Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Love, Simon

Who said romantic comedies have to be about straight people?

er-lovesimonLove, Simon

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A warm romantic slash family story about Simon, whose life seems perfect but who has a secret (he’s gay, obvsly).

How I found it:
I was aware of this movie because it had so much hype (and was also promoted on Riverdale) and I planned to watch it sometime though it didn’t seem particularly urgent.

Summary judgment:
I was surprised by how much I liked it.

Best things about it:
It’s such a warm, heartfelt movie. It shows that feel-good stories can also talk about gay teenagers and the theme doesn’t need to mean a caricature or a tragedy. I loved Nick Robinson as Simon: he was remarkably human and managed to make me believe both in his dilemmas and in his relationships with other people.

Worst things about it:
After 13 Reasons I really couldn’t with Katherine Langford. It’s not her fault but I cringed every time she appeared onscreen. This is so minor though.

Other pluses:
✤ I liked the sometimes-a-villain Martin and how he wasn’t entirely one-dimensional.
✤ The identity of Blue wasn’t obvious (nor, arguably, the most important thing in the story), which I found refreshing (particularly after the “mysteries” of Wonder Woman).
✤ Simon’s town looks delightful. Where is it? I should move there.

Other minuses:
✤ An argument can be made about the privilege of the story, which pushes it into the realm of unrealistic. And I hear this argument and see its validity. But, on the other hand, I’m glad that the movie means diversification in the field of a romantic fairy tale. Who said we can only watch unrealistic fantasies for women dreaming of a Mr. Darcy?
✤ Not a fan of Jennifer Garner. I’ve got nothing specific against her performance here, I just don’t particularly like her. The father was great though.

How it enriched my life:
I thoroughly enjoyed it and watched it with my husband who, perhaps a bit surprisingly for romantic comedies are so not his thing, enjoyed it too.

Follow-up:
The next teen rom-com, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, sometime.

Recommended for:
People who like romantic comedies, teen dramas and family dramas which look good and make you feel warm’n’fuzzy.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Younger, yet again

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Bookworming, Randomosity

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Fun Home

I’m catching up on some comics I managed not to read so far, like

er-funhomeFun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Category: Comics

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
Alison Bechdel (yes, of the Bechdel Test) tells an autobiographical story of growing up with her distant, closeted father and of his suicide. She also describes how she discovered her own homosexuality.

How I found it:
Very deliberately: I went through an NPR list of best comics to find something interesting I hadn’t known and came up with a really long list of stuff to read.

Summary judgment:
It’s a worthy addition to any list of good comics.

Best things about it:
This is one of those graphic novels that prove the medium goes beyond silly pictures and is a true literary genre (if anyone still needs a proof in this day, I mean). It tells a complete, sombre, unflashy story, using the medium to its fullest capability, creating a collage of words, drawings, quotes and childhood memorabilia.
The honesty of the narrative (or its pretense, but it amounts to the same thing here) makes the story memorable and moving. I feel that the value of each autobiography will always be measured by how much other people can find of their own stories in the author’s one. I’m sure this one resonated with many people and even I, who had mostly very different experience of growing up, found things that felt so close to my childhood.

Worst things about it:
Honestly, I don’t think there’s something I would consider “worst.” I certainly missed some perspective on how the father’s transgressions affected Bechdel’s brothers but then I understand she respected their privacy, keeping them in the background of the narrative.

Other pluses:
✤ I like Bechdel’s art, even when it doesn’t leave me stunned with awe. Its directness and simplicity serves the story well and remains clear. The watercolory shading adds a nostalgic feel to the narrative.
✤ I also liked the use of literary classics as leitmotifs for each chapter, including the scholarly analysis. I enjoy when books are treated seriously.

Other minuses:
People talk about the humor of the story. Personally I didn’t find it particularly funny – but I didn’t really need the humor either.

How it enriched my life:
Like many things it made me want to draw more.

Fun (?) fact:
So there were two things I felt particularly close to in Bechdel’s story: one was her various obsessive behaviors as a kid, which I did have too, to a much milder extent. Another fact was her last serious talk with her father, not long before he died. It so happened that not too long before my father’s death I also had a serious, personal talk with him about his life choices and life story, unlike any we had before, and I’m forever grateful that we managed to do that.

