Netflix has delivered another astonishing series with the release of The Crown on Nov. 4. Revolving around the conflict between the private and public life of Queen Elizabeth II as she ascends the throne after her father, King George the VI, dies of lung cancer, The Crown gives viewers a glimpse into the life of the famous monarch.
The Crown portrays the Queen as something of a puppet who follows the orders and mandates of prominent men, including her husband and members of Parliament, instead of her own gut instincts. As a glorified figurehead for the people of Britain, Elizabeth ascendes the throne at 25 while trying to be a good sister, mother, wife, and Queen. Despite her desire to spend time with her children, Elizabeth must push her yearnings aside to run the “vital monarchy.”
The marriage of Elizabeth and Philip provides a spot of romance in a show dominated by politics. The Crown depicts the couple’s life in the early 1950s, including the quarrels. Although there is obviously love, chemistry, and affection, their relationship was also contentious and argumentative. They bickered over frivolous issues, such as whether the couple should keep Philip’s last name or move into Buckingham palace or details of Elizabeth’s coronation, and fought over more serious matters, like Philip’s alleged affairs.
The Crown also packs in tons of family-oriented drama. For example, Queen Mary resents her eldest son, Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorced American woman. In a royal snub, she refuses to extend an invitation for King George VI’s funeral or Elizabeth’s coronation to Edward’s wife. Only Elizabeth shows empathy and benevolence towards Edward, her renegade uncle, highlighting her compassionate side.
The Crown is the most expensive television program to date because of the astonishing scenery and costume design. The set designers did a remarkable job of accurately portraying the dress, architecture, customs, and setting of the era, captivating audiences with glamor and splendor.
The stunning, breath-taking acting in The Crown is one of its standout features, with raw, pure emotion, and substance. It is easy to grow emotionally attached to characters due to the depth of the performances by an all star cast comprised of seasoned actors like Claire Foy, Matt Smith, and John Lithgow. The combination of script, acting, and cinematography leads to a sublime entertainment.
Historically accurate, The Crown hits events critical to the time period, such as the re-election of prime minister Winston Churchill and a killing dense smog epidemic. However, the pace is slow, not action-packed, relying on drama that borders on the soap opera and that sometimes feels like a historical documentary without the narrator. Overall, the directors and screenwriters produced a fascinating, engaging show that is also educational. The Crown won’t thrill viewers with suspense, but if you enjoyed the quality and pacing of Downton Abbey, the 10-episode-series is a must watch.
~emma dixon, copy production editor
I experienced something odd at the movie theater lately. I believe the phenomenon is called childlike wonder and joy. Stow away any fears you may have of a Phantom Menace redux, because Star Wars: The Force Awakens brings much needed reinvigoration to a beloved series.
Director J.J. Abrams approaches the film like a Star Wars savant, stitching together elements found in the original movies while bringing in fresh faces to prevent The Force Awakens from spilling over into nostalgia overload. Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill all return to reprise their roles as Han Solo, Leia Organa, and Luke Skywalker, respectively. While Harrison is delightful as Han (his roguish wit hasn’t waned), it’s the new generation of stars who bring energy to the film. Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on the desert planet Jakku, is effectively the new-school, female Luke. That might have been irritating if she wasn’t so downright cool; Rey proves herself to be a quick-thinking heroine slightly more reminiscent of Han than of Luke in some regards, and Ridley delivers the character with so much warmth. Other newcomers include Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper with a conscience, and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a swaggering resistance pilot. Adam Driver makes an impact as Kylo Ren, a sullen and tempestuous antagonist hiding behind a mask reminiscent of Darth Vader’s.
The settings of The Force Awakens are a marked improvement from the predecessor films. While the backdrops of the prequel trilogy always seemed so placid and artificial (I swear you could see the green screen radiating off the actors), the worlds in the newest film have depth, from desert bazaars to pirate-filled cantinas. Lightsaber combat is better than ever; the blades crackle, and stray swings slice down unfortunate trees.
And yet it isn’t perfect. The movie is a skosh too similar to A New Hope, with Rey’s background and character arc paralleling Luke’s a bit too much, down to their shared upbringings on desert planets (and similar fashion choices). And destroying entire planets! You have to hand it to Star Wars villains; they don’t think small. Moreover, the film occasionally feels too ambitious, as if there simply wasn’t enough time to jam in everything Abrams wanted to incorporate. One example is a scene in which Finn declares his affection for Rey. Although the two characters do have chemistry, the confession seems bizarre, considering they have probably only known each other for about an hour.
