TV Series Review: Marvel’s What If…?

Review of Marvel's What If

I started watching Marvel’s What If…? not really knowing what to expect, but hoping that new, innovative storylines might emerge and that some of the characters introduced might even be introduced later into the live-action MCU. After all, seeing Peggy Carter as Captain Carter is my dream! Ultimately, however, the episodes of the first season prove uneven in quality, and the point of the series only becomes clear in the final two episodes. While I would still be excited to see some of these characters on the big screen, I cannot say that the show What If…? particularly impresses.

The episodes bounce around through different concepts, moving from pure, fan “What if?” daydreaming, to humor, to tragedy, to just plain silliness. Initially, I found myself baffled. I wanted a connecting thread, some reason that I started a show that first answers the question, “What if Peggy Carter took the super soldier serum instead?” but then moves on to seemingly random questions such as, “What if the Avengers fought zombies?” or, “What if Thor had a giant party on Earth?” The question, “What if?” gives room for the creators to do literally anything with the material and all they could come up with is Thor having a party?? I was hoping for more intriguing storylines! The ones that gave us characters like Spider-Gwen. The ones that truly change the story and open up more possibilities for what the characters can be and become and do.

Still, some of the episodes are stronger than others. “What if Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” creates a real sense of pathos, as viewers watch him try to change the past and bring his lover back to life. And “What If Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?” raises some interesting ethical questions, as the show goes to dark places, even if it was not my favorite episode (but, then, I have never been very attached to the Iron Man films). The strong moments of the show were enough to keep me watching–as was the hope that the final episode might ultimately tie into the larger MCU. Really, it was that fear, that I might need to know what happens, that kept me watching more than anything else.

Because, really, the premise of What If…? is a little strange– but not because we are asking the question, “What if?” Rather, it is strange because each episode essentially tries to boil down one of the Marvel films into about 25 minutes. So the first episode, takes a 2-hour film, Captain America: The First Avenger, and boils the storyline down to about an eighth of its original run time. That’s not a lot of time. Not to develop characters or relationships. It is just enough time to say, “Hey, look, Peggy Carter is Captain Carter now instead of Steve Rogers becoming Captain America! Isn’t that neat?” and then end the episode. And so on for each succeeding episode. I wanted to feel a real connection to the characters, but any feeling viewers have for them will have to come from prior knowledge of them from the previous films.

Because of the time constraints, some of the sillier episodes actually work better than the ones that rely more on their film counterparts. For instance, Thor throwing a party works as a conceit because that is all that is happening. The episode is not trying to have Thor save the world and not even trying to make Thor a better person who will be worthy to rule. Besides having Thor meet Jane and fall in love, not many parallels exist with the first Thor movie. On the other hand, “What If Ultron Won?” proves a little uneven because it basically has to start with the end of its film counterpart. A voiceover gives all the relevant background information about Ultron and his rise so the episode can jump into Natasha and Clint trying to do something about it. But there is something uncomfortable about having an entire film of tragedy and suffering dismissed into a few sentences of summary so we can get on with the “what if” changes already.

I also found throughout the series that I was a little bothered by how the “What if?” moments were presented. The series is narrated by the Watcher, who observes the multiverse, sworn never to interfere. He likes to drop “deep” statements about how one decision can change everything and one small moment create a whole new world. Sure, maybe in some cases. But a lot of the decisions made are actually ongoing ones. In “What if Killmonger Had Rescued Tony Stark?” for instance, Killmonger rescuing Stark is not the single cause of everything that happens. Tony responds to that moment in a certain way, and then wakes up every day after and makes the same bad choices. And the people around him wake up every day and enable him (hello, Pepper, another silent observer of bad ethics). In the same way, Doctor Strange in “What If Doctor Strange Had Lost His Heart Instead of Hands?” wakes up every day and also makes bad choices, despite the repeated efforts of other people to warn and/or stop him. Reducing characters to one moment in time obscures the fact that they all have agency–and continue to do so. The Watcher would make it seem as if the characters are bound by one bad choice, when, in fact, they are not–as some of them later actually prove.

