The Crown— review and commentary

Which is which?

Netflix has some amazing original content, and one of its best efforts thus far has been The Crown, a somewhat fictional series based on the reign of Elizabeth II. Written and produced by Peter Morgan, this series begins while Elizabeth is still a youngster, but when her father takes over for his brother (who abdicated the throne so he could be with his “commoner/divorcé” lover) Elizabeth becomes the heir to the throne. From that time period, her father grooms her to serve the people and the royal family, a/k/a The Crown. Seasons 1 and 2 feature Claire Foy as Elizabeth, and former “Dr. Who” Matt Smith is Prince Philip. Perhaps the best performance in this award winning season goes to John Lithgow as an aging Winston Churchill, who guides and yet admires the young monarch as she works to live up to the responsibility thrust upon her when her father dies at a fairly young age.

The Crown does a fantastic job of intertwining history and some suppostion, thus educating a new generation about some of the most important (or at least entertaining) events in United Kingdom in the past few decades. Each season spans several years, so the cast changes in order to better show the aging of the characters. For instance, while Claire Foy is Elizabeth in the first two seasons, the queen is portrayed by Olivia Coleman in seasons three and four. The latter dropped onto Netflix November 15, and Coleman does a really good job as the middle aged sovereign, as does Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher. Another season four cast addition is Emma Corrin, who bears more than a passing resemblance to young Princess Diana. The series has been mostly been praised, but season four is a bit more controversial. Since this season portrays the “fairy tale romance” between Prince Charles and Diana, then quickly lays out the conflicted marital mess that ensued, because apparently Charles didn’t love Diana at all, but maintained his relationship with his former lover, Camilla Parker-Bowles, during most of the marriage, some viewers (and those close to the real people) have been a bit riled.

Of course, Prince Charles and Princess Diana separated then divorced, but younger fans apparently didn’t realize the “why” in the divorce until The Crown brought this back in a big way on the small screen. Recently, the social media accounts of Prince Charles and (now wife) Camilla have been inundated with snarky posts. Furthermore, officials in the U.K. have asked producers of The Crown to assure the public that the show is fictional.

History only works after the fact. Peter Morgan (series creator and chief writer) benefits from the many publications about the British royals, and is able to pick and choose what he presents to the audience in The Crown. Mostly the characterizations and storylines seem spot on, but those close to the royal family point to discrepancies, and no doubt some “fiction” does come in. Regardless of these points, The Crown has extraordinarily high production values. The cast is first rate, the scripts mostly entertaining; and the sets, costumes, and locations all contribute to the feeling of being an eyewitness to history. If you haven’t seen it yet, this series is one of the very best shows on Netflix.

Halt and Catch Fire—a series to catch on Netflix

As we aren’t “cable” subscribers, sometimes we miss a show that was commissioned for a network. Halt and Catch Fire is such a series, as it was originally shown on AMC. Honestly, the title is so weird that I would have never given it a thought, but one of those “Best things to watch on Netflix” lists gave it a good review, so hubby and I decided to give it a go.

Of late, it has been our favorite binge-watch. Usually, I wait until finishing a series before reviewing it, but Halt and Catch Fire ran for four seasons, and we are mostly through season three, so it’s time to let y’all in on this excellent period drama.

First off, the title has something to do with writing computer code, but I don’t remember what it means (and it probably doesn’t matter). I like computers; I’m typing on a MacBook Pro right now! This show is about the computer revolution, and how you view it might depend upon your age. If you are younger, this show will be a bit historical. But, if you are a somewhat chronologically gifted, you probably remember the first computers. As a classroom teacher, I remember begging to put computers into my classroom so we could edit copy for the yearbook. Back in the 80s, editorial changes for typewritten copy were costing us hundeds of dollars per year, so I managed to get a couple of surplus Apple IIe computers. They had green flashing characters and those big floppy drives, but they saved us some dough and were my intro into the modern age of publishing. Then I got a Mac SE that used smaller disks. That little machine was bequeathed to use from an administrator who felt some pity for the plebes in the classroom, and it was so different that I took it home over the summer to learn how to use it. I digress, but the 80s is the era where HACF begins.