Despite occasionally struggling under the tremendous weight of expectations and time constraints, The Force Awakens is ultimately a triumph. I got shivers during the opening crawl with John Williams’ fantastically bombastic score. Han Solo, boarding the Millennium Falcon, echoes a sentiment all Star Wars fans felt for the new installment—“We’re home.”
~lana heltzel, editor-in-chief
The Danish Girl, loosely inspired by the story of Lili Elbe, reveals the challenges and triumphs of Einer Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), a successful Danish landscape painter, and his transformation into Lili Elbe, the first transgender woman to have female gender reassignment surgery.
The idealistic life of Einer and his wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander) gets disrupted when a silly game of dress-up and fun brings out Lili, Einer’s alter-ego. Lilli is someone who can dress like and be the person Einer truly is. As Einer begins to be left behind, Lili takes his place, leaving Gerda to struggle between wanting her husband back and supporting Lili.
Although Einer’s transformation is the main focus of the film, Gerda’s development is inspiring as she grows into Lili’s main source of support while managing a successful career and dealing with her divorce. Gerda goes from a struggling artist, trying to get her foot in the door, to the breadwinner. One of the tear-jerking scenes is when Gerda attends one of her galleries alone, hoping that Einer comes to support her; she cannot accept that Einer is gone and Lili has taken his place.
Another important scene displays the violence against transgender people in the mid-1920’s when transgender people were not common. Einer is walking in the park, his first public outing in women’s clothing, when two men approach her asking her gender. The scene, although uncomfortable to watch, portrays the prejudice that transgender people face everyday.
Overall, Redmayne and Vikander give amazing performances and do justice to that stories of Gerda, Einer and Lili. This movie kept me captivated until the credits rolled and left me depressed and in need of a good cry. However, this film is a must see. It provides insight into how it feels to be a transgender woman in an era when it was unheard of.
~erica gudino, viewpoint director
Netflix’s newest exclusive series Making a Murderer has taken hold of my mind and dragged me into addictive layers of mystery, complexity, and alas, utter shock — in the final verdict, that is.
The documentary series delineates the never-ending legal troubles of one man, Steven Avery, as he faces a literal lifelong battle with Wisconsin’s criminal justice system and the inescapable hatred by the locals of Manitowoc County. The very first episode follows events that took place in 1985 involving the rape and torture of a young woman along the coast of Lake Michigan. Amidst misinformation and a biased county police department, 22-year-old Steven Avery finds himself framed for the crime. Besides the obvious distortion of facts, the victim was manipulated into thinking that Steven Avery was the man who harmed her. Although Steven had several alibis to confirm his whereabouts when the rape took place, he was sent to prison for 18 years as a result of the victim’s mistaken identification.
Spoilers aside, after 18 years, Avery’s problem has only just begun. DNA tests finally secured his release from prison in 2003. Suddenly, less than two years later, Avery’s world gets turned upside down once again when he faces a murder charge. This time, his legal troubles draw the attention of more than just Manitowoc County.
Overall, the series is solid with 10 one-hour-long episodes that kept me hooked on intriguing intros, lovely opening/closing theme music, and consistent cliffhangers. I watched the entire series over the course of just three days, and it’s a must-watch.
If you love a good murder mystery, crime investigation dramas, law-and-order plot lines, or all of the above, Making a Murderer is the perfect series for you. In addition to getting an average Netflix-browser like me addicted, the plot stays stuck in my brain. Making a Murderer has me constantly questioning our nation’s criminal justice system.
However, as convincing as the general argument the series makes may be, there is controversy over whether it was created out of desire for the truth or to express a foregone conclusion. This bias becomes evident after further researching the topic — results show that a good portion of critical information was not released through Making a Murderer.
Nevertheless, it’s still one of the best documentary series I’ve seen. Watch it if you’d like something to ponder or perhaps need some facts about how the criminal justice system works, but don’t forget to conduct your research afterwards. I highly recommend it.
~claire shifflett, staff reporter
Kanye West has gone off the deep end; whether he’s $53 million in debt, explosively ranting about Taylor Swift, or banning “white publications” from reviewing his music, the rapper known as Yeezy is always up to something. If the music industry is the solar system, Kanye is the insane, dangerously narcissistic sun that us plebeian planets revolve around. Kanye’s newest album, The Life of Pablo—currently only available on the music streaming website Tidal—is just as bizarre as the man himself.