Follow-up:
I might check out Dykes to Look Out for, Bechdel’s most famous comic, though it’s not necessarily my favorite genre. Also, this NPR list is still full of things I’m going to read.

Recommended for:
People who like slice of life stories and coming-out stories.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Love, Simon

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Wonder Woman

Here’s another movie I’m watching a bit after the raving has finished.

er-wonderwomanWonder Woman

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
DC’s attempt (somewhat successful, even if not from my point of view) at catching up to MCU. It shows the origin of Diana, aka Wonder Woman, a lasso-wielding, short-dressed Amazon who comes to regular, non-mythic Earth to help solve WW1.

How I found it:
For a while it was all the rage, remember?

Summary judgment:
I expected to dislike this film but for different reasons (or fewer reasons) than I eventually did.

Best things about it:
We watched it during a long train ride and it lasted about 6 hours like the ride itself so we had something to occupy the time without feeling like we’re wasting a good movie on that.

Worst things about it:
I don’t like war movies and that’s why it took me a while to watch this one, even though everyone was raving about the feminism of this film, which should’ve been enough to pick my interest. Well, the war part wasn’t the worst part. In fact, what I disliked most was the predictability of the plot, as if the script was written by a complete beginner. I knew the “twist” from the first line the actual Ares spoke (if it sounds like bragging, you have no idea how transparent that “twist” is) and the “mystery” of Diana’s origin is equally easy to figure out from a thing she says super early on. Additionally, the movie bored the hell out of me: once she gets to the front line there’s absolutely no reason to keep watching.

Other pluses:
✤ Kid Diana was adorable.
✤ Diana’s arrival to London and her meeting with the new team were the least awful parts of the movie – which the producers fully knew because they filled most of the trailer with these scenes.

Other minuses:
✤ Where’s the feminism? I’m glad they let a woman direct a superhero movie but that’s not enough. There was nothing in this story that wouldn’t work with Captain America in Diana’s place: he would also opt to save the village and feel sorry for the children and probably even didn’t like the way people treated women.
✤ I’m sure Gadot is a lovely person and what not but I found nothing charismatic or convincing about her performance. She still mostly functioned as eye candy and the creators of the movie didn’t make any interesting choices about her character (like at least updating her costume). What’s revolutionary about her ability to kick ass? Literally every other well-known female superhero can do that.
✤ A mandatory action scene complaint: this time I hated how prolonged and full of pathos they were. Seriously, with the slow motion. Apparently it’s something characteristic of DC? I don’t like it.
✤ I wish they came up with a more interesting visual language for the mythical island. Look at what Black Panther did: they also didn’t have a very interesting story to tell (they didn’t) but the visual style with which they told it! Wonder Woman just has a lot of obvious choices and wasted potential.

How it enriched my life:
It helped us pass a train ride. And it re-convinced me I’ve got nothing to look for in the DC movie universe.

Follow-up:
For now I’m not interested in anything else from this franchise but I’ll probably be misled again in the future.

Recommended for:
Personally, I don’t know, but judging by the enthusiastic reviews this movie got, I’m sure there are many people who enjoyed and will enjoy this. Good for them.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: Fun Home

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Tropic of Cancer

Every now and then I will give my reading habits a self-educational slant and read a classic I managed to miss in school. I rarely review them because, really, what can I add to the discussion of Madame Bovary, but this time I have a few things to say.

er-tropicofcancerTropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
An American classic, for a while considered too pornographic to be allowed in the USA, Miller describes the adventures of a Henry Miller in Paris in late 1920s. He lives as a bum, with no money and no prospects, sort of working on a book and expertly leeching off people he meets, sleeping with every prostitute he can find.

How I found it:
The first time I heard of Henry Miller was in high school, from my high school teacher who said he was her favorite writer. I mixed him up with Henry James and said I’d read him and found him boring, which really surprised her. Then I did start Miller but did indeed find him boring and only returned to him now as a sort of project to fill some of the gaps in my literary education.

Summary judgment:
I had this category for required reading that I finished because I was a good student but had to make myself finish: a feat of endurance. This wasn’t quite so hard to get through but really didn’t do much for me.

Best things about it:
Miller has a good sense of place. The Paris of his book is not the Paris I know and love (which is a very touristy, very postcardy one) but it lives and his description of the other places he visits are even more lively.