What If…? proves an interesting thought experiment, but the series is not particularly gripping or memorable. If the series is not going to tie into the greater MCU, thereby compelling me to watch it just for the sake of clarity, I do not think I will continue to keep up with future seasons.

Movie Review: Chaos Walking (2021)

Chaos Walking

I cannot remember the last time I watched a movie as disappointing as Chaos Walking. Knowing that the film is based on the popular teen novel The Knife of Letting Go, I expected an exciting dystopian story about a young man learning that his village leadership harbors secrets. The storyline, however, proves overly simplistic and lackluster, while the characters are undeveloped–as is the romance. Even some fine acting by Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland could not save the film. Chaos Walking is undoubtedly a flop.

Not having read The Knife of Letting Go, I cannot compare the book with the movie adaptation. I can say, however, that the movie made me reconsider my plans to one day read The Knife of Letting Go. Even though dystopian YA books still feel redundant, thanks to the craze for them after the release of The Hunger Games, Chaos Walking shocked me with how simple, unoriginal, and unsurprising the plot is. I knew the big twist about ten minutes into the movie. And what is the point of a dystopian novel if not to surprise readers, along with the protagonist, with some big, terrible truth about the world?

That truth, too, typically says something interesting or important about society, but if there is a message in Chaos Walking, I did not see it. In theory, one should be able to say something insightful about groupthink or mob mentality or even misogyny. But the movie never reaches far enough to provoke thought in the audience. And, in the final moment, it devolves all responsibility for tragedy onto the figure of one man, instead of saying something, too, about the men he led astray.

Chaos Walking is a slow-paced, boring film with a predictable plot and no real depth. I wanted to feel something for the characters, but they are never developed enough for audiences to really sympathize with them, their dreams, and their desires. A half-baked romance/infatuation completes the mess. I would not recommend this film for viewing, nor would I suggest that the producers try for a sequel.

1 star

Thoughts on Netflix’s Shadow and Bone Adaptation (Spoilers)

Normally I do not have a Netflix subscription, but a friend surprised me with a gift card so I could watch Shadow & Bone, so here are some thoughts I had while watching the first season. This comes with the disclaimer that I barely remember reading Shadow & Bone and Siege & Storm, and I never read Ruin & Rising at all. I did read both Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom.

1. Overall, I Loved the Series

One benefit of barely remembering the books is that I didn’t have a lot of expectations going in to watching the adaptation, either for casting or plot, and I loved most of the choices that were made. I loved pretty much all of the casting choices, particularly for the Darkling and Alina. I was also pretty invested in the story and eager to see what happened next (because I sort of knew but also didn’t know, both because of my memory lapses and because the plot was obviously changed, since the Crows were integrated into Alina’s story).

2. I Agree the Racism Wasn’t Handled Well

I’ve seen a lot of viewers who are not happy the writers decided to make Alina part-Shu and then make it a plot point that she doesn’t quite belong in Ravka and experiences racism because of it. My biggest issue is that I don’t think it was well-integrated. It felt a bit as if the writers were going along, writing their story, and then would suddenly remember Alina’s supposed to face racism and then have a random character shout a racial slur at her and then disappear. A few times Alina tried expand on the point by explaining that she’s used to being Othered because of her race, so being apart because she’s a Grisha with legendary powers isn’t an entirely new feeling for her, but overall it just felt awkwardly done.

3. I’m on the Fence about how the Crows Were Integrated

I loved seeing Kaz and company on screen, and he, Inej, and Jesper were definitely badass. Jesper in particular comes across as having real flair and skill with his guns, which impressed me because he wasn’t my favorite character in Six of Crows or anything, but he’s fabulous in this series. However, I have some reservations about the show writers giving the Crows a task that they, very obviously, are not going to accomplish. As soon as it comes up that their task is to kidnap Alina and bring her back to Ketterdam, viewers know they’re not going to succeed. First, that ruins any sense of suspense. Second, it ruins the idea that Kaz and his friends can accomplish the impossible. Because clearly they do NOT. I’m not sure how they’re going to get out of the mess that failing has put them into in season one, and I don’t know what heists they’ll be up to next, but I do hope they’ll be given more room to actually pull it off this time.

