[REVIEW] BRIDGERTON: Netflix Meets Dishy Regency Romance Novel

It’s interesting one would think with a new  female led action film coming to HBO Max this weekend in Wonder Woman 84 (which I did marginally recommend) I would not be looking to Netflix for pleasurable entertainment. Alas that is the case and fortunately they provided with the dishy new series from producer Shonda Rhimes called Bridgerton.

Based on the romance novels by Julia Quinn Bridgerton is set in a fantasy version of Regency London.  As such it has no interest in the plight of the working class or the yorkshire schools. It’s not interested in diving into racism or class problems. Such issues are for other shows and series to tell. This show is made for one reason and one reason alone: to bring pleasure to to the viewers, mainly women.

For example, if a Black woman will get more pleasure out of seeing the handsome Duke of Hastings be a Black man (Regé-Jean Page) than that’s what they are going to do. This isn’t about realism or historical accuracy. It doesn’t waste time explaining casting choices or the setting (it might as well be on another planet and timetable). It’s about eroticism, lust and luxury, which all has to be hid under the “rules’ of the time. That’s very sexy and fun!

The only real look into darker themes is a brief scene where Lady Featherington (Polly Walker) takes her distant cousin Marina Thompson (Ruby Barker) to show her where the working class lives and her response is something to the effect of ‘why are you taking me to see these hard working pleasant people?” Indeed, why? Some may take this as a bad thing, but I find it very entertaining and a welcome escape after a hard year.

I think what makes it work is they go all the way. Any aspect they can make more dishy they do. They have a mysterious gossip paper writer voiced by Julie Andrews narrate the show. They have Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) who seems to be from a different era with the powdered wigs and structured dresses of the 18th century not the empire dresses and white gloves of the Regency Era with the rest of the characters. We also have classical music versions of modern songs from the likes of Ariana Grande, Maroon 5 and Taylor Swift.

If this sounds awful to you than you will hate it. If it sounds like trashy romance novel fun than you will love it! It definitely leans into all the tropes of romance novels including strong sexual content so if you aren’t comfortable with erotica don’t watch this show. It’s all part of the fantasy and the fun.

The main focus  is on the Bridgerton family of 8 children with eldest daughter Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) leading the cast. Then we also get Lady Featherington and her 3 daughters including the delightful Penelope (Nicola Coughlan) that will be a treat for any plus size female viewers looking to dive into the story.

My only quibble is I’m not sure why they have Daphne have 3 brothers. I did not care about their stories near as much as the female characters. At the very least they could have been combined into a single brother to follow and that would have been much better.

Earlier this year we had the supposed modern take on Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon, which was a huge misfire. The attempts to combine camp and gritty realism did not work (especially the terrible ending!). With Bridgerton it’s like they took notes and corrected everything I disliked in the earlier show. Thank goodness! Sanditon apologized for being a Regency story. Bridgerton revels in it!

Throughout the 8 episodes we follow our characters through all the tropes of romance novels. We get a fake relationship, a problematic pregnancy, a scandalous gambler (rakes make better husbands as the series tells us), a marriage of convenience that grows into more, and I could keep going. There is even a dramatic duel over honor at one point!

Just as we are moving out of the purity of the Hallmark season (which also uses all the same tropes to their fullest effect) Bridgerton provides a tantalizing and delicious entry for romance fans everywhere. It is just what this queen ordered!

8.5 out of 10 (This show is a Mature Rating and has strong sensuality. Buyer beware!)

[Review] ‘News of the World’ or an Unlikely Friendship in the Old West

There are 6 new films premiering in theaters or on various streaming services on this Christmas Day and I have reviewed all of them on this blog except for the new western News of the World. So I thought I would share my quick thoughts on the film starring Tom Hanks that comes to theaters and PVOD on January 15th.

