The Netflix Queue: Voltron: Legendary Defender

Voltron: Legendary Defender I never really watched the original ’80s Voltron, being as that it first aired the year I was born. So I didn’t even realize that Netflix was doing a reboot until my roommate—who did watch the original cartoon—told me about it and said, “Hey, I think you’d really like this.”

Being as that I love both science fiction and giant robots, I was more than happy to give it a watch.

Spoiler alert: Roommate was right. I ended up absolutely adoring the show.

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Movie Review: Assassin’s Creed

Assassin's Creed posterIt’s probably a surprise to no one that Assassin’s Creed (based on a very good series of games) was…well, “meh” is really the best word for it. It had some great action and some very nice visuals, but that’s about the best that can be said for it.

It’s a bit of a shame, because the cast—Marion Cotillard, Michael Fassbender, Charlotte Rampling, Jeremy Irons, and Brendan Gleeson, to name a few—is a very solid one, and you’d expect them to be able to give their characters a bit more depth. But, sadly, there’s nothing really there to work with, so while they do a fair job with what they’ve been given, the end result is still flat.

The plot was interesting, to be sure. It’s set in the same world of the video games: there are two factions, the Knights Templar and the Assassins, and each is trying to prevent the other from finding a particular artifact called the Apple that holds the key to free will (yes, really). There is a massive corporation called Abstergo that has developed a piece of technology called the Animus, which allows them to put a person into it and have them relive the lives of their ancestors through genetic memory.

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Movie Review: Rogue One

rogue-one-posterFirst things first: If you go into Rogue One expecting something just like the episodes, you will probably be disappointed. Rogue One is not like the episodes. It’s definitely a darker, more adult film (not really with regards to violence, which is about the same as the other movies, but with regards to themes).

It is, however, a fantastic movie and I loved it.

I knew going in that it was going to be about a group of rebels conspiring to steal the Death Star plans. What I didn’t expect was how far they would have to go and how far they were willing to go to do it. Rogue One has more about how the Rebellion actually functioned in its operation than what we’ve seen previously, and shows how fractured the Rebellion itself actually was.

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Movie Review: Hidden Figures

hiddenfiguresposter If you were wondering how they would possibly make a movie about math interesting, let me tell you: when people’s lives hinge on getting the math exactly right, then you will also be on the edge of your seat, hoping the problem gets solved in time.

That’s basically the big crux of Hidden Figures: finding the correct equations that will allow NASA to compute the precise trajectory to get a man into space and bring him back again without setting the pod on fire or sending it careening off back into space.

But the math is just the plot. The story itself is about the unsung heroes of NASA, the black women who did the calculations that made the flights possible in the first place. These “colored computers,” as they were called, were some of the most brilliant mathematicians at NASA. Hidden Figures focuses on three in particular: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson.

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The Netflix Queue: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

It’s not really a secret that I love historical romances and historical stories; they’re pretty much always a fascinating glimpse into a different time. I also enjoy mysteries. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, an Australian TV series based on a book series by Kerry Greenwood, is so far up my alley it’s not even funny.

Miss Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis)

Miss Phryne Fisher

Set in Melbourne, Australia in the late 1920s, Phryne Fisher is returning to her home city after years abroad. She’s got an ulterior motive for coming back, though: she’s looking to solve her sister’s disappearance from years before. But in the meantime, she decides to become a private detective, and her path regularly crosses with the uptight Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, much to his chagrin and her delight.

Phryne collects an assortment of people as part of her household in a variety of ways. There’s Dorothy, her companion, a lady’s maid who loses her job and is accused of committing a murder and comes to Phryne for help. There’s Bert and Cec (short for Cecil), two cabbies who end up helping Phryne with some of her field work by going where she can’t. Mr. Butler is, as his name suggests, the butler, and he runs a very tight household and is perfectly willing to roll with Phryne’s eccentricities. Jane is an orphan and Phryne’s ward, and though Phyrne isn’t particularly maternal, she cares about Jane very much.

I don’t think words can adequately express how much I love Phryne. She’s a “modern woman,” which means she’s unmarried, has loads of sex with any number of willing men, and uses birth control. She was with an ambulance service during World War I and spent several years after in Europe. She loves to drive (and drive fast). She’s multilingual, intelligent, observant, and an excellent actress, all of which are great assets when she decides to start her detective work. Phryne suffers no fools, but she’s also kind and generous to those who need her help. She’s an utter delight to watch on-screen.

Phryne and Jack and a boatload of UST

Phryne and Jack and a boatload of UST

Phryne also has LOADS of sexual tension with Jack, who dislikes her at first, but quickly comes around when he realizes how truly helpful she is. Once Jack and Phryne start working together with regularity, the show really takes off, because they balance each other so well and their verbal sparring is so much fun to watch.

It’s also interesting to see how Phryne and Jack are balanced by the secondary couple, Dorothy Williams (Phryne’s companion) and Hugh Collins (Jack’s right-hand man and constable).

Dorothy is a devout Catholic who isn’t nearly as liberal as Phryne, but what I love is that she doesn’t try to change Phryne and Phryne doesn’t try to change her. Dorothy does change because of her association with Phryne, but it’s her own choice to do so. Dorothy finds out she really enjoys working with Phryne to solve crimes, something she never expected, and she really blossoms in her role.

