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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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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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Avengers 3

Frankly, I didn’t plan on seeing this movie in a theater: instead I read all the spoilers online. But in the end, and in need of undemanding entertainment, we went to see

er-avengers3Avengers: Infinity War

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
The next installment of the MCU, it’s like the first part of a two-parter season finale. Thanos is carrying out his stupid plan and all the heroes (except for Ant Man) have to cameo to stop him.

How I found it:
You couldn’t miss it if you tried.

Summary judgment:
I enjoyed it more than I’d ever expected to.

Best things about it:
It’s much less hysterical than I expected it to be. It spares us (mostly) the scenes in which all the heroes fight en masse with copy-paste alien enemies: in fact, most fight scenes have a limited number of participants.
Many people disliked the appearance of the Guardians but I appreciated how it lightened up the tone and kept it from becoming unbearable. In fact, theirs and Thor’s storylines are closest to what I come to the MCU for: humor, not grandiosity.

Worst things about it:
Obviously, that Wakanda part was exactly the kind of fighting I feared for this movie but at least it was only at the end.
What I found more irritating was the stupidity of Thanos’s plan and how not a single character remarked that it didn’t make any sense: instead they acted like it was a valid solution and only unacceptable because of the cost. The problem is not overpopulation! It’s distribution! Damn it, get it straight, Thanos.

Other pluses:
✤ Despite the required number of characters, they managed not to make the movie chaotic: everyone had an agenda and a job to do.
✤ If you know me somewhat, you also know that I will always take a TV show over any movie. And the MCU has truly embraced its status as the biggest, most expensive show, which I applaud.

Other minuses:
✤ It didn’t have a distinctive visual style like some recent MCU productions did. I missed that.
✤ The whole Order of Thanos or whatever his goonies were called consisted of indistinguishable characters. A waste.
✤ Since Wanda is one of my favorite characters I was a bit disappointed with her story. I found it predictable and she didn’t have much to do.

How it enriched my life:
I spent a pleasant afternoon in the theater, which I don’t do often, and I thoroughly enjoyed that.

Follow-up:
The second part of this movie that comes out next year and probably Captain Marvel before that because I really like Brie Larson (even though I only saw her in United States of Tara and not anything else that people know her from).

Recommended for:
All the fans of the MCU who want to know how the story develops.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Hide Me Among the Graves

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Rotten Tomatoes

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Song of the Sea

Some things are made of pure beauty.

er-songoftheseaSong of the Sea

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A traditionally animated tale of Irish folklore come to life. Ben’s mother dies, giving birth to his sister, Saoirse, who can’t speak even at the age of six. But magical things are happening around the girl: as if all the tales Ben’s mother used to tell him weren’t just tales.

How I found it:
I saw The Secret of Kells by the same creators and while I didn’t entirely love it, I admired it. So the trailer of Song of the Sea made me excited to watch it (and it usually takes me four years or so to watch a movie I’m excited about, apparently).

Summary judgment:
It’s a delightful work of art.

Best things about it:
Many things work great in this little jewel but my personal preference is for the art. You can just stare at those lovely painted backgrounds and the details of animation and forget about the story altogether.
It wouldn’t be a wise move, though, because the story enchants – even more, I think, on the human, personal level than on the purely mythical one. I loved the way Ben has to embrace Saoirse and get over his initial hurt.
The mythical part is solid, too.

Worst things about it:
I suppose I would’ve gained even more from the movie if I knew more about Irish folklore but that’s on me.

Other pluses:
✤ I liked the contrast between the more mythical countryside and seaside and the city with its different look.
✤ As often, I appreciate the lack of any actual villains. The antagonists work according to their own sense of justice and manage to change. The hero struggles against his own limitations instead.
✤ It bears repeating: the gorgeousness of the texture of the whole movie. How poetic it is and how much it proves that on the purely visual level traditional animation will always have an advantage over 3D. Feel free to disagree but know that you’ll be wrong.

Other minuses:
Maybe I wished a little bit for the mother to stay with them. I’m just sappy like that. It’s probably a right decision from the narrative point of view that she didn’t.

How it enriched my life:
I learned to pronounce Saoirse (came in useful around Lady Bird). I gathered bits and pieces of Irish folklore. I admired the visuals so much you can hardly admire anything more.