The characters who come together in the first episode represent various aspects of the nascent computer business. In season one, the show is set in Texas (the Silicon Plain) but the group moves to Silicon Valley in later seasons. Joe is the super salesman who cut his teeth at IBM and wants to create a better personal computer. Gordon is an engineer who already made a better computer, but since the machine failed, he’s slogging along at Cardiff Electric, a company that produces software for mainframes and tries to compete with IBM. His wife, Donna, is a brilliant computer developer who is relegated to support work at the Texas Instruments learning division, because she and Gordon need to feed their family. The catalyst for change is Cameron, a female college drop out who writes code better than Shakespeare wrote plays. Cameron is recruited by Joe to come to work at Cardiff Electric, where he’s a recent hire. The company manager, John Bosworth (Boz), is just trying to make the owner happy and is baffled by the changes that are coming to the company as these players all work together to build a better computer.

This show is well-written and well-acted by the ensemble cast. As I wrote that summary, it sounds a bit boring. Not! While there are a few technical aspects that are necessary in a show about the informational technology revolution, this is a show about people—their hopes, their ambitions, as well as success and failure of people and businesses. The series is a blast from the past in terms of technology, but seeing how these fictional characters helped create the computers that we tend to take for granted is both entertaining and compelling.

If you didn’t watch Halt and Catch Fire the first time, catch it on Netflix before it goes away!

Jersey Boys on Netflix

Jersey BoysLike many of you, we use services such as Netflix rather than having a traditional cable subscription. At times, we miss the old TV Guide magazine, which would guide the viewing experience. Instead, with Netflix, there is some algorithm that knows my husband likes shoot ’em up flix, so I am not always happy with the suggestions. However, a couple of days ago, I noticed “Jersey Boys”as an option in our feed. I’m embarrassed to say that hubby actually, “What’s that?” I simply said, “Click on it and you’ll see.”

Anyway, fortunately for me, hubby likes music, especially vintage pop, so he was eager to take a look at the movie version of this musical, which had a great run on Broadway, and is still touring around the country. Jersey Boys tells the story the Four Seasons, featuring the fabulous Frankie Valli. Surprisingly, the film version is directed by Clint Eastwood. The cast is really great, with Christopher Walken in a small but pivotal role, and it also has the original Valli from Broadway, John Lloyd Young as well as Erich Bergen, who has a supporting role in another show we’ve watched on Netflix, Madame Secretary.

There is much to like about this film, which is actually a 2014 release, but I was most impressed with the sound track. And, as is possible when watching a film in the comfort of home, I paused it and did some research, finding that the cast sang, rather than having it dubbed by either the original band or by hired musicians. Many of the hits from the Four Seasons are present, including “Sherry”, “December 63 (Oh What a Night)”, “Walk Like a Man”, and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Valli’s solo, “My Eyes Adored You” is also in the film, as are other familiar tunes.

Although not entirely happy, for this film follows the rise and the ultimate fall of The Four Seasons, we enjoyed this film quite a lot. If you are a Netflix subscriber, the movie version of Jersey Boys is a great way to spend an evening. Toe tapping is optional, but recommended!

Travelers— the Netflix series

TravelersWe gave DirecTV the old “heave ho” five years ago, when we moved. At the time, we were carrying two large house payments, so utilizing our internet and Netflix services and forgoing the bill for a television service was a temporary measure to save a few bucks each month. Here we are, five years later, with the previous house sold, but during our financial mini-crisis, we learned how little we actually used the TV service, so we never signed on again. When I went back to grad school, I got Amazon Student (a great deal, by the way) so we still have Amazon Prime, and we look at Amazon videos from time to time, but YouTube and Netflix are the primary means of powering the big screen in our living room.

There is a problem with Netflix, however, and that is the way it “recommends” movies and shows. Our suggestions seem to be crap most of the time. So, every once in a while, I look up an article which purports to list “the best ???” on Netflix right now. And, thus we found a Netflix series called “Travelers.”

The premise of this science fiction series is a really good idea: In the distant, dark, future, people figure out how to send the consciousness of an agent (a traveler) back into the body of a person who is about to die. Since the time and manner of death are often documented, these folks from the future have to select a proper host and zip into the body just in time to thwart the death, and are then able to take over the host’s body and join with other “travelers” to perform various missions that are supposed to make the future a better place to be. Each traveler must deal with the situation his or her host is in, as well as managing to complete assigned missions, and hopefully not be seen as an imposter. This premise yields some suspenseful plots as well as quite a lot of dramatic irony, as the viewer knows that the person inside the host is not the person who was about to die.

