediately after I brought it up, it was being batted around by two of them that this show was “trash”. One had seen it, one had not. They were calling it “trash” because it was based on a romance novel and had lovemaking scenes in it. One, who has a 17 year old daughter who has been asking if she could watch this, said that she told her no because her daughter really only wanted to watch it for the nudity scenes. (Which…like…is that really a terrible thing? I know that’s her daughter, so yuck, but…) She explained that this kind of TV was trash and wasn’t worth her time.

And…I sat there silently processing what had just happened, feeling something akin to a growing pit in my stomach area.

Because look. I’m a proponent of reading whatever you want. You read comics? Cool. You only read nonfiction books about gardening? Awesome. You’re an adult aficionado of children’s books? Good for you.

So I’m kind of starting to hate it when people dump on romance novels. I have learned so much from the historical romances I’ve read–things about class issues, things about the history of “unpickable” locks, things about women’s rights and how women fought for their own little slice of independence, my God, I’ve even learned a good bit of French from them. But most of all, I’ve learned that relationships take work and compromise and compassion and forgiveness. And that we’re all heroes and heroines in our own stories.

I made this argument at Christmas with my family when my family made fun of me for watching so many “predictable” Hallmark movies. I said, “You say Hallmark is predictable, but what about every Fast and Furious movie? I’ve never seen any, but I’m pretty sure something blows up in every single one of them.” One of my brothers immediately said no, but my dad was kind of laughing and he went, “Yeah, I think it does.” Point. Made.

So the problem does not seem to be that these stories are predictable and I’ve seen enough action and comedy movies to know that plenty of nudity and dirty jokes work their way into those movies too. Yet no one has a problem with those. They have a problem with it as soon as it’s about a loving relationship (which seems odd to me that this is the problem) and marketed to women.

I hate that people hear “romance” and they immediately get these mental images of 50 Shades and every crappy romance novel they’ve ever read. There are absolutely loser novels out there, as there are in every genre. I’ve read some real snoozer nonfiction books. I’ve read YA that has made me uncomfortable. But that doesn’t mean they’re all worthless.

It’s time to start accepting romance. I’ve mulled this over in my head for a while, and I think I might start adding romance novels into my reviews, since I’m reading so many of them anyway. Then I’ll be posting a bit more frequently and maybe expand my audience a little. I know you all aren’t romance fans, but I think maybe I can help normalize reading them. And I really want to do that.

The Prom (Netflix)

The Prom (film) - Wikipedia

Everyone deserves a chance to celebrate.

I’m a big fan of musicals. Most people who know me know that. I heard about The Prom a few years ago during the Tony season and the performance during the Macy’s Thanksgiving’s Day Parade. So I found the soundtrack and kinda sorta started learning the music. However, I wasn’t won over by it just from the soundtrack. Let’s see what I thought of the movie.

If you’ve never heard of this musical/movie, basically you have four mostly washed-up Broadway actors (Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, and Andrew Rannells) who can’t hold a steady job looking for a good PR stunt. They see on Twitter that a girl in Indiana (Jo Ellen Pellman) is fighting to be allowed to bring her girlfriend to prom. They decide to swoop in and join the fight.

This is a star-studded cast, if you missed that. We’ve got the four big ones I previously mentioned, along with Kerry Washington, who plays the president of the PTA who are telling Emma that she can’t bring her girlfriend to prom, and Keegan-Michael Key, who plays the school principal who is trying to help Emma. There’s also a small part played by Tracey Ullman, which was kind of a weird bit. Oh, and Emma’s girlfriend is played by Ariana DeBose, who played The Bullet in Hamilton.

Ok, let me get out of the way the biggest thing that bothers me about this musical: they really think very little of people from Indiana. I mean, this is my home state. They have lines like, “We’re going down to where the necks are red and lack of dentistry thrives…[those] cousin-humping, cow-tipping…losers and their inbred wives.” Like…wow. This was really off-putting when I was simply listening to the soundtrack. This is kind of a constant theme in the first act. (Honestly, setting this in Indiana was really confusing for me, since the whole thing is apparently based on something that happened in Mississippi. But I have a theory that it was being written while Indiana was going through the RFRA crisis under then-governor Mike Pence, and let’s just say that was a massive black eye for the state.)