4. Mal Is Way More Awesome Than in the Books

Again, I barely remember the books and I never read Ruin & Rising, but I do remember feeling “meh” about Mal as a love interest while reading. In the show, however, I’m a huge fan. His loyalty to Alina, his deep friendship with her, his protectiveness, and his support are all clear. He also gives her her space to do what she needs to do. If she’s not going to take the hints that he’s in love with her, someone else needs to snatch him up because he’s just incredibly nice!


Netflix’s Bridgerton Might Be a Romance, But It Charmed Me with Its Focus on Family

Bridgerton The Duke and I Discussion Post

Note: I’ve tried to keep this post spoiler-free; however, I do talk about events broadly, so if you prefer no spoilers at all, you probably don’t want to read this.

I’m not a huge romance novel reader. I’ve tried a few romances, and while they were entertaining, I don’t think the genre is really for me. (I’ll spare you a whole description of why; romance fans seem to suffer enough from non-romance readers explaining to them why their preferred genre has no value.) However, I was intrigued by the idea of a romance novel adapted for television, and the previews of Bridgerton‘s lush costuming and dance scenes caught my eye further; I do like a good Regency film. So, as I watched episode after episode, I was delighted to find myself drawn not just into the main story of Daphne’s fake dating turned real dating romance with a handsome duke, but also into the story of the Bridgerton family and all their friends.

To be honest, I think the focal story of Daphne and the duke might be the least interesting part of the series, in spite of the nuance given to the characters: Daphne’s struggle with appearing to be the “perfect” young lady while actually chafing against some of the constraints put on her by society, Simon’s struggle to commit to someone and find love and a family after being rejected by his father for his own imperfections. The actors certainly do well bringing these character traits to the screen, but overall Daphne and Simon still do come across to me a bit too much like the perfect couple (it’s what everyone in society thinks of course, how lovely they are and how enviable their beautiful love story). And while they have their struggles (and a very major fight and breach of trust with each other), it’s still a romance; we all know the happily ever after is coming.

So while the Daphne/Simon romance is fun, I found the show really shone in areas I hadn’t initially expected: in showing the Bridgerton family’s bonds with each other and their friendships with others (especially Eloise Bridgerton and Penelople Featherington). The show opens with chaos, Bridgerton children running about, poking fun at eldest sister Daphne for taking too long to get ready, exasperated that eldest son Anthony is nowhere to be found and is blowing off his responsibilities yet again. But over the course of the show, viewers see how close the Bridgerton children really are, even when they don’t seem to be. Daphne and Anthony fight but also bond over the high expectations placed on them. Benedict and Eloise share secrets. And their mother watches over them all; she has her own flaws, but her love for her family and her fierce protectiveness is charming.

Penelope Featherington is also a delight. While Eloise comes across a bit as the stock “I am opposed to marriage because it will limit me” character, Pen wants to have it all: love and the opportunity to accomplish other things. And she seems to operate on her own moral compass rather than thinking of what society expects of her or even what would benefit the Featherington family as a whole. I think I look forward to seeing in her future seasons most of all.

So, yes, Bridgerton is a romance, and the show sticks in plenty of steamy scenes (which I mostly skipped, so it’s a good thing the Internet informed me of the controversy surrounding one of those scenes with Daphne and Simon because it actually included a major plot point and jumping off place for character development). But the show really develops the characters and puts a larger emphasis on family and friendship than I had initially anticipated, which I really enjoyed.


I Actually Liked Frozen II

Major spoilers for Frozen II ahead!

I waited to watch Frozen II until I could borrow a copy from the library. So, for months, all I heard were cryptic statements from moviegoers that this film was, “Not what people were expecting” and “Very different from the first movie.” No one would say what was apparently off about Frozen II, but, eventually, I started to wonder if anyone had actually enjoyed it. Nevertheless, I put it on hold when it first appeared in the library catalog. And, to my surprise, I found I liked it even more than I had liked Frozen.