Worst things about it:
In general, I didn’t find particularly good reasons to immerse myself in this unpleasant, (literally) lousy world that Miller creates – other than a (misplaced?) intellectual ambition.
But if I were to choose one thing that was the worst, I would say the philosophizing, which would always turn into indecipherable, “poetic” drivel with nihilistic undertones. Oh, and sometimes when you felt it couldn’t get any muddier he would start describing a dream, which is generally the most useless writerly activity in the world.

Other pluses:
Sometimes when Miller focuses more on the people his character meets than on his insufferable inner monolog, the book flows better and reads faster. Some characters he describes remain fairly memorable, even though that’s usually because of how callously he writes about them.

Other minuses:
✤ It’s been discussed many times and there’s no disputing the fact: Miller’s depiction of women is offensive and heartless (and it doesn’t help much that his depiction of men has little heart as well). It was bad to begin with but it has grown old even worse.
✤ When you’re no longer 13 and sex scenes are not something exciting because you read them on the sly in your parents’ books, you appreciate how boring most sex descriptions are. So when their presence is the main thing that made the book famous, the book doesn’t stand the test of time too well.

How it enriched my life:
I can tick off one more book from the list of unread classics and now I can dislike Miller in an informed way.

Fun fact:
The book was banned as pornography in the USA and Great Britain and only became legally available in the 1960s. You can see why, of course, but the decades that passed since have really made us less sensitive to this kind of thing.

Cover notes:
A classic shot of a naked lady is a safe choice that’s hard to dispute and I could get behind the framed typography, especially that it makes for a recognizable series. But the last frame, with the Cancer, has no outline and rounded corners and this I just can’t approve of because it shows the designer’s helplessness.

Follow-up:
I’m quite happy never to take up another Miller again.

Recommended for:
This book should only be read by two kinds of people: American lit professors who need to know the classics and pretentious teenagers who still think descriptions of sex make a book some kind of revolutionary.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: Wonder Woman

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Nashville

Another show I watched regularly ended quite recently so let me share with you a few reflections on the whole of

er-nashvilleNashville (S1–6)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A TV show about the country music industry in Nashville, focusing, at least at first, on two divas: Rayna James played by Connie Britton and Juliette Barnes played by Hayden Panettiere. The show had six seasons, two of which happened on another TV station after the first one cancelled it, and most of the initial premise didn’t last past season one but it also sometimes dealt with local politics and a lot of family drama and always provided a lot of sudsy entertainment, even at its worst.

How I found it:
Six years ago when the show debuted I was quite up to date on all the new TV happening (not so much since) so I was immediately interested in it from the preview. And the first season really grabbed my interest.

Summary judgment:
It never lived up to the initial promise but I still enjoyed the bumpy ride.

Best things about it:
Season one and what the show tried to do then promised a quality story about an interesting corner of the world and it did deliver a part of it. I didn’t care so much about the diva rivalry and I didn’t mind when they dropped it but, unfortunately, together they also gave up on more mature aspects of the original story and replaced them with a whole bunch of random guest stars and increasingly ridiculous plotlines.

Worst things about it:
As hinted above, the fact that the show didn’t manage to remain what it set out to be, instead becoming a true soap opera with many caricatures instead of characters and many ridiculously contrived stories. It gradually gave up on treating Nashville as an interesting place worth showing, replacing the local color with generic settings. And after season one the music got worse, too.

Other pluses:
✤ Still, some of the music was pretty good. True, most of it veered toward bland pop (which I think is true of most popular country today?) but every now and then they offered a song that stood out, particularly those sang by the marvelous (and fan-hated, for some reason) Clare Bowen.
✤ Clare Bowen deserves a separate bullet point because while her character, Scarlett, rarely got a worthy storyline and was mostly manipulated into boring would-be romances, she always managed to deliver a heartfelt performance and she sings beautifully.
✤ Special mention to other actors I enjoyed on the show: Charles Esten, Jonathan Jackson, Aubrey Peeples and Oliver Hudson (another hated couple) and, unsurprisingly, Connie Britton. Also, the Stella sisters, sometimes. In general, many of the actors and the relations they build between the characters lift the show above a soap, even when writing doesn’t, and make the stories more human and believable.