But as I watched the movie…I kind of came to understand it more. The lines I mentioned come from the four out-of-touch actors. We watch them arrive in Indiana and become the biggest fish out of water you’ve ever seen. They just have no concept of what the Midwest is like (despite at least two of them growing up in Pennsylvania and Ohio?). So we basically learn that these are the stereotypes they think they know about Indiana and they learn from that the longer they’re there. The only character I allow to bash Indiana is Emma, who is not being accepted by anyone and is really struggling.

Oh gosh, I got on a tangent there. Ok, let’s talk about the story and the acting.

The story: I think the concept pretty cool and relevant. Emma really just wants to find acceptance. She just wants to go to the prom like everyone else, but when the PTA finds out she wants to bring a girl as her date, they cancel prom altogether. Emma’s story is, sadly, not unique. Throwing in a bunch of flamboyant, exuberant Broadway actors is a new twist and it brings a lot of new personalities to the story. They have very interesting personalities that invigorate the story. However, the energy does dip a little in the middle. There are some scenes that I think maybe make more sense on stage than they do in the movie. Like there’s this budding friendship/romance between Dee Dee Allen (Streep) and Tom (Key). (In case you were wondering, she’s 22 years older than him. I was curious.) I just thought the whole thing played weirdly in a movie about a girl trying to go to prom.

The acting: The lead girls, Pellman and DeBose, were excellent. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. They were fantastic. It’s ironically the stars who sometimes struggled–and I like all of them individually. Nicole Kidman’s Angie is kind of boring and doesn’t bring much to the story. Her one individual number–“Zazz”–is a snooze. Andrew Rannells does pull off his role well, a character who’s meant to be obnoxious. Streep is obviously a great actress and she sounded pretty good in this as well, it’s just that some scenes felt out of place. She’s also another character meant to be over the top and annoying.

But let’s talk about James Corden. Look, the guy shows up in just about every musical adaptation. Part of that is because he really is a gifted singer and actor, but now I feel like he’s getting these jobs because of his name. He plays Barry, a flamboyantly gay narcissistic actor. I thought Corden brought a lot of heart to the movie. However, he’s gotten a lot of backlash for being a straight man in a gay role, and I get that. I feel like it could have had even more heart if the actor had also struggled with the same things Barry does. But he gets a lot of flack for playing into gay stereotypes and yeah, that sucks, but I have to wonder how much of that is how the character is written? How much of that is really Corden’s interpretation? I can’t answer that.

It’s an upbeat, poppy musical with a lot of fun personalities and some real heart at its core. It reminds me of Hairspray, honestly. I was looking for a musical that would be cute and easy to watch, and that’s what I got. Don’t take it too seriously and you’ll probably enjoy it.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Image result for the crimes of grindelwaldWho will change the future?

Hey guys!  So I checked this movie out from the library a few weeks ago because I hadn’t watched it yet…and I let it sit by my TV for weeks.  I just wasn’t in the mood for it, you know?  (I got hooked on the show Lucifer…)  But last night, I finally felt like I was looking for a little magic.

*Potential Fantastic Beasts Spoilers Ahead*

Grindelwald is amassing followers.  Worried about what may happen if this continues, Albus Dumbledore enlists the help of Newt Scamander to go to Paris and do what he can to stop Grindelwald.  Newt doesn’t want to pick sides in this fight, preferring to be with his beasts, but Grindelwald is striking close to Newt–and Newt may not be able to stay indifferent for long.

Ok, let’s start with the obvious here.  Jo wrote this and, like the Harry Potter books, you can feel her storytelling in it.  It’s thorough, the characters are interesting, and there are fascinating twists.  There are obvious parallels to the world we live in and that’s always disturbing/fascinating to see.

I mean, I loved seeing a young Dumbledore.  Jude Law did an excellent job with him.  He still feels like Dumbledore, even though we’re seeing him decades before Harry meets him.  I appreciated what Law brought to the screen with his performance because, like Jo says in some of the bonus features, Dumbledore is such an amazing character.  Love him or hate him, he’s fascinating.