For my reviews of the other 5 releases:

Soul

Sylvie’s Love

One Night in Miami

Promising Young Woman

Wonder Woman 84

As I said, News of the World stars Tom Hanks and is directed by Paul Greengrass who he worked with previously on 2013’s Captain Phillips. Greengrass is famous for his spurning of a steady cam for an intimate close look at the characters (sometimes too close). For the most part I enjoyed that approach to News of the World. It perhaps helps that Hanks is a very likable presence that we enjoy being close with, even in the rough and tumble environment of the old west, which makes it all work.

The film is based on a novel by Paulette Jiles and tells the story of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd who makes a living going around Texas and reading the news to the illiterate men of the frontier. And he doesn’t just read it but offers a performance, which hopefully makes the news come alive to his audience. It’s almost a mixture of a comedy show and a vaudeville routine without the music. More entertainment than serious news.

One day Jefferson meets a young girl (Helena Zengel) who has been living with the native Kiowa people and doesn’t speak any English. The two form an unlikely duo as they traverse the desert frontier and try to get to her aunt and uncle in Texas.

I enjoyed watching them and their journey from one town and challenge to another. They have a good chemistry, the film is beautiful, and the music by James Newton Howard gives a sweeping feel this kind of story needs. One of the best sequences in the film is a long shootout between Jefferson and a bunch of thugs trying to get the girl.

Like most westerns the pacing is a little on the slow side in News of the World and I can see that being a barrier for some. The production values and immersion into the world is very well done and like I said I enjoyed the bond between Hanks and Zengel but it’s definitely leisurely paced.

I also was sometimes unclear on the character motivations of the thugs after the little girl. Was she valuable in some way? What did they want with her? I didn’t really understand the animosity against Jefferson’s character.

That said, it doesn’t really matter because News of the World is a simple journey story of 2 people traveling together and becoming friends. It’s a formula that almost always works and it does here. I enjoyed spending time with these people and experiencing this story. It won’t be for everyone, but I’m glad I saw this piece of classic storytelling in the old west.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[SPOILER FREE REVIEW] Wonder Woman 84: Is Disappointing the same as bad?

Those of you who have followed my writing know how impactful the original Wonder Woman film was for me in my movie watching career. I didn’t just love it as the best of the DCEU. I loved it as one of my favorite films ever and emotionally bonded with it in a special way. Of course, I am aware of its flaws, but that doesn’t matter when a film has you engrossed in the character and her transformation as she comes to know the frailty and humanity (or lack there of) in man amidst the horrors of war. Even the 3rd act that most people hate I didn’t mind because Diana’s transformation was so moving and honest. Watching Wonder Woman was a spiritual experience for me, and I will always love it for that.

Now after 3 years of waiting with a whole year of delays we have the sequel Wonder Woman 84 and it is…

Disappointing!

Now that doesn’t mean I hated it because I didn’t and even as I write I still don’t know whether to give it a smile  or frown worthy (fresh or rotten). It has a lot of positives but it is not nearly as emotionally resonant as the original film, and the story has a lot of problems. I tried to moderate my expectations because I don’t know if it is possible for a movie to impact me again as much as the first film, but I still wish it was stronger. Darn!

Anyway, let’s talk about the strengths. First up is Diana/Wonder Woman as a character. She has been the best part of all 4 DCEU films she’s in and that continues here. I love her mixture of strength and softness. She forgoes the tired cliches that a woman has to be tough and kick-butt in order to be strong. She is kick-butt but also sweet and charming and finds joy in many things.

She is a WOMAN in all the strength and beauty that implies not a woman pretending to be a man, and I greatly appreciate that dynamic. I also love Gal Gadot and think she being an ex-soldier and a model brings that mixture of femininity and strength to the character.

I loved watching Gadot in Wonder Woman 84 and think she makes me invested in a lot of scenes that would not work otherwise. I also think she and Chris Pine have incredible chemistry. In fact, it’s almost too great because story-wise they probably should have went a different direction, but I understand the desire to put them together again because it is so good.