In some respects, I can see why some audience members might have had reservations about Frozen II. It is undoubtedly very different the general Disney princess movie. And it is a lot darker than its predecessor. Anna may have turned to ice in Frozen, but that lasted a few seconds, and we all knew she would make it, anyway. In Frozen II, Elsa dies, Olaf melts, and Anna is left all alone to sing a despairing song that suggests she is ready to give up and die herself, rather than face the life ahead of her. Her song is a key part of what makes the film so dark. She gives audiences a taste of what it means to feel real, deep-down grief. She doesn’t quite let them get away with their outsider knowledge that no Disney movie can end so unhappily, right? Surely Olaf and Elsa will come back…right? Even if they can and will, for one moment, Anna makes audiences consider what it would mean if they did not.

Frozen II’s difference from its predecessor is, however, what makes me love it so much. I don’t really need another standard Disney princess film at this point. It was fun to watch Frozen play with Disney princess tropes by revealing how falling in love at first sight can backfire, giving Anna an iceman who likes to “tinkle in the woods” instead of a charming prince, and reminding viewers about the importance of consent in romantic relationships. But, in giving so many knowing nods to past Disney princess tropes, Frozen still feels connected to them. It’s a response to other Disney films, not so much an independent, original film. Plus, it still buys into other Disney princess tropes such as the cute animal sidekick and the happily-ever-after kiss (for Anna, if not for Elsa).

Frozen II breaks away completely from previous princess films, perhaps because it has to. In theory, I suppose it could have given Elsa her own love interest and so remained a typical Disney princess movie. However, that would seem a little repetitive for a sequel. Instead, Frozen II decides to branch out, giving Anna and Elsa an epic adventure–together. (I hated that Frozen is billed as a “sister film” even though they’re not really talking for most of it.) Disney has provided audiences with epic adventures before in films such as Treasure Planet and Atlantis, among others–films that were usually lead by a male character and not part of the princess line. But it feels exciting to have that kind of movie lead by two female protagonists who are breaking out of their traditional Disney princess roles.

I recognize that Frozen II is not a perfect film. Some have pointed out to me that the plotline does not make sense. (Did Frozen’s, though? Really?) I disliked how Anne treated Kristoff, running off without him and seemingly forgetting her existence when she considers there is nothing left to live for with Elsa gone. I questioned why they were talking about marriage when they cannot even communicate with each other on a basic level. However, ultimately, there are a few moments of Frozen II that make it really special, despite its flaws.

Whereas some audience goers seemed uncertain about how dark and how sad the film got, I appreciated the level of emotional depth this gives the film. Anna is overlooked in favor of Elsa and her big numbers, but she is truly the star of Frozen II, demonstrating that one must always do the right thing, even if doing so seems like it could hurt them. Anna decides to work through her seemingly-debilitating grief in order to right a past wrong. And she does so knowing that she will lose everything by doing so. She is truly inspirational and demonstrates a moral courage not many film characters are asked to do.

I also appreciated Elsa’s characterization, however. Even though Elsa is extremely powerful, we see that she continues to struggle with self-doubt. She does not know who she is and she seems unable to accept herself. My favorite part of the film is when, upon searching for someone to give her all the answers, Elsa realizes she is the answer. She already knows who she is and what she can do. All she needs is to is to find the courage to trust in herself, instead of relying on others to giver her confidence. When she accepted herself for the first time, I got chills.

Frozen II has its flaws, perhaps like any story. However, it strengths for me far outweigh its weaknesses. I appreciate the character growth we see in both Anna and Elsa, with Anna choosing to do the right thing no matter the cost, and Elsa discovering her own inner strength. Those are great messages that I can support. And it does not hurt that they are both presented in phenomenal songs.

What did you think of Frozen II?

Klaus (2019 Netflix Original Movie)

I love Christmas movies, and a heart-warming animated film that gets right to the spirit of the Christmas season is an enormous treat.  If you’ve been sitting on the fence about seeing Klaus, I highly recommend it as a movie that will likely be added to the catalogue of films you watch year after year.

