Monday, January 22, 2018

Favorite Movies and Shows of 2017, Part Two

 Jackie (2106)

I watched Jackie (2016) starring Natalie Portman on Amazon Prime and thought it to be one of the best Kennedy biopics I have ever seen. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy is portrayed on the day of her husband's assassination followed by what seems to be almost a moment by moment struggle to keep herself together in the agonizing aftermath. I say "moment by moment" because it is easy to feel pulled into Mrs. Kennedy's anguish in which every minute must have seemed like an hour as her mind struggled to absorb the trauma. The senseless horror of her experience is given some meaning by her conversation with a Catholic priest (John Hurt), who says to her:
Jesus once passed a blind beggar on the road, and his disciples asked, Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind? And Jesus said, Neither this man nor his parents sinned. He was made blind so that the works of God could be revealed in him. And with that, he placed mud on his eyes and told him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. And the man did, and he came back seeing. Right now you are blind. Not because you've sinned, but because you've been chosen. So that the works of God can be revealed in you.
I thought Natalie Portman portrayed Jackie as appearing too nervous and shy. Although she might have been so interiorly, in public Jackie conveyed a calm unruffled poise. Other than that, I thought Natalie Portman was superb in the role.

 Godless (2017)

Godless is a seven-episode Netflix production starring Michelle Dockery as the tough widow Alice Fletcher who helps defend a town of women against a band of murdering outlaws. The outlaws are led by the psychopathic Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels), truly one of the most subtly terrifying criminals to darken the screen. Dressing like a minister and quoting scripture, Griffin and his gang thrive on sadism and cruelty; the opening scenes of the saga show a mining town in which every man, woman and child have been savagely murdered. As Griffin and his gang of godless wretches slowly make their way across the West several subplots surrounding the town of La Belle unfold. La Belle is where all the men died in a mining accident, leaving the women, children and old people to fend for themselves. The various story threads converge around Alice and the mysterious young man whose life she saves and whose presence transforms her family forever. While definitely not a family show, Godless is a searing portrait of a Western town in the midst of its own apocalypse.

Alias Grace (2017)

Based upon the Margaret Atwood novel of the same name, Alias Grace is not without a strong dose of radical feminism. All men are sexual predators on some level, while all women are oppressed by the structures and traditions of a patriarchal society. The bad behavior of the men is perhaps a bit exaggerated. In Victorian times, a man who knocked down his wife in public would be arrested for disorderly conduct, although in Alias Grace when Grace's mother is knocked down in public no one says a word, as if such behavior were considered acceptable. In spite of the Atwood agenda, the series is well-written, beautifully staged and costumed, with remarkable acting, especially on the part of Sarah Gadon in the role of Grace. Based upon a true story, Grace Marks, a lovely young Irish-Canadian immigrant who has endured multiple traumas and losses, finds herself accused and convicted of complicity in a pair of brutal murders. The drama focuses on a young doctor who comes to interview Grace at the prison in Kingston, Ontario, where she spends thirty years. The closer the doctor comes to unraveling the mystery of her guilt or innocence, the more her true nature eludes him. The story is told in flashbacks and is gradually pieced together like the patchwork quilts that Grace loves.

The Crown (Season 2, 2016-)

Based upon the life of Queen Elizabeth II, now gloriously reigning, The Crown is without doubt the crown jewel of all the Netflix offerings. Season 2 deals with the ongoing marital problems of Elizabeth and Philip while the monarchy faces vociferous criticism from various quarters and Great Britain faces international humiliation. Elizabeth must grapple with both the expectations and the limitations of her role as a twentieth century constitutional monarch. In the meantime, her younger sister Princess Margaret seeks happiness and meaning in her own way. The episodes regarding Margaret's romance and marriage with society photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones are the most sultry of the series so far. The episode which I found incredibly stirring is the one which portrayed both Prince Charles' and Prince Philip's years at the Gordonstoun School in Scotland, an experience which shaped both men in different ways. Along with the lively screenplay, The Crown can be enjoyed for the exquisite clothes, jewels, houses and furniture, and especially the scenes of the Scottish highlands.