We’ve not finished season one (the only season available as of this writing) but if the rest of the episodes are as good as the ones we have seen, we are certainly going to enjoy following along with these futuristic Travelers. If you are a Netflix subscriber and like suspense and/or science fiction, do check out this original series.

And, if you are a student or know someone who is, don’t forget the great deals available via Amazon Student:  Join Prime Student FREE Two-Day Shipping for College Students

Air Force One is Down— review and commentary

I was watching Netflix with hubby, and I saw a British mini-series entitled “Alistair McLean’s Air Force One is Down” as an available title, so we spent a couple of evenings with it. Although this film ended up as a recommendation for me because it has Linda Hamilton (of Terminator and Beauty and the Beast fame,) I chose it because it was supposed to be based on a novel by Alistair McLean. He was a favorite writer of mine when I was in my teens and 20s, and yes, I am fully aware that I am dating myself by mentioning that.

Oh, my gosh, how wonderful were those reads. He wrote twenty something novels, several of which were the basis for films (including The Guns of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra, and Breakheart Pass.) My intro to his work was actually his only sequel (Force 10 from Navarone) but it was stood alone well enough that I wanted to read more from the author.

Alas, hubby and I were disappointed by this film. The cinematography, special effects, score, and cast were all pretty good. The problems were, for the most part, in the writing. In part, plot devices that worked in novels in the 50s and 60s just do not work now. For instance, the dastardly villain has captured our hero and his two compatriots. He places the hero character in a deadly situation, and the hero’s two sidekicks are locked into a pit that rapidly fills with water. Of course, the hero manages a super human feat and the all of them survive. Nowadays, the villain would shoot the hero and his sidekicks and be done with it. This doesn’t happen just once in the two part story; it happens over and over. As hubby said, “This thing has major plot holes.” And it does.

After we finished watching the entire film (at my insistence, as hubby would have bailed during part 1) I looked up the novel. According to that scholarly resource Wikipedia, McLean did not write the novel. Instead, he sketched out some plots for a series of novels which bear his name, but other authors wrote the books. In this case, John Denis is the author of the book that the mini-series is supposed to be based upon.

So… the film is sorta interesting, but I really can’t recommend very highly.

Nebraska— the film

I’m a fan of Netflix.  As of this writing, the film Nebraska is available on the service. This comedy/drama is rather hard to classify, but I enjoyed it very much. Perhaps it speaks to my life experiences. My father was a widower for a number of years, and as the daughter who lived close by, it was often up to me to take care of his needs. And, people of his generation are just different from ours. Example: I was handed his wallet while he underwent a medical procedure; the darned thing was two inches thick. With nothing else to do while I waited, I thumbed through it. There were many scraps of paper, usually with a phone number scrawled upon each of them. He had a metal plate replica of his social security card! And, there was a “business card” of some executive from the Reader’s Digest Sweepstakes. No kidding.

Okay, you are wondering when I will get around to reviewing Nebraska. Here goes: As the film opens, set in Billings, Montana, an elderly gent is walking on the emergency lane of a multilane highway. A cop pulls over and asks the gent (ably portrayed by Bruce Dern) where he is going, and he merely points ahead of his position. When asked where he came from, he points behind him. All the while, he is still walking. The next scene has his son, Dave, coming to the police station to pick up his father. His father’s destination is Nebraska. Why? Because he has a letter saying he won a million dollars in a sweepstakes, and the letter has to be returned to an address in Nebraska by a certain date. You know, the kind that really exist only to sell magazines.

The father, who seems a bit out of it, apart from his intense desire to get his million dollars, has become a thorn in his mother’s side. So, to give his mom a break, the son feigns illness to get off work, puts his dad in the car, and off to Nebraska they go. Their adventures make up the rest of the film. I’m not going into details, because I don’t want to spoil it, but suffice it to say that the son learns quite a bit about his elderly father on their journey to pick up his million dollar sweepstakes.

Nebraska gets a 92% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is unusual. So is this film, however. Those who have dealt with parents born during the depression will really appreciate this well acted film.