The Life of Pablo’s opening song, “Ultralight Beam,” establishes a recurring theme in the album; Kanye is the weakest link on his own songs. His verses are auto-tuned to death, droning, and extremely expressionless (the man sounds so bored). The song’s featured vocalist, Chance the Rapper, is by contrast quick and fervent, completely overshadowing Kanye. “Ultralight Beam,” along with other tracks on the album, is interspersed with dramatic gospel vocals, another odd disparity with Kanye’s listless rapping and near-incoherent lyrics.
In the midst of both mediocrity and audio Chinese water torture, The Life of Pablo supplies a few positives. In the song “Fade,” a sample of the Tempations’ “I Know (I’m Losing You)” collides with house music, creating, at the very least, an interesting instrumental. Meanwhile, “FML” is an eerie ode to self-sabotage and the battle of controlling oneself. Kanye mentions his use of the anti-depression and anti-anxiety drug Lexapro, while guest vocalist The Weeknd laments, “Wish I would go ahead and [mess] my life up/ Can’t let them get to me/ And even though I always [mess] my life up/ Only I can mention me.”
The Life of Pablo is ultimately the autobiography of a pseudo-intellectual megalomaniac. While occasionally bearing some glimpses of actual human emotion, it’s more concerned with taking petty potshots at fellow celebrities. The album’s disjointed nature and abstract concepts paired with poor execution make it sound more like the ramblings of an elderly park hobo than a supposed rap god.
The Life of Pablo is garishly braggadocios, and if Kanye isn’t going to fade into obscurity anytime soon, the least he could do is go to therapy to sort out his god-complex.
~lana heltzel, editor-in-chief
Taylor Swift has officially been dethroned as the queen of pop now that Adele has returned with her much anticipated third album, 25. After an absence from the music industry of five years, the 27-year-old British singer is back and better than ever, musically, mentally, and emotionally.
With her successful previous albums, 2011’s 21 and 2008’s 19, Adele said in an interview that she didn’t think she could top their popularity. But the world was hungry for her music, and her suspenseful, bone-chilling comeback single, “Hello,” immediately sky rocketed to the top of the iTunes charts and stayed there for weeks.
Adele comes back confident, sexy, and belting notes in almost every song. Songs like “When We Were Young,” “Million Years Ago,” and “Remedy” are soft, pretty, and sorrowful piano ballads, with romantic lyrics and calming acoustics. But then the album takes a dip into catchy pop music with “River Lea,” “Water Under the Bridge,” “Send my Love,” and “I Miss You,” all featuring incredibly catchy beats, with background sound effects and vocals. Adele sounds like she is almost having fun.
Although many of the songs are her usual slow, beautiful tunes, the pop ones are nestled in between, almost as if they are a surprise. Definitely the most compelling song on the album is the catchy “River Lea,” personally my favorite; but it also comes with a heavy backstory. The Lea River is a tributary of the Thames River near Adele’s hometown. Adele is singing an ode to this river, and she has mixed feelings about it because she wants to forget where she grew up, but the past will always be a part of her. In the first verse, Adele sings: “I grew up by the River Lea / There was something in the water / Now that something’s in me / Oh, I can’t go back, but the reeds are growing out of my fingertips / I can’t go back to the river.” And in the chorus, she sings out: “I blame it on the River Lea.”
Adele’s voice has the ability to draw people in to the story she tells through her lyrics, and on 25 she shows she has overcome personal struggles. The boost in her confidence and self-esteem suggests it just took her a while to finally find her inner superstar. “I was too strong/ You were trembling/You couldn’t handle the hot heat rising/ Baby, I’m so rising,” she sings in “Send My Love.” This album, while new and confident and fiery, has a nostalgic touch to it, as if Adele secretly wishes she could relive her younger years.
Adele is a pop colossus who doesn’t conform to the basic rules of fame. She prefers not to be seen in public, and she is humble in every single interview, despite holding a BT Digital Music Award, four Brit Awards, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, 10 Grammy Awards, 13 Billboard Music Awards, and four American Music Awards. If that doesn’t define a music icon, then I don’t know what does.
~julia sexton, co-features director