Constable Hugh Collins and Dorothy Williams.

Constable Hugh Collins and Dorothy Williams.

Dorothy and Hugh also have the sweetest relationship. Watching them shyly court each other is an absolute delight.

One of the other points I appreciated was how Phryne was treated as a more modern and forward-thinking woman in an era when women were still in fairly restricted roles. She has the funds and the privilege to be able to live the way that she wants, for the most part, but still faces a lot of pushback from others around her. It’s interesting to see how she defies expectations, faces the issues head-on, or slides her way around them.

The show also has wonderful visual designs. The costume and set designers deserve some awards for how well they bring the world to life and how spot-on their costumes are for the characters. Phryne’s hats alone deserve a post all to themselves. It’s such a rich world, it’s easy to get sucked into, and the jazz music all helps to perfectly set the tone.

Jack and Phryne.

Jack and Phryne.

Overall the series plot is handled really well. Each episode is based around a single murder, with an overarching plot that goes through the entire season, which (as you may recall) is my preferred format for television shows. You can pick up and watch any of the episodes in just about any order without getting too lost, which makes it easy to get into when you don’t have time to binge-watch the whole thing.

The first two seasons are my favorite, both with the plots and the way they handle the characters. The third is still very enjoyable, but it stumbles a bit in a few ways (how it handles Hugh’s character in particular), and being a few episodes shorter than the other seasons doesn’t help.

Despite that, the series ends on a high note, and personally I was very satisfied (though I would obviously be so very here for it if they ever decided to do a fourth season). Some people felt the ending was a bit cliffhanger-ish; personally, I liked it and felt that we did get a resolution that had been a very, very long time in coming.

This series is amazing, and I’ve watched the whole thing twice through on Netflix already (and I’ll probably do it a third time, if not more). If you like mysteries, snappy dialogue, and wonderful characters, then you really, really should give this show a watch.

As of this post, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is still available for streaming on Netflix.

The Netflix Queue: The Great British Baking Show

The Great British Baking Show - PBSOkay, yes, I know it’s weird for me to be writing about a reality show, of all things, but bear with me for a minute. The Great British Baking Show (actually The Great British Bake-Off, but trademark stuff) is one of the best reality shows I’ve ever seen.

I came across it while poking around Netflix looking for something to watch, and I had heard other people talk about how good it was. And I like baking, so I turned it on and gave it a go.

The Great British Baking Show is about finding the best amateur baker in Britain. Twelve contestants are selected, and each weekend, they head to the baking tent for three different challenges: a signature bake, a technical challenge, and then a showstopper challenge. One person is awarded Star Baker each week, and one person is eliminated. Three bakers remain for the final challenge, where one person is crowned the winner.

It’s the kindest, most uplifting reality show I’ve ever watched, and it’s all topped off by acres and acres of delicious-looking food.

The hosts are silly and light-hearted, and their banter never feels forced or painful. The judges are effusive with praise when they like the food, and honest but not cruel when there are things that need work. The contestants are all supportive of each other, offering hugs and words of encouragement after they receive criticism and excitement after praise. There is so much hugging in this show, it’s glorious.

And the baking. I mean. The baking. Each episode revolves around a theme–cakes, biscuits, pastries, bread, etc.–and all the bakes have to do with that.

The signature bake is the first one in each episode, and it’s one that the contestants know about and can practice at home. It’s so cool to see them take the assignment–for example, a Swiss roll or a savory biscuit–and make it their own. Each person has their own tricks for getting their bakes to do what they want, and it’s really interesting to watch.

The second challenge, the technical challenge, is a complete surprise. The contestants are given a list of ingredients and the recipe, but there are key components missing, like a baking temperature or a baking time or what size you should chop the fruit. It’s up to the bakers to use their baking knowledge to bring the recipe together, even if it’s something they’ve never heard of before. Then, all the bakes are placed on a table and the judges taste them, then rank them from the least successful to the most successful.

In case you couldn’t tell, this is probably my favorite part of each episode. I love seeing how the bakers interpret the recipes differently, how some of them are familiar enough with the bake to make good guesses and how others are flying completely blind. Sometimes they wing it and it turns out beautifully, other times, not so much.

(In a side note, all the recipes for the technical challenges from the sole season on Netflix are available on the PBS website. I’m tempted to give them all a go.)

The final piece of each episode, the showstopper, is another challenge that the bakers can develop at home before they have to reproduce it at the tent. By the name of it, it’s clear this bake has to be as visually striking as it is tasty, and it’s really great to see how the bakers pull out all the stops for it.

It’s just a fun show, and it’s amazing to see the sheer variety of food the bakers have to tackle. In addition to expected foods like cookies and bread and tarts, there are puddings and samosas and entremets. In one episode, they make baklava, and they have to make their own filo dough to do it.

There’s only one season available on Netflix currently, and at this point I’ve watched the whole thing three times. It’s just such a sweet, fun, fluffy show–and I use “fluffy” in many senses of the word–that it makes me feel better just knowing it’s out there. If you like baking (or at least, like watching people bake), then you should definitely check it out.