Category: Things To Watch

The Handmaid’s Tale – First Thoughts

NB: This post will contain spoilers for both Margaret Atwood’s novel and Hulu’s adaptation of it through episode 3. It also assumes familiarity with the basic plot of the book.

I have a confession to make. Despite being a feminist of a certain age, I had never read Margaret Atwood’s story of women living under an oppressive patriarchal regime until last week. The Handmaid’s Tale was forever on my to-read list, but somehow it never quite crept to the top. But with Hulu’s adaptation coming out and the state of the world being what it is at the moment, the time had finally come.

Having read other Atwood and found it a bit of a slow burn, I was a bit surprised to find the novel compulsively readable, despite being incredibly bleak. I finished it in two days, marveling over the eerie and disturbing parallels in our current sociopolitical climate and delighting in Atwood’s prose (and spot on description of Harvard Square). The book is a damnation of the power dynamic between men and women, of course, but it touches on so much more than that – the way that fear causes us to exchange freedom for the illusion of safety, the damage of white supremacy, religious hypocrisy, and the pain of post-traumatic stress disorder. I was interested to see which of these would surface in the series – I knew going in that they’d removed the race elements, but what else would change?

Let me start by saying that, after watching the first three episodes, the show overall is incredibly well done. There are certainly changes and updates, both major and minor; some I agree with and some I don’t. But on the whole, the creative team has done an amazing job of setting the right tone and message. Like the novel, the show makes liberal use of narration and flashbacks, though it rearranges the timeline of the entire novel. The flashbacks help establish both how new and foreign the position of women in this society is, and how they struggle to survive it. As Aunt Lydia helpfully reminds the handmaids-to-be in the Red Center, “Ordinary is just what you’re used to. This may not feel ordinary now but after a time it will. This will become ordinary.” Women aren’t used to being chattel anymore, she’s telling them, but in a few generations no one will remember another way.

The show also makes excellent, unnerving use of music. Most of it is instrumental, humming quietly in the backgrounds of scenes, imparting an air of menace and tension. However, when a song does come to the forefront, they are often even more jarring – a combination of 80’s classics, remakes of the same, and newer songs with similar new wave sounds. This choice both nods to the book’s original time and setting, while providing a creepy counterpoint to the nearly Colonial-style dress and mannerisms of the future it depicts. It’s a reminder that although it may look like the past, it’s the near future we’re watching.

The actors also give excellent performances. You can feel the strain in every interaction our narrator Offred (Elisabeth Moss) has with other characters in the present day scenes – no one is saying what they mean, no one can be trusted, and kindness always has some sort of strings attached. You can see it in her face and body language. This tension is complemented by the total ease in her memories of her former life before the government takeover. Her scenes with her best friend Moira (Samira Wiley) are particularly good – you feel their closeness, and how they’ve influenced each other’s lives.

With all of that said, the show makes a few changes that I don’t entirely agree with, changes that affect how we see Offred and the other women in relation to each other. Keep an eye out for part two, where I’ll explore those changes.

Have you been watching The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu? What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

The Missed Opportunities of Iron Fist

(photo credit: Netflix)

Enough time has passed that if you were going to watch Iron Fist and care about spoilers, you have probably done that…but, you know, if you do care, maybe read this later.

Does Iron Fist really deserve the panning it’s getting?  Ehhhhhh, maybe, maybe not. But with the bar set so high from the other Marvel Netflix series, Iron First comes off as a master class of missed opportunities and poor choices. Much has already been written about Danny Rand’s casting.  Yes, Iron First is white in the comics. Could that have been changed? Absolutely. Would the show have been better served by having an actual martial artist as the title character? Heck yes, but that’s not the missed opportunity that I’ll be talking about.  Rather, Marvel had a chance to turn the tables on a privileged white male protagonist, and they let that opportunity wane. Continue reading

Netflix Hidden Gem: Ernest and Celestine

French animation isn’t something that’s on a lot of radars in the US. With major houses like Disney, Pixar, Illumination, and Dreamworks (and even Ghibli for a bit) taking up the major real estate in theaters and awards shows, it can often seem surprising when a quiet French animated film starts to get even a little recognition. And when it gets nominated for an Oscar, chances are quite good that the film is going to be worth your time.

When I saw that the English dub of Ernest and Celestine was available on Netflix, it was a no-brainer. The only choice I needed to make was what type of tea to drink while watching.

Based on the book by Gabrielle Vincent and made on a shoestring budget, Ernest and Celestine tells the familiar story of two unlikely friends who manage to create a home and family together. It’s familiar, yes, but it’s also warm, sweet, and perfectly crafted.

Celestine is a young mouse living beneath the streets of a city inhabited by bears. Each night she sneaks into town to steal the teeth that young bears leave under their pillows for the Mouse Fairy.  These teeth are then used by other mice to repair their own damaged and missing teeth. Sadly, she’s not great at her job and the dentist she works for threatens to fire her if she doesn’t improve. Desperate to make her quota, Celestine gets caught in the city above and finds herself in the paws of Ernest the bear.

First things first, the animation is gorgeous. With hand painted watercolor backgrounds and matching Flash animation, the soft tones result in a visual style that is extremely enjoyable to look at. Everything feels soft, cozy, and dreamy. It’s a children’s book come to life with mice scurrying across pages and bears quite literally lumbering around. Yes, it’s very cute, but it’s never cutesy or sickeningly sweet. The tone and the stylistic animation complement each other, and it works just as well during the darker moments as it does during the lighter ones.

Additionally, this movie is funny. It’s hard to explain why, but there is something about the slapstick and physicality of the characters that made me smile a lot. The timing and pace never feel heavy, so when a character trips or runs into a wall, the audience is given just enough time chuckle without feeling as though the movie is waiting for you to congratulate it on how clever and funny it is.