(Also if you start to think about how this connects to the DCEU and Diana having been in hiding when BvS starts it doesn’t make much sense. I guess DC doesn’t care about continuity any more? I don’t care but for the record it doesn’t make sense).

There are also nice moments in Wonder Woman 84. Nice moments of action, romance, character development throughout. I enjoyed the opening sequence in Themiscyra. Diana and Steve have some touching and humorous interactions and the action scenes are well staged (a lot of lasso work, which I enjoyed). I also liked Max Lord’s (Pedro Pascal) relationship with his son and the humanity that gave what would have been a very one note villain.

The problem with the film lies in its unmanageable length at 151 minutes and the bland, uninteresting story. I particularly found the arc involving Kristen Wiig’s Barbara Minerva to be weak.

They also didn’t do a good job capturing 1984. The hair isn’t big enough. The clothes aren’t flashy enough. Maxwell Lord feels like such an obvious commentary on 2020 and Donald Trump (I understand this is part of the comics character from its origin) that it made it harder to be immersed in the setting of the film. I didn’t have that problem with WW1 in the original film.

It’s not that Kristin Wiig gives a bad performance. Barbara’s just a very bland character we’ve seen in a thousand other comic book movies. I don’t understand why so many of these movies insist on having 2 villains? Rarely can the script justify that choice without some kind of character reveal like in Iron Man 3 or Big Hero 6. Wonder Woman 84 would have been so much better with just Maxwell Lord as the villain.

With so many characters the film also has what feels like 3 endings and then it keeps going. There are several times my friends and I looked at each other and said ‘there’s still ____ left?’… and then it kept going. It wraps things up with a moving message of hope and healing but so much felt wasteful and unfortunately again bland.

I know it’s hard for readers to accept critics can have mixed feelings on a film and rottentomatoes only exacerbates that problem. It forces us to pick a side. Fresh or rotten? Good or bad? Wonder Woman 84 is  in the middle but it feels bad because it is disappointing.

In my review of Justice League I said:

But all this aside I can’t deny that when I saw Superman fighting for truth and justice it made me really happy…I guess since it did make me smile I will give it a smile worthy but just barely

I think I feel the same about Wonder Woman 84. I got enough joy out of seeing Diana back on screen and the character made me smile enough to give it a smile worthy but just barely.

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Also if people can’t be respectful in the comments I will turn them off for this review. Disagreement is fine but threats and unkindness will not be tolerated

 

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I have another quick round of mini reviews for you to enjoy. Here goes!

Wild Mountain Thyme

I had enough people tell me to review Wild Mountain Thyme because ‘it’s like a Hallmark movie set in Ireland’ that I plunked down the $20 rental to watch it. After viewing it my main conclusion is none of these people have seen a Hallmark movie. Aside from romance existing in both there is little in common between them. That out of the way, I must admit I was extremely disappointed in the film.

I like all the people involved including Emily Blunt in the lead who I adored in films like Mary Poppins Returns and director/writer John Patrick Shanley who made one of my favorite romance films of all time in Moonstruck. Sadly here it feels like he piled 7 screenplays into a canon and then mixed it up to make the final version. There’s no cohesion which is a problem especially with some of the strange choices the characters make.

Needless to say I regret that $20…Sigh

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

The Prom

Any readers of this blog know I am a huge fan of musicals and musical theater. Of course they can be done badly but I am more of a push-over than many when it comes to the genre. When it comes to our latest musical from Netflix called The Prom I overall enjoyed it but it definitely has some problems.

Adapted from the Broadway musical of the same name Ryan Murphy has made a bubbly, energetic, mostly joyous film full of the best of intentions. It is obvious all involved had a great time and really believe what they are singing about and that’s infectious.

However, I wish the show wasn’t so focused on the celebrities that come to town and more focused on the teens. The celebrities like Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman do a good job in their roles but the movie couldn’t seem to decide whether it was mocking or worshiping them. James Corden’s storyline also didn’t quite work for me.