The Magnificent Century (4 Seasons, 2011-2014)

The Turkish production Muhteşem Yüzyıl is based upon the sixteenth century life of Suleiman the Magnificent, sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and his marriage to the Russian Christian captive Alexandra, called Hurrem, who became his co-ruler. On one level the drama can be seen as a Turkish soap opera, and an extremely soapy one at that. However, it depicts the thriving slave trade of fair-skinned women that endured for hundreds of years in Central Europe and Asia in order to fill the harems of wealthy Turks with white girls. The story of Hurrem is the tale of a woman who through intelligence and determination overcame the life of slavery to which she had been condemned. Not only through brains and grit, but through the love she shares with Suleiman, she manages to become his legal wife and the mother of five of his children. In the meantime, every attempt is made by other members of the Sultan's household to destroy Hurrem. Most of the episodes deal with her ongoing power struggles with the Sultan's mother Hafsa and with Mahidevran, the mother of the Sultan's oldest son. The Sultan's grand vizier and brother-in-law Ibrahim Pargali also tries many times to ruin Hurrem and her influence with Suleiman but by doing so brings about his own destruction. Muhteşem Yüzyıl was a run-away success in the Middle East, but for some reason only Season 1 is available on Netflix. The entire series can be watched on YouTube but the later episodes are without subtitles. I found the synopses on Facebook which helped me to follow the drama, HERE.

Seyit and Sura (2014)

Kurt Seyit ve Sura is a Turkish production based upon the true story of  Kurt Seyit Eminoff, a Crimean Turkish officer of Tsar Nicholas II, and his love affair with Russian countess Alexandra Julianovna Verjenskaya, called "Shura" or "Sura." Seyit meets the sixteen-year-old Sura at her first ball in St. Petersburg in 1916, even as World War One rages and Russia totters on the brink of violent revolution. The two fall hopelessly in love and, in spite of family efforts to keep them apart, run away together to the Crimea. When Seyit's parents are murdered by the local Bolsheviks he is consumed by guilt for defying his father and choosing Sura instead of a Moslem girl. He postpones marrying her, even after they escape Russia and seek sanctuary in Istanbul. There they openly live together at an inn run by a devout Moslem family, who encourage them to marry. At the inn, Seyit and Sura and their friends become entangled in the problems of post-war Turkey and are continually haunted by the past so that they seem unable to face the future together. The rest of the series traces the ups and downs of their relationship amid social chaos and upheaval, as certain "friends" do whatever is necessary to destroy their trust in each other. It is ultimately a tale of many tears, as Seyit and Sura are unable to be together in spite of an undying devotion.

 The White Princess (2017)

The sequel to the Starz production of The White Queen, The White Princess reprises the Philippa Gregory interpretation of the Wars of the Roses and the early years of Tudor England. It is 1485 and Richard III has been slain at Bosworth Field as the new Tudor king, Henry VII, consolidates his rule by marrying the Plantagenet princess, Elizabeth of York. There are several liberties taken with history, such as Margaret Beaufort being portrayed as a serial killer, and Henry and Elizabeth traveling to Spain to meet with Isabel and Ferdinand. As in The White Queen, the writers insist upon using modern nicknames such as "Lizzie" and "Maggie" instead of "Bess" and "Meg" which were more likely used. However, the drama does well in capturing the sense of chaos and displacement that must have been experienced by the York princesses and by their mother, Queen Elizabeth. In a few short years they had endured the deaths of Edward IV and the princes, a declaration of illegitimacy, and now the complete fall of the House of York. The young Elizabeth must now be wife to the enemy of her family, Henry Tudor. She is resolved to work for the House of York in secret, but unexpectedly she finds herself coming to love Henry and thus is naturally protective of their growing family. She is eventually placed in an agonizing position of having to choose between Henry and a young man who claims to be her long lost brother Richard of York. No matter what she chooses, there will be tears.The tragic circumstances of Margaret Plantagenet Pole and her brother Edward of Warwick are also heartrendingly depicted. While it is not a family film, it may be enjoyable to some history buffs.

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