The one thing that baffled me a bit about Santa as a child is that there are so many versions of “how Santa came to be,” from movies to books to what random adults are willing to tell you.  Klaus piles on to these versions, even as it’s clearly set in an imaginary world.  So part of me wonders what child me would have done with the idea that Klaus’s version of Santa might not be our version of Santa, while part of me realizes I would likely have been sucked into the story as much as I was as an adult and not overthought the issue.

Because once I got past the fantasy world aspect, a place where postmen are well-trained and apparently venerated (by most people, not all) and where two feuding clans live in perpetual battle in an isolated icy town while a mysterious woodsman lives nearby with a house full of enchanting toys, I was completely charmed.  The world-building is impressive, the plot is engrossing, and the characters easily capture readers’ hearts in spite of any flaws.

Protagonist Jesper starts out spoiled and doing the right things for obviously wrong reasons, but his character arc and his blooming friendship with Klaus make him a character to root for.  And I love that this story is ultimately not just about Klaus or Christmas but ultimately about friendship—the ones that can grow between the feuding families, as well.

Not all of the animated Christmas movies I liked as a kid stand up to rewatching as an adult.  Klaus hooked me first as an adult, and I can imagine myself watching it again and again.


Let It Snow (2019 Netflix Original Movie)

I haven’t read the book for Let It Snow, but I went into the Netflix movie assuming there would be a bunch of short stories based on works by YA authors, as in the 2008 novel.  Thus, I was interested to see how the stories would be woven together into a single coherent narrative—something I think the filmmakers succeeded at in some places and failed at in others.

I did like the idea that the various characters all live in the same small town and know each other by sight, if not necessarily by name, because watching how people’s lives intertwine and intersect even if they don’t know it is always a pleasure.  It gives a readers a sense that they’re part of something bigger and that there’s something fun and mysterious about their own lives, that they’re connected to others in ways they might not even realize. 

However, the fact that there were so many small stories going on in a single movie was also a bit of downfall.  I’m not necessarily a big fan of short stories in general because they often feel underdeveloped or just…underwhelming to me, and I got that here.  There were a few different pairs of characters with love interests going about their lives around Christmas, and it was clear that the whole point was that, well, they were going to end up as couples by the end of the movie.  This is the general plot of any romance, of course, but the development of each of these short stories simply wasn’t that engaging to me.  There is also the storyline of one young man’s quest to throw an epic party and the point is that, uh, he has a party.  Nothing particularly surprising or thought-provoking happens in most of the stories.

That said, it’s a cute holiday movie, and I think it will find its fans.  If you want something fairly light and Christmas-y, something that treats teens as real with complicated problems even as they’re doing slightly improbable things like meeting celebrities and adopting mini pigs, Let It Snow could be the movie for you.


The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Is the Choice Between Good or Evil Really a Choice?

The Netflix adaptation of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina opens with everyone’s favorite teenage witch facing a difficult choice: she can go through with her scheduled dark baptism on Halloween and become a full-fledged witch, never to interact meaningfully with mortals again, or she can reject the dark baptism in favor of living as a mortal herself.  (The specifics of whether she’d had any magical powers at all with this second choice are actually unclear.)  This is meant to be a gut-wrenching decision, a point where Sabrina must choose between the two worlds she’s been living in and claim only one, and it’s presented as psychologically shattering for her.  How can she give up her friends?  Or her family?  Or magic as she knows it?  Yet the rest of the show actually makes the choice look straightforward: Sabrina must choose between good and evil and…she simply is not evil.

Magic in the show is explicitly linked to the devil.  Witches sign their souls and their free will over to him in exchange for long lives and for magical power.  And there’s no secret twist here that the devil is actually secretly sympathetic or misunderstood.  He is evil and understood to be as such.  Hell is real, and it’s a place people want to avoid.  And if all this is true, one cannot help but wonder what Sabrina sees in life as a witch at all.