Lastly, the voice acting in this film is great.  The cast is filled with distinguished, talented, and familiar names like Forest Whitaker, Lauren Bacall, and Paul Giamatti. Celestine herself is voiced by Mackenzie Foy, who does a charming job of making Celestine both empathetic and brave.

So, go ahead and add Ernest and Celestine to your Netflix queue and maybe someone other than me will start gushing over it to her friends and online. Hey, it could happen!

Already seen Ernest and Celestine and looking to expand your horizons when it comes to animation? Specifically French films?  Here are a few recommendations (many of which can be found on Netflix):

Triplets of Belleville
A Cat in Paris
Tales of the Night
The Rabbi’s Cat
Secret of Kells (French-Belgian-Irish)
The Little Prince (2015)

Prime Viewing: Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter

Much in the vein of our Netflix Hidden Gem series, this week I’m branching out to include Amazon Prime. Why you may ask? Simple. I want to talk about Studio Ghibli!

Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter (Netflix Original, Studio Ghibli)

Based on Astrid Lindgren’s novel, this series tells the coming of age of Ronja, the only daughter of a robber chief growing up in medieval Scandinavia. When Ronja becomes old enough to explore the forest on her own, she discovers that a rival robber clan and their young son are living quite close by. The two strike up a friendship, regardless of their parents’ wishes.

Photo: Amazon, Studio Ghibli

I was very excited when I heard that Ghibli was going to be releasing this series on Amazon and I started watching it not long after it was available. But here it is almost 2 months later and I’m only just getting around to talking about it. This is because it took me a long time to both finish watching it and even longer to decide how I felt about it. So, for the sake of this review, I’m going to simplify things. For better or worse, here’s what I thought. Spoiler alert: it’s kinda a mixed bag.
Continue reading

Burning Questions (and Answers) about “Beauty and the Beast”

 

This is probably the last post I’ll write before I go to see Disney’s new live action Beauty and the Beast, which comes out on March 17th. As a huge fan of the original film, I look forward to the remake with a mix of excitement (Emma Watson is perfect casting), worry (still not loving the computer animated enchanted objects), and the knowledge that the quality of the new film does nothing to change the first one and the way I feel about it. The impending premiere also has me revisiting some of the interesting details I’ve learned about the original movie and its creation. This includes a few answers (or near answers) to some of the Internet’s burning questions, which is what I’m going to share with you today.

Continue reading

Strong Female Zombies: More Than One Way to Eat the Living

I’ve been writing a lot about zombies lately, so I was going to change it up this month and write about some great comics I’ve been reading. But then I read this strange review of the new Netflix Original Series, Santa Clarita Diet, (SCD) from Esquire by a woman named Katie Van Brunt, and frankly, it demanded a response.
Continue reading

Sexual awakening in ‘Chewing Gum’ is hilarious, awkward, relatable

[Updated January 9, 2017]

By Aayesha Siddiqui

Chewing Gum will have you laughing, squirming, and nodding in that “Yeah, I know how that goes” kind of way. The comedy — created by, written by, and starring Michaela Coel — follows Tracey, a 24-year-old woman discovering how awesome and awkward sex can be.

The 6-episode first season originally premiered on the BBC’s channel E4 in October 2015. Thankfully, Netflix brought the show to U.S. audiences in the fall of 2016. Season two premieres on E4 this January (watch the trailer).

I stumbled across the series while browsing Netflix, and I quickly binged all of season one. Here are my top 3 reasons why Chewing Gum should be next on your list.

Continue reading

3 Christmas Scares

Confession time. I’m not a huge Christmas person. I like it fine; I’m not full-on a Grinch, but I don’t get overly excited about it. That said, there are a few traditions I enjoy, like cookie decorating, a yearly trip to to get my Drink on, and less-christmasy Christmas movies (it’s kinda like how I don’t care about sports but like movies about sports—eh, go fig). By this I mean movies where the holidays are in the background, not the main focus. I’m sure most of you know some of the more popular less-christmasy Christmas movies like Die Hard, Gremlins, and The Ref. In these movies, Christmas is the background character rather than the star.

This year, while we trimmed the tree (and yes, I do insist on a real tree because having a tree inside your home is cool), I suggested we delve a little deeper into the less-christmasy Christmas genre and watch Christmas horror! Am I a little one note? Maybe. But I watched these movies partially for you too, in the spirit of giving! So, get your eggnog or mulled wine, and buckle up those sleigh bells ’cause it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

Continue reading

Netflix Hidden Gems: iZombie

iZombie is based on the comic book of the same name by Chris Roberson and Mike Allred, who provides the gorgeous opening credit art, but apart from the primary conceit about how zombies work — that they absorb the personalities and memories of the previous owners of the brains that they eat, and if they don’t eat brains, they lose all intelligence and humanity — they couldn’t be more different.

The original comic was chock-full of other sorts of monsters — vampires, werewolves, and ghosts — and was a meditation on Emerson’s concept of an over-soul. iZombie, the show, is a police procedural about a zombie medical examiner with the punny name of Liv Moore who uses her brain-connections to solve murders. It sounds goofy, when you describe it like that, but trust me, the concept works. Mind you, I’m not sure if this show is totally “hidden,” but since I know so few other people watching it, I’m calling it.

In the pattern typical for showrunner Rob Thomas (no, not that Rob Thomas — though the Season Two finale makes great use of the connection), who previously helmed Veronica Mars and Party Down, iZombie seems to be critically acclaimed and enjoys a rabidly loyal but very small fan base.

As someone who hopes to see it last long enough to get a satisfying conclusion, here are five reasons you should be watching this show.

Continue reading