Fun fact:
The first few scenes of the movie is the first animation our son ever watched (we keep him away from screens because we want to bring up a wild child) and he loved Saoirse swimming with seals.
Also, it’s super hard to keep a two-year-old away from screens when all you do all day is stare at them. Our son has already learned typing in Notepad (sort of).

Follow-up:
I’m interested in anything else the creators come up with.

Recommended for:
People who can appreciate beauty and tenderness in any form.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Guilty Pleasures (it’s a title)

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Sex and the City (movie)

Once I finished the six seasons of Sex and the City proper, I figured I’d re-watch the first movie that followed in 2008 because I had a (wrong) impression that it completed the characters’ stories.

er-sexandthecitymovieSex and the City (the movie)

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A continuation of the show made in 2008 to the great excitement (and then disappointment) of fans, it tells the further story of the four friends but mostly of Carrie’s failed attempt at marrying Big. However, it mostly serves as a thinly-veiled vehicle for product placement.

How I found it:
I watched this movie soon after it came out and while I didn’t love it, I didn’t pay attention to how bad it actually was.

Summary judgment:
Wow. I don’t so much mind the flat story and the bad jokes but the world view I found downright offensive.

Best things about it:
The clothes have gotten so extravagant as to become a form of art and I like the visual part of the whole thing (except for Parker’s general look).

Worst things about it:
I guess to me the worst part, and the most surprising one, was the body shaming the women subject one another to. They criticize one another over weight-gain and body hair, not the kind of supportive friendship the show sold us on, and not the kind of message I’m comfortable with from a franchise masquarading as “feminist.”
On a more general level, the writing fails hard. Everything drags as if they needed to fill the space between advertisements (for Starbucks, for Mercedes-Benz, for all the fashion brands) and didn’t quite know how. Carrie’s marriage drama feels so contrived you just want to tell her to get a hold of herself: throughout the entire movie when we’re supposed to feel sorry for her I kept wanting to shake her because yes, the whole thing was her fault and didn’t merit all the hysterics.

Other pluses:
✤ Carrie’s potential apartment is pretty, I guess, and the library where her wedding doesn’t happen looks great, too.
✤ Charlotte’s mutts. Yes, scraping the bottom here.

Other minuses:
✤ I always found it surprising how Miranda is one-sidedly villified over her anger with Steve, who cheated on her. I feel she has every right to be angry and the film never acknowledges that. In what world is Big’s transgression worse?
✤ Ugh, the terrible jokes. It’s like somebody belatedly remembered the “comedy” part in the romantic comedy and added the funniest thing of all, diarrhea.
✤ Yes, Samantha’s sex object of a neighbor looks good but this kind of reversed-male gaze (I’m not sure if it’s called female gaze in a case like this, when it’s objectifying a man) made me really uncomfortable.

How it enriched my life:
It didn’t. The whole thing should’ve ended with the show. This is such a clear, unneccessary money grab.

Fun fact:
Apparently even Cynthia Nixon doesn’t like the “happy ending” of the movie? It’s an internet fact though so don’t hold me to it.

Follow-up:
I’m never watching it again. Also, guys, I did see the second movie back when it came out but it was so abysmal that even this movie seems okay by comparison so I’m not re-watching or reviewing it.

Recommended for:
Completionist fans of the show who don’t mind having their good opinion sullied. Also, people who don’t know the show but like really empty, mediocre romantic comedies without much humor or romance.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: The Dud Avocado

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Strictly Ballroom

I did some bed rest recently and so I watched more movies than I normally do, which includes some I wouldn’t normally watch at all.

er-strictlyballroomStrictly Ballroom

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
Hah, bear with me: it’s an early (1992) Baz Luhrmann movie that he created back in Australia. It tells a story of a truly grotesque ballroom studio whose best dancer has a shot at some big prize or another, except he insists on making his own moves and almost risks complete failure. Luckily, an ugly duckling wants to dance with him and will free his inner (Spanish?) fire.

How I found it:
It was mentioned in a podcast and I honestly don’t know why it made me think I might enjoy it, except for the traditional rom-com setup maybe, which sounded pleasant enough. Also I really was watching too many movies at the time.

Summary judgment:
Dear heavens, this was terrible.

Best things about it:
I guess the music. It was inoffensive.