But, as I was watching the movie…I was bored.  I kept looking at the clock to figure out how much longer until it was over.

Let me see if I can try to describe this.  I found the plot overall to be slow moving and too broken up between the many narrators.  We’re constantly seeing things from Newt, Dumbledore, Tina, Queenie, Jacob, Credence, and a few others.  Trying to keep all of those straight and look for clues to the ending was tedious.  Especially since what I loved most about the first movie (the beasts and the friendships) weren’t as prevalent this time around.

I do like Newt.  I think Eddie Redmayne plays him marvelously.  He’s strange and quirky, but he doesn’t care a bit what anyone thinks of him so long as he can protect his beasts.  And that is…oddly refreshing.

I just didn’t think this was particularly fun or interesting to watch.  It started off well, but it lost me as it continued on.

Les Misérables (Book Review)

Image result for les miserables bookFirst Lines: In 1815, M. Charles-Francois-Bienvenu Myriel was Bishop of D–  He was an old man of about seventy-five years of age; he had occupied the see of D– since 1806.

So since like February, this has been on my summer to-read list.  I knew I’d need a large chunk of free time to dig into this and the school year was not it.  In May, I checked it out from the library so I would have it at my house when I was finally ready to start.

I know a lot of you are familiar with the storyline, but I’m going to just go over it a little.  We follow Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to leave his past behind and start a new life as a respectable member of society.  But his attempts are always under threat: from Inspector Javert, from Valjean’s own conscience, from others he has crossed paths with in the past.  Now, it’s not enough for Valjean simply to be free–he’s sworn to protect a young girl, daughter of Fantine.  And he will do anything to protect her when he couldn’t save her mother.

I was pretty sure going into this that I knew the story and the characters. Not only was I familiar with the musical, but I’d watched the 6-part mini-series starring Dominic West and David Oyelowo based on the book as well. Between the two, I figured I knew it all.

I didn’t.

Granted, the big events are there. But the characters all felt wrong.

Initially, it seemed spot on. Valjean is an ex-con on parole, reviled by society and treated abysmally. His anger was palpable. And then, once Monseigneur Bienvenu ‘saved’ him, he completely changes. And it’s this change that I don’t think any of the movies or shows does justice. Valjean, as Monsieur Madeleine, is kind to everyone. He goes out of his way to show them all kindness. And it’s this that gets cut because it doesn’t add to the plot. But even when he’s kind, he still has a darkness in him. There’s a point in the story where he flat out hates someone and thinks, “Good, he’s dying.” It was certainly human nature, but it didn’t fit the other versions of him in media.

On the subject of characters, Marius was not what I expected. I knew him better from the mini-series (his characters is so different from the musical), but he still was far more complex than I knew. And he’s actually, even though he’s definitely a dreamer, far more grounded than shows make him out to be. He’s got a good head on his shoulders, though he does sort of creepily stalk Cosette for weeks and doesn’t get the hint that it’s weird. There is that.

I could go on and on about the differences between the shows and the book, but I’ll try to limit that.

When I first started reading and the book started with Monseigneur Bienvenu rather than Valjean or even Fantine, I kind of sighed. I was like, “Here Victor Hugo goes again, being his wordy self and talking about nothing of importance.” But it was actually good. It helped set the climate of France at the time, how people had completely turned their backs on anything and anyone having to do with the Revolution. However, later on, Hugo did get wordy. I’m not sure I needed 30 pages of breakdown of how exactly Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, nor did I need 15 pages about how terrible the sewers under Paris were or how poo is a great fertilizer they were just throwing away. Seriously. Like 15 pages about how they were wasting millions of dollars worth of poo.

While I did certainly start to skim over some of that (it wasn’t intentional; I’d start reading it and by the end of the next page realize I didn’t remember any of it but I wasn’t going back), Hugo did have some very interesting and spot-on observations about people, countries, religion, politics, and so much more. There would be little nuggets of it sprinkled around everywhere. It was always a moment where I was reading and kind of had to stop because it was still true 150 years later. (Also, his name dropping of John Brown, the abolitionist who got himself caught at Harper’s Ferry, really threw me. France paid attention to that? I feel like most of America didn’t even pay attention to that.)