Still I am a musical junkie so I enjoyed the songs, dance and bubbly energy. So I’d recommend watching The Prom (it’s also way too long at 130 min)

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Mank

Mank is a difficult film to review because I am very hot and cold with it. We are going to have an episode of The Criterion Project post today where I get into it a little bit more. So please listen to that for more of my thoughts.

On the plus side, as a cinemafile who greatly admires Citizen Kane, I enjoyed getting to learn more about its creation and its writerHerman Mankiewicz. It also looks nice in black and white with great period details in the production.

Unfortunately I found Mank to be very repetitive in its scenes and Herman to be the least interesting character in almost every scene he is in. This mostly comes from him being an alcoholic who spends most the film participating in activities that alcoholics engage in like drinking and screaming and causing a fuss. This gets old real quick. I’m sure it’s accurate in many ways

That said if you are interested in movie history give it a watch. If not a pass.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

BLIND SPOT 60: REMEMBER THE NIGHT

I’ve said many times on this blog the hardest reviews to writer are for ‘just ok’ films. Movies that inspire a strong feeling either of praise or repulsion are easy to write about. The words flow through the keyboard. It’s the movies that are passable entertainment but nothing special that are a challenge to critique. Or at least challenging for this critic. This ambivalence is how I felt about the holiday classic Remember the Night. It has its moments but I definitely didn’t love it.

Remember the Night has a lot going for it. It’s written (but not directed) by the great Preston Sturges. It stars Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray who’ve I liked in other things including teamed together again in movies like Double Indemnity. From what I’m reading the the production of Remember the Night was messy and Sturges had his script hacked up and “was one of the main reasons fueling his determination to direct his own scripts thereafter, which he did beginning with his next project The Great McGinty

Learning about these problems with the film doesn’t surprise me and it is perhaps incredible it is as coherent and enjoyable as it is. In the film Stanwyck plays a woman who is arrested for stealing an expensive bracelet. She then goes on trial and MacMurray’s character is assigned to prosecute her. This would all be fine but there’s a lot of pieces which don’t fit. For instance, a long speech by her defense attorney claiming she was hypnotized and it is an example of the injustice against the poor for her to even be prosecuted. It’s full of theatrics and moral gravitas and then the script does nothing with it. We don’t get to know this man and the themes he mentions are rarely brought up again.

Another out of place scene is when she visits her Mother in Indiana. It feels cold and out of place given the witty banter and road trip shenanigans we’ve been experiencing for most of the picture. There’s lots of scenes like that and it leaves the viewer (or at least this viewer) feeling unsatisfied and disappointed.

All that said, Remember the Night does have positives. The long segments of banter are entertaining and MacMurray and Stanwyck have a spark in those scenes. The script from Sturges has brilliant moments which had me laughing. I particularly enjoyed the buttoned up MacMurray getting frustrated by the brazen rebel in Stanwyck.

Instead of Remember the Night I recommend a very similar movie also from 1940 His Girl Friday. Both movies are enemies to lovers stories with 2 people forced to work together with snappy banter as they of course fall for each other. I also recommend Bring Up Baby from 1938 which has a similar energy although Kathryn Heburn is more innocent in that role than either Stanwyck or Rosalind Russell are in their films. Or instead you could watch other better films by Sturges like The Palm Beach Story or The Lady Eve (also starring Stanwyck).

In the end, Remember the Night is too uneven to recommend. I liked some of the banter and performances but all involved would go on to do better things and so I would just check out those projects instead.

4.5 out of 10

[REVIEW] ‘Promising Young Woman’ or A Word on Boys will be Boys Culture

 

There will be some who reject the new film Promising Young Woman on its concept alone without even watching the film. I can already here the calls of ‘woke’ and ‘feminist agenda’ film coming in the comments section. I’m not going to try and convince you to see the film but merely give my reasons of why it worked for me as a piece of revenge fiction.