Other minuses:
✤ From season three the shows gets a bit boring. In fact, when I was trying to rewatch all of it, I only got so far as the beginning of season three and gave up. I did enjoy revisiting the first one, though.
✤ Most of the later storylines are so random, centering on new characters that’s just been dropped on us and giving them up later without proper resolution. It often feels like the creators weren’t sure what they wanted to do with the characters in the long run.
✤ I know she was a fan-favorite but I almost never liked Juliette or missed her when she disappeared from the show for episodes at a time. There’s just something about Hayden Panettiere in this role that grates on my nerves.

How it enriched my life:
While it was never the most exciting watch of the week for me, it almost always delivered an hour of pleasure. And even though the show grew weaker and weaker as the seasons went by, I was still sorry to see it go.

Fun fact:
I’m not saying I did buy I’m not saying I didn’t listen to some of the soundtrack albums, particularly for the first two seasons.

Follow-up:
Ah, I wish there was one but so far I have found nothing to fill this hole in my heart that is reserved for a show about mostly acoustic music and the drama it causes among those who sacrifice their life to it. Granted, it’s a very specific hole.

Recommended for:
People looking for a slightly better soap for whom its saturation with country music is a good thing not a deterrent.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Tropic of Cancer

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Age of Wonder

I don’t read non-fiction as often as I perhaps should because I always miss fiction when I do that. But non-fiction, and particularly history of something else than wars and battles, always gives me this pleasant feeling of accomplishment.

er-ageofwonderThe Age of Wonder: The Romantic Generation and the Discovery of the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
A history of British science in the time of Romanticism, focusing on the biographies and achievements of several great scientists, like William Herschel, Humphry Davy and Joseph Banks. It aims to find connections between Romantic science and Romantic art (mainly poetry).

How I found it:
It was among a batch of historical books I’ve once marked for future reading. But I read non-fiction rarely and it took me a while to get to it.

Summary judgment:
It is more interesting that it has any business being.

Best things about it:
It reads almost like a novel, focusing on anecdotal details from the lives of the greats of British science, making them human and memorable. I didn’t know about any of them too well and now the facts are vivid in my memory.

Worst things about it:
I feel like the book doesn’t offer a clear enough thesis about the relationship between Romantic thought and its practical applications. The attempts to relate them mostly get limited to quotes from poetry without a more theoretical, maybe even more spiritual analysis of the contemporary ideas and when they do get mentioned (like Vitalism), they are not particularly well explained.

Other pluses:
I appreciate the effort put into emphasizing the role of women who participated in the discoveries, or at least William Herschel’s sister, Caroline. It feels like the author felt a particular mission to re-establish her well-earned position.

Other minuses:
Despite its length the book didn’t bore me, but I feel it could be shortened and thus become even livelier.

How it enriched my life:
I actually learned a lot about people I only knew vaguely or not at all and gained a clearer idea about various early-19th century scientific discoveries.

Cover notes:
I will always appreciate a cover which uses an old engraving, especially with such a whimsical, subtle use of color. This one conveys well the mix of playfulness and academic seriousness, which Holmes manages to create.

Follow-up:
It gave me a desire to read more non-fiction about explorers because I found those the most exciting chapters in the entire book (and explorers never interested me much before).

Recommended for:
Science and history buffs who appreciate lively writing.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Nashville farewell

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Sounds of Music

Songbook: Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole

It’s been a while since I did one of those posts but I recently heard this song again and it reminded me of its greatness. I first heard Martha Wainwright covering Cohen songs (great covers!) and I fell in love with her voice and interpretation but I never got that into most of her own songs – with the exception of this one.

“Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole” by Martha Wainwright

Album: Martha Wainwright

Year: 2005

Category: Recent-years favorite

Why it rocks:
It uses profanity smartly to draw attention to this little, true-to-life power manifesto and her voice does it so much justice. I can’t imagine anyone, particularly a woman, who wouldn’t find bits in this song to nod vigorously to.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
The beginning is particularly strong: “Poetry is no place for a heart that’s a whore” and these next lines “And I’m young and I’m strong / but I feel old & tired / overfired” come to my mind all too regularly.

Favorite moment:
I think the part about men in a bar is particularly significant. And I generally like all the moments when her voice seems to break.

Best for: Female empowerment

Listen here.

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