Female characters. They were pretty typical for the time (and, arguably, something that still happens). Women were either angels or demons with really no middle ground. Fantine and Cosette are always played as these adorable, angelic, innocent women, even after Fantine falls on hard times. She’s still revered. Clearly in the demon category was Madame Thenardier, who lacks nearly all motherly affection for her children and is merely her husband’s puppet. Even Eponine falls in this category, no matter how much we’re supposed to pity her. The way Hugo writes her is still quite unsympathetic, even at the barricade. He gives her negative motives to even her best of intentions. It was a little hard to swallow at times, how demure and submissive Cosette was because it’s so antithesis to now.

Speaking of Cosette, I just have to say that the romance in this story was actually romantic.  I’ve gotten so used to every other form of this story feeling like obsessive love (Marius sees her, instantly knows he loves her and wants to marry her, etc.) that when this story actually did their love justice, I was baffled.  In a good way.  Sure, they look at each other and are instantly attracted (and yeah, Marius goes a little too far), but their love story timeline is over a year in length.  I was pleased by that because it felt more realistic.

As for the structure of the book, the chapters are fairly short. I was not expecting that. It’s all broken into 5 books, mostly named after characters (Fantine, Cosette, Marius, and Jean Valjean) and there are chapters inside those that run from 10-60 pages. But inside of thoseare chapters broken apart with Roman numerals. Those were often 2-3 pages but sometimes longer. It was actually really great for giving me a solid stopping place when I needed it but also a way for me to feel like I was making progress.

I’m not going to sit here and say that I adored the book. That’s putting it a bit too strong. But I liked it. I liked getting to understand the characters and the events better and I thought the story was full of wisdom, but boy were there parts that were a slog.  (It took me just under 2 weeks to read it all!)

American Gods, Season 1

Image result for american gods season 1Hello everyone!  I found this at the library a few weeks ago and, being bored, I thought it might be a show worth watching.  I have not read the book, but I’m a fan of mythology and the idea of modernizing it, mixing these old gods with today’s world sounded fascinating.

Shadow Moon is a man with a dark past.  Now, his ultimate goal is to live a quiet life with his wife.  But when he gets word that his wife has died, his life is thrown into chaos.  As he flies home for the funeral, he meets the mysterious “Mr. Wednesday” who seems to know more about Shadow than he should.  Mr. Wednesday is insistent that something is coming and he needs Shadow to help him.  From this moment on, Shadow’s life will never be the same.

Oh my gosh, I don’t even know where to start with this.  This was fantastic.  I’m actually terrified to read the book now because I don’t know how it can possibly be better than the show.  The show is that good.

Being a STARZ show, this is definitely meant for *much* older viewers.  Profanity, nudity, and more abound.  There were moments when things happened that I didn’t even feel like I was old enough to be watching it.  And I don’t know about anyone else, but I would have been highly uncomfortable watching this show with another person.  It’s….graphic.

But let me tell you, the story is wonderfully told.  Even though the story isn’t exclusively told from Shadow’s perspective, we basically only know as much as he does the whole time.  So when weird things happen, we don’t understand it either.  When something shocking happens, we’re as shocked as he is.  There’s this air of mystery the entire show where you know enough to have a general idea but not enough to know everything until the end.  I loved that, the slow unravel of the story as we got to know the characters better.

The story is told from multiple perspectives, and by multiple, I mean probably close to a dozen when all is said and done.  There are 2 episodes of the 8 that completely take you out of the main narrative to explain something that happened in the past to show how we got to this point.  I actually really enjoyed those episodes.  But also, at the beginning of most episodes, we get a little bit of a look at the lives of people as they came to America (Norsemen, slaves, Hispanics, etc.) and the gods they believed in.

Ah, there’s still so much I want to say and I don’t want to forget anything!