One might argue that witches who have been raised solely in the witch world would think all these things are normal and fine, but Sabrina was not, and she directly rejects nearly everything that the magical world seems to stand for and be interested in.  The show opens with Sabrina and her friends attending a horror movie, and boyfriend Harvey comments on how Sabrina loves all things gruesome and dark and gory, but the reality is she doesn’t, not when it’s not just for show. 

Her house is covered in spider webs, and she’s someone who thinks cemeteries are interesting instead of creepy, but she doesn’t actually like all the dark things that come out of the witch world.  She doesn’t approve of the harmful magic that the Weird Sisters perform on jocks who have been bullying girls at her high school.  She’s terrified when a creepy scarecrow comes to life and chases her.  She doesn’t like nightmares or demons or, really, anything else that actually is born from witches’ magic.

This makes the show fall flat for me.  When Sabrina so clearly rejects the way magic is used and the source of magic and when she gets upset about it all and screams that she is not evil, the viewer has to wonder how any of this can truly be a choice for her.  If your options are to sign your soul away to evil or to…not, how many people (especially really nice people like Sabrina!) would actually choose the first?

The show tries to skirt this by offering up the possibility that maybe Sabrina can have her cake and eat it, too.  Maybe she can find a way to be magical without signing away her soul.  This is still a tough sell, however, when the magic she and other people use never seems to actually be for good.  Her soul might be free in a technical sense, but if her powers are used for harming and scaring people, what’s the point of choosing to be a witch?

The show is interesting in many ways, but when the entire premise seems so flimsy, it’s hard to watch.  When you’re choosing between good and evil and you’re clearly a good character, there just isn’t a choice at all.


Movie Review: Tolkien (2019)


Director: Dome Karukoski
Writers: David Gleeson, Stephen Beresford
Release: 2019


As a student, Tolkien forms a close friendship with three other boys that will help sustain him through WWI.  Meanwhile, he is also courting fellow orphan Edith Bratt.

Star Divider


Potential spoilers follow.  (I don’t go into great detail on the film, but if you prefer to know absolutely nothing about what is depicted, read no farther.  I also “spoil” some of Tolkien’s actual biography, if you can do such a thing.)

Tolkien’s early years are so perfect for a movie, it seems a wonder no one made one before.  Along with some of his closest friends, he made a pact that they would try to change the world, try to make it better, through art.  Their love for each other and their belief in their combined powers helped sustain them through WWI.  At the same time, Tolkien was courting fellow orphan Edith Bratt, then suffering a three years’ separation by his guardian’s orders, then trying to woo her back after she became engaged to another man.  Do you want heartbreak?  Drama?  Romance?  Tolkien’s early life had it all.  And so it is truly marvelous that Tolkien the movie had little heart at all.

Tolkien is really just the sketch of a biography; the outline of Tolkien’s early life is there, but the details are almost all artistic license.  For some scenes, this makes sense.  We know, for instance, very little concrete about Tolkien’s courtship; personal letters of that sort are not included in the official Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien.  So Tolkien’s dating scenes are going to be almost entirely made up.  However, we do know a bit more about Tolkien’s close friendships, especially thanks to John Garth’s wonderful Tolkien and the Great War.  And yet the film deviates from what we know, creating scenes that may be entirely plausible (even the copious amounts of alcohol Tolkien and his friends imbibe), but that ultimately lack heart.

The main problem with the film is that I never really believed the friendships depicted on screen could change the world.  And there is no reason for this when we have the source material to make those friendships come alive.  When I read Tolkien and the Great War, I wept.  I wept when I read the letters Tolkien and his friends exchanged.  The film only takes one moment (that I caught) to quote from these letters.  And it was, for me, the most poignant moment of the film.   But the film largely glosses over the deep conversations that bound the T.C., B.S. together, instead showing them drinking and messing about.  Realistic behavior of boys?  Certainly?  A testimony to the lasting impact of this group on Tolkien and his career?  I didn’t see it.

