Ohio winters are known to be filled with heavy snowfall, slick roads, and below-freezing temperatures. So, why not stay inside and enjoy some entertaining flicks and TV shows instead? Here are some of my favorite viewings from January and winter break.
- Fate: The Winx Saga
First up is a recent addition to Netflix’s original content lineup, “Fate: The Winx Saga,” a live-action adaptation of the popular Saturday morning cartoon, “The Winx Club.” Following the same storyline, “Fate” is all about Bloom (Abigail Cowen), a girl who finds out she is a part of a universe of magical fairies. Her education begins at Alfea College, a place where fairies and a well-ripped group of bodyguard-like figures, called specialists, attend classes to become better individuals in their fields. Bloom struggles with controlling her powers but soon begins a journey to discover her origins. As a fan of the original cartoon, I was not thrilled with this adaptation. Like every other teen drama, the show is a dark adaptation of its source material, which means much of the cartoon’s magic is dropped. Some beloved characters, like Techna and pretty much all of the Winx’s boyfriends, are missing, and the theme of female empowerment and friendship does not come through until the very last episodes. We are left with somewhat one-dimensional characters, basic female pettiness, which suddenly turns into a friendship for some reason. “Fate” is an example of why entertainment lovers have come to groan when our childhood favorites are adapted in real life, but, without the comparisons, “Fate” does have some legs to stand on in the form of its plot. The show is an intriguing fantasy mystery with the potential for lots of world-building in the future. It even takes a big dive with its season one finale cliffhanger. Still, the show has some work to do, beginning with the bond between its central characters and giving their story more time to breathe. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the show, I am still somewhat hoping for the second season-- for nostalgic reasons.
- The Morning Show
Another favorite morning ritual of mine growing up was watching the morning news. Yes, I was that nerdy, and I am still that nerdy. “The Morning Show” features an all-star cast, including Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carell. This AppleTV+ original follows a number one cable news show in the aftermath of the revelations that its lead male anchor was a sexual predator. Aniston stars as Alex Levy, the co-anchor who must now helm the show. Witherspoon is Bradley Jackson, the rabble-rouser reporter that Levy chooses to fill her former colleague’s shoes. Behind Aniston and Witherspoon is a fantastic ensemble cast that supports the two leading ladies, and each shine in their own right. The show also acts as a crucial look at the effects of the #MeToo movement and the future implications in the workplace. Still, the show is a bit too preachy about other women’s issues and the ethics and role of journalists today. This leads to many plotlines revolving around how the world should be and not as it is. Even with these faults, the characters and plot are gripping, with Aniston and Witherspoon giving it their all in their performances of these wonderfully complex women working in a typically male-dominated field. “The Morning Show” is must-watch television at its finest.
The sparkling diamond of Netflix of late has been Shondaland’s regency romance series, “Bridgerton.” Another strong ensemble show, “Bridgerton,” centers on Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor), a young woman making her debut in English society in the regency era. After a decline in potential husbands, Daphne resorts to concocting a fake courtship with the attractive, sought after Duke of Hastings (Rege-Jean Page). All this occurs while the anonymous Lady Whistledown seems to be spilling all the secrets of London’s elite. Throw in some bright colored fashions, saucy romance scenes, many plot twists, and you’ve got your next obsession! From the moment I began the show, I knew it would take off. It has an engaging plot with a cast of fun characters that make “Bridgerton” more than just your typical period piece. These elements, including the diverse casting, make “Bridgerton” somewhat a modern period television show and will definitely put viewers in their feelings. It is certainly what we all need in these times!
- Moulin Rouge
As a musical theatre fan, I have left many acquaintances in shock when revealing I have never seen this Baz Luhrman movie musical. So, I decided to watch this highly-rated musical over the break, and I was highly disappointed. “Moulin Rouge” is the love story of “sparkling diamond” and cabaret singer Satine (Nicole Kidman) and poor writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) set in early 20th century Paris, but set to the music of the early 21st. I am all for weird and imaginative work, but sometimes it is just much too messy and much too odd. That is how I would define “Moulin Rouge.” Visually, the movie is stunning with its large sets and extravagant costumes, which complement the exquisite orchestrations of modern songs and large dance numbers. But, much of that is lost with Luhrman’s editing style, which is jumpy, including flashy edits reminiscent of the music videos of the late 90s and early 00s. Along with the eclectic editing style, many side characters lack realism and are just as eccentric and out there as the film’s format. Still, I enjoyed many of the film’s takes on classic love songs and loved Kidman’s performance of Satine. I realize that much of my dislike of “Moulin Rouge” stems from its emulation of old cultural references. Still, I think much of that proves my point that “Moulin Rouge” is a gaudy, aging musical that leans into what’s popular at the time rather than longevity.
- William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet
You may ask, “Caitlin, if you dislike Baz Luhrman’s best movie, why did you watch another one of his films?” Because reader, I, like every other local, have a crush on Leonardo DiCaprio, and I simply could not resist a film of his. This Luhrman film retells Shakespeare’s tragic tale of two teens in love, Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Juliet (Claire Danes). Of course, Luhrman is going to twist things to fit his modern audience. Keeping Shakespeare’s original language, the Montagues and Capulets are dropped into a 90s Verona Beach, where guns, Hawaiian shirts, and sprawling mansions are a part of the culture. Once again, it comes off as gaudy, but for some reason, I was really into it this time. The flashy cuts and edits, kitsch close-ups and line delivery of “Moulin Rouge” are ten times better in “Romeo and Juliet.” For some reason, all the cheesy teen angst and culture of the 90s work magically into this Shakespearean tale. My liking towards a young Claire Danes also took me by surprise. Usually, I detest the painful looks and expression of emotions a young Danes gives in her earlier performances, but she was one of the best Juliet’s I have seen. Once again, Luhrman’s work lacks timelessness and are really pictures of the cultural aspects of the time. But, this film is a perfect encapsulation of the times with a fun take on a classic play.
- Jojo Rabbit
As my numerous column entries attest, I watch a lot of movies. Some are good, some are bad, and some are just meh. I rarely watch something so spectacular that I can solidly say it's one of the best films I have ever seen. Taika Waiti’s “Jojo Rabbit” is one of those films that gets that esteemed credit. Taking place in Nazi Germany, the film follows young Jojo Bletzer (Roman Griffin Davis), an enthused Hitler’s Youth member, who is shocked to find that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl in their home. Jojo is then forced to reconsider his beliefs and the direction his country is headed, all while debating with his imaginary friend, a comedic version of Adolf Hitler (Taika Waiti). Despite the film’s circumstances, it's a smart, comedic look at the dangers of nationalism and the empathy we need to give to others, two ideas that can be directly applied to our nation’s current circumstances. The themes are perfectly executed thanks to strong direction and writing from Waiti and incredible performances from the cast that perfectly balances humor and drama. If you watch anything from this list, make it “Jojo Rabbit.”