Last year we had Black Christmas that tried to do many of the same things Promising Young Woman does but it did not work at all. It was one of my least favorite films of 2019. The problem with that film is it presents only one valid version of being a woman. If you aren’t a kickbutt man-hater you are shamed or killed.

In this film it tells the story of one woman Cassie (played brilliantly by Carrie Mulligan) that is bitter and angry and wants revenge. She is an anti-hero in a sense but she is in no way presented as a guide by which to live by or even a stable competent individual. In fact, quite the reverse. All the men in the film are garbage but the movie is told exclusively through her point of view and she’s a damaged bitter woman who hates everyone around her- male and female.

The reason Cassie is so bitter is because a tragedy happened to her best friend in college and it was ignored and brushed aside. ‘Boys will be boys’ mentality rears its ugly head again. This is something we all should be against and Cassie decides to confront it at any cost. The nice thing is the movie doesn’t forget to have a sense of humor. Yes Cassie has let her crusade become a mania but she’s still funny and sarcastic.

I’ve heard some don’t like the ending. I disagree. I enjoyed the ending. To me it fit with the tone of the film and allowed her to get her revenge in a satisfying way.

Promising Young Woman is not a movie saying all men are evil and women are angels. It’s saying excusing away bad behavior done on college campuses because ‘boys will be boys’ or whatever is and that’s what needs to stop. A simple message is fine in a film. Simple character motivations are also fine. All I need is a terrific performance, which we have here, and a cracking script that doesn’t forget to have a sense of humor every now and then.

It’s not very rewatchable is I guess the only downside and the best thrillers usually should be.  Nevertheless I definitely recommend watching it if you get the chance.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I have a few mini reviews to give you. These are all indie films that I had the privilege of screening. In the next few months I am going to be getting a lot of screeners for awards films so don’t be surprised if you see a lot of these mini reviews posts. So here goes!

Wander Darkly

Wander Darkly is a difficult movie to describe. It’s about a woman played by Sienna Miller who is struggling with being a new parent. She’s resentful of her partner played by Diego Luna and the 2 fight a lot. Then there is an accident and she might be dead, or is she?

The movie plays with time and perspective a lot with non-linear storytelling and a host of mini-reveals leading up to a big reveal. I really like Sienna Miller as an actress. I loved her in last year’s American Woman, which was very underrated. She’s great here and helps you to like a woman who can be shrill and argumentative (a tough quality to see in a young mother). She and Luna have good chemistry even as they are fighting and the emotion of the film works.

There are parts of Wander Darkly that feel aggressively indie like it was begging to be admitted to Sundance, which it was. Nevertheless, I recommend it. As I said on twitter it’s like Marriage Story if death was involved LOL.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Mr Marvelous

Mr Marvelous is a short I was asked to review and it was sold to me as a dark Christmas short about a disgruntled mall Santa. It’s only 13 minutes long but I was a little disappointed at the Christmas aspects of the film. I won’t give away the spoiler (although the title kind of does) but it’s more about heroes than about Christmas.

I’m not sure what this short is trying to say. It didn’t inspire me or make me think about the world in a new way. It’s not a commentary on superhero movies, families, or growing older. It might be trying to be those things but it fell flat. It’s just 13 minutes so if you’re curious you can find it online but I’d honestly skip it.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Busman’s Holiday

Busman’s Holiday is a film I bet will be more enjoyable to isolated audiences in 2020 than it might have otherwise been. It tells the story of man named Michael (Jamie McShane) who is hired as a private detective to try and find a distant cousin who has turned up missing in her travels around the world.

There’s a lot of escapism here with Michael traveling to Ireland, Australia, India and more, and that’s the main appeal in this film. McShane is likable as our rough-around-the-edges protagonist but he spends too much time in deep thought pondering the beauty of the earth. I wanted the search for the cousin to be more interesting!

Still, if you like movies such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty than you might enjoy Busman’s Holiday. It’s certainly worth a watch for the travel footage alone. Beautiful!