The film also, for reasons I cannot comprehend, entirely glosses over the details of Tolkien’s service in WWI.  There is a lot of interesting material to work with here, from Tolkien’s late enlistment due to his desire to focus on school (and the contempt he hinted he received as a result) to his time a signal officer.  Yes, Tolkien spent most of his time recovering from trench fever–a fact that probably saved his life.  But I still do not understand the decision to depict the entirety of his WWI experience as feverishly stumbling about the trenches while hallucinating fantasy figures.  In this case, it seems to me that real life is actually far more interesting than art.

In addition to these criticisms, I cannot help but also note that I agree with the reviewers who were shocked to find practically no mention of religion in a biography of Tolkien.  Catholicism fundamentally shaped Tolkien’s life, his philosophy, and his writings.  Catholicism certainly would have influenced his idea of how to “change the world” and it also played a role in how he perceived his mother’s death–he believed she died, in part, from being cast out by her family after she converted.  Catholicism also played a role in his courtship as he wished Edith to convert before they married.  In short, Tolkien’s religion colored essentially every aspect of his life.  A biography that ignores this must always be a biography that fundamentally misunderstands and even misrepresents who Tolkien was.

I did not expect the film to be entirely historically accurate, but I did expect it to capture something of the spirit of Tolkien’s life.  To me, Tolkien is a nice period film about a boy growing up and falling in love, but it is a film that feels like it could be about practically any fictional character.   It lacks inspiration, never truly delving into what made Tolkien, Tolkien.

*If you are interested in reading more about Tolkien’s early life, I highly recommend John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War.  I can’t say enough how much I loved this book and how much it contributes to our understanding of Tolkien’s life and work.  It is truly a seminal work in Tolkien studies.  Go read it, everyone!

3 Stars

The Princess Switch (2018): Netflix Movie Review


When Stacy De Nova, a baker from Chicago, travels to Belgravia with her friend/employee Kevin to take part in the annual Belgravian baking competition, she discovers that she looks just like Duchess Margaret, who is set to marry the Belgravian prince.  Margaret wants to know what it feels like to be a “normal person” and suggests the two secretly switch places for a couple of days, but things get far more complicated that the two could have guessed.

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Cheesy Christmas movies are very popular, as the Hallmark Channel knows very well, so it’s no surprise that Netflix has jumped on board to make some of their own.  This season sees the release of a sequel to their original film A Christmas Prince, as well as Princess Switch, a movie that stars Vanessa Hudgens playing both a duchess from the imaginary Belgravia and a professional baker from Chicago who look like one another and trade places for a couple days.

For full cheesy fun, I have to rate The Princess Switch highly.  It combines a lot of elements viewers love in these types of films: royalty, baking, switching places, shenanigans ensuing when the protagonists fall in love with the “wrong” people. There’s also the charming imaginary kingdom that goes all-out for Christmas and an adorable child who stars alongside the adult characters. Netflix seems to figure that you might as well smash all this together and get the ultimate fun, feel-good film, and they’re not necessarily wrong.

In terms of actual plot there seems to be less at stake in The Princess Switch than there could be.  There are a couple hiccups, but I wouldn’t say there’s a highly dramatic climax.  On one hand, this means the film doesn’t necessarily have the strongest narrative arc and things might feel a bit flat to viewers.  On the other hand, if you’re in the book to just watch something fun and positive, this is a great choice. There are times in my life when I really just don’t want to watch terrible things happens to characters, so keeping things relatively upbeat can be a nice change.

Finally, I think rating this as a Christmas movie is a bit more difficult.  On one hand, I have to admit Christmas is woven in. It happens at Christmas. Belgravia has a fun Christmas village the characters keep visiting.  All the interior settings are decorated.  People talk about Christmas spirit.  Etc.  On the other hand, something about it really did just feel like background scenery to me, and I think the Christmas feeling could have been more strongly infused.

So, should you watch this?  If you like feel good Christmas movies of this type, this will be right up your alley.  If you’re looking for quality cinema, maybe not.  This is fun and fluffy, and I enjoyed it, but I don’t think anyone’s claiming it’s great art.