Ok, characters/actors.  Look, these actors are phenomenal.  Particularly the guy (Ricky Whittle) playing Shadow.  He comes off as cold and aloof a lot of the time, but I always felt like even though he seemed so stoic, I knew exactly what he was thinking and feeling.  That’s impressive.  I was also a fan of Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday and Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeney.  Emily Browning, who plays Laura, is so good as well.  The stuff she has to act through…man, there’s no prep for that.  And she played it so well.

This show really allows all of the characters to have their own quirks.  Mr. Wednesday is definitely quirky and sarcastic while Shadow is, as I said, kind of stoic.  But he’s also slow to make decisions and thoughtful about what he’s seeing around him, no matter how incredible it is.  Laura is selfish and completely self-centered to the point of cruelty.  Mad Sweeney is hilariously unlucky and there’s far more to him than meets the eye.  I loved watching all of these characters evolve throughout the story.

Social commentary.  There was so much about this that felt timely and politically charged.  (I was about to change my wording of “politically” but then I remembered about 4 different scenes that actually do seem political, so I’m leaving it.)  Some of it was horrifying, some of it was eye-opening, so of it was simply human nature.  All of it was relatable.  I thought it was fascinating, though admittedly there were a few that made me squirm or were just hard to watch because of how well it matches what’s on the news.

I really enjoyed this show.  I would have been able to post this a week ago except halfway through watching the show, someone put the DVD on hold and I had to return it for a time.  That was a long week, not being able to watch the final 3 episodes.

I was always into it.  And I was usually yelling at the TV too, like this:

Image result for mel b what just happened gif

I don’t normally watch dramas, but this was so much better than anything I’ve seen in a long time and I can’t wait to see Season 2.  It’s getting crazy up in here.

Finding Neverland

Image result for finding neverlandHey!  So I’m definitely late to this party, since this movie came out in 2004, but better late than never, right?  I found this at the library and I decided it was worth a try.  Johnny Depp?  Kate Winslet?  And about J.M. Barrie writing Peter Pan?  Yeah, sounded good.

Basically, this story is about J.M. Barrie, failing playwright, trying to write something that’ll do well.  One day, he meets a widowed mother and her four sons in the park and begins a friendship with them.  With the boys, he plays games of pretend and lets them be children.  But one of the boys, Peter, sees through all of the pretend to the realities of the world around them.  Can Barrie get through to the boy, to make him see that the world can be incredible if you just believe?

I thought this was really cute!  It took me by surprise initially when Depp busted out in a pretty good Scottish accent.  Depp is kind of in his element with this movie because he gets to play all of these different pretend characters, like an Indian chief, a pirate, and more.  The movie plays to his strengths as being an eccentric, so that was fun to see, even as he was a tight-laced playwright at the same time.

I also thought this was really cool how it showed the writing process in so many different ways.  Barrie is struggling to find inspiration for his next play.  This new friendship with the Davies family lets him have some fun and spend time with people who actually make him feel good about himself.  So he starts writing down some of the games they play and slowly that starts morphing into Neverland.  We get to see him stuck, writing random notes, and how the play came together.  I appreciated that they showed how challenging writing can be.  And how it can impact those around you as well.

The plot was cute.  There were definitely a few times I knew what was coming next, but I really enjoyed just sitting back and watching it.  And it threw a sucker-punch to the feels, so there was that too.  Even when I knew it was coming, it hurt.  It’s been a while since a movie made me cry, so I appreciated that it had the ability to do that.

The overall acting was really good.  Kate Winslet plays a devoted mother and she was very good about playing that line between single mother and friend to her boys.  She didn’t always understand them, but she always cared and wanted the best for them.  And a shout-out to Freddie Highmore, the boy who plays Peter Davies.  I was sitting there the whole time going, “God, this kid looks familiar.  What else has he been in?”  E v e r y t h i n g.  That’s what.  The kid’s been everything in everything from Depp’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to The Good Doctor and Bates Motel.  I mean, this kid was awesome at like 10 or whatever he was when this was filmed, so it makes sense his career took off as he got older.

This is cute family fun.  It’s exciting, interesting, and constantly bounces between Reality and Pretend.  I liked that a lot, as someone who frequently lives in her own head.  It’s nice to see that it’s appreciated and not just me.