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

There you have it. I wouldn’t be surprised if I have another post like this in the next few days. It’s a busy time to be a critic! Hope you are doing well! Don’t forget to check out Hallmarkies Podcast and please consider supporting me on patreon if you appreciate what I do.

[REVIEW] ‘L’Autre’ or An Art and Dance Film Done Right

There are a lot of of things about the new film L’Autre from french director Charlotte Dauphin that will make some audiences immediately tune it. It’s about a ballet dancer. It deals with grief and loss. It has flights of fancy and jumps around in time and it is in French. However, if you can keep an open mind you will be treated to a lovely little film that has a lot to say and it says it in a beautiful way.

L’Autre tells the story of a woman named Marie who is a young ballet dancer with an overbearing Mother and a beloved Father. When her Father dies on her 30th birthday she abandons dance and becomes a recluse from the world. Eventually, she reaches out to a photographer named Paul who took the last photo of her father and their romance and her rebirth is the main focus of the film.

Astrid Breges-Frisbey does a lovely job portraying Marie. You see her wounds and feel her longing for someone to understand her now that her Father is gone. She feels abandoned and alone. It in many ways reminds me of the longing in David Lowery’s A Ghost Story although not as abstract as that film.

Still, L’Autre uses dance and movement with beautiful cinematography to show Marie’s transformation. Even if you lose track of the subtitles the images are so stunning it should keep you entertained.

One of the keys to a film like L’Autre working is it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. At only 77 minutes you can enjoy the artistic journey through grief and love without becoming exhausted. A lot of arthouse films forget that and an enterprise which starts out exhilarating can become a slog.

Obviously L’Autre isn’t going to be for everyone but if you like dance and appreciate independent films with a European aesthetic give it a watch. I think you will find much to appreciate.

8 out of 10

[REVIEW] ‘The Forgotten Carols’

One of the hardest parts of 2020 has been the halting of most live performances and the closure of Broadway. As much as I love movies I equally love live performances whether plays, musicals, orchestras, recitals whatever. Fortunately, as we are waiting for the world to get vaccinated from COVID 19, we have been bequeathed a number of live performances in movie form to help tide us over. Early in the summer we got Hamilton on Disney Plus and now in movie theaters we can enjoy a new filming of the holiday favorite The Forgotten Carols.

Since it’s first release in 1991 The Forgotten Carols has sold over a million tickets all over the world. It is perhaps most popular among Latter-day Saint audiences but it is perfectly appropriate for any Christian to enjoy. It is written by composer Michael McLean and he plays the leading role of Uncle John in this production.

The conceit of the musical is John is an eccentric angel who makes it his mission one Christmas to cheer up a cynical nurse named Constance (not Connie as she reminds him). As she cares for him he tells her the stories of the ‘forgotten carols’ or people who testify of Christ’s birth. Some examples are the Innkeeper who regrets his actions towards Mary and Joseph and extols the audience to ‘Let Him In’. Another is the plucky angel who inspires Handel to write his Hallelujah chorus.

If you can’t tell The Forgotten Carols is an unabashedly religious experience. If you aren’t a Christian this probably isn’t the show for you. However, it is nondenominational so you do not need to be of a particular faith to enjoy it. In this version they have updated it for a 2020 audience with winks to uber, alexa and other products they didn’t have in 1991, but for the most part if you are a person who likes boisterous faith-based music and shows you’ll enjoy this show.

In fact, as someone who will watch over 100 Christmas movies and specials in 2020 it is refreshing to watch one film that’s actually about Jesus and the importance of His birth. The songs in The Forgotten Carols are theatrical and full of pageantry but my theater starved heart needed every last note! My particular favorite number is ‘I Cry the Day I Take the Tree Down’. It gets me every time!

This production was staged in Cedar City in September of this year in a socially distanced crowd and the whole thing had an urgency and poignancy that we all need right now. You can purchase tickets to a safe theater or purchase the DVD here.

For the right audience I recommend The Forgotten Carols.

8 out of 10