Worst things about it:
This is such a trite movie with all the obvious checkpoints but it insist on presenting them in this repulsive stylization. Everything and everyone looks grotesque (except for the Spanish family, maybe) and you have a feeling that the creators don’t like anyone and enjoy making them look pitiful. Nothing about the writing struck me as original or surprising, except the Monty Pythonesque moments (e.g. when one of the dancers breaks her legs or something?), which didn’t fit in with the rest of the tone. Mostly, it lacked basic human sympathy for its characters (again, except the Spanish family, I guess).

Other pluses:
✤ The only moment I didn’t hate and where the over-the-top stylization somehow worked for me was the retrospection with the father’s story. Apparently they only did it as such for the lack of budget.
✤ For all its (numerous) faults it watches easily enough, it only leaves you with a sense of wonder why you watched it at all.

Other minuses:
✤ I don’t think at all that everyone must agree with my opinion on stuff but the universally positive response to this film puzzles me. You’d think it was the greatest thing since sliced bread, reading the reviews.
✤ I hate the way Fran is presented as ugly and clumsy and the teen-movie way she is then transformed. Sure, when she changes her clothes, her skin gets better. On a deeper note, I also hate how she is destined to be this magic outsider savior for the very underwhelming protagonist while her story is never really explored to a satisfactory extent.
✤ Those children acting as a Greek choir really irritated me. You didn’t need them to understand this extremely complicated plot.
✤ The satire seems too strong for its target. Politicians barely deserve this level of ridicule, let alone people who sacrifice their lives to the relatively harmless occupation of ballroom dancing.

How it enriched my life:
It actually had a big impact on me: I’ve decided I can’t take any more movies, good or bad, and it’s time to move on to other entertainments. I’ve read a ton of X-Men comics since then, too.

Fun fact:
I guess the best comment about this experience came from my husband, who walked in on me watching this movie and when I explained it was an early Luhrmann and I hated it, he asked what exactly I’d expected. “Did you think he started great and then slid from there?” I guess I was hoping he sold out?

Follow-up:
Nope. Never.

Recommended for:
Baz Luhrmann’s fans. People who like different stuff than I do.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: Sex and the City

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Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Whiplash

I’ve finally watched a movie I’ve been meaning to watch for a while and it didn’t disappoint.

er-whiplashWhiplash

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
Damien Chazelle (who must be a jazz fanatic) wrote and directed this 2014 movie about a music student, played convincingly by Miles Teller, who gets a chance at the top distinction in his school: joining a demanding band that can jumpstart his career. The only problem is that the instructor (J.K. Simmons, great as usually) will stop at nothing to push his players. Also, so much drumming.

How I found it:
A few years ago I saw the trailer and I immediately loved it for a couple of reasons. I meant to watch it but, of course, didn’t and I’ve only caught up now.

Summary judgment:
I liked everything about this movie, on this very cerebral, admiring level.

Best things about it:
It’s smart but never boring; it cranks up the drama but at the same time the stakes remain debatable: not everyone would give up their life and dignity for a spot on a band (which only makes it more fascinating).
My favorite part of the whole story is the relationship between the two antagonists: how they destroy and save each other at the same time because they remain two sides of the same obsessively ambitious coin. This might be the best written protagonist-antagonist relation I’ve seen in a long time.

Worst things about it:
Honestly, the only thing that comes to mind is I slightly wish for more female presence in the story (even if just as some other musicians in the band). But I don’t have many complaints. They even made jazz exciting.

Other pluses:
✤ I like how this story belongs very much to Andrew. It’s his obsession with excellence and achievement that makes him a perfect victim but also he never really feels like a victim. Small things you notice in the plot combine to build the character, e.g. at first it’s surprising to see no relations between him and the other students but slowly it all begins to add up. In a way, the less we like Andrew as a person, the more he becomes a worthy adversary for his teacher.
✤ I was genuinely surprised at the final part, after everything that happens in the school.

Other minuses:
I was maybe a little tired of the relative ugliness of Andrew’s surrounding, which comes from filming them so realistically but that’s my personal bias for pretty interiors.

How it enriched my life:
It made me think and admire the storytellers. It also made me appreciate the art of drumming.

Fun fact:
I always had an appreciation for drumming, as a matter of fact. Actually, I used to fantasize that if I were to be in a rock band, I would definitely be the drummer (mostly because I’m completely tone-deaf and the rhythm is all I could manage; except I couldn’t, probably, especially once I’ve seen this film and realize how hard it is). I even wanted to take drumming lessons for a while but I never wanted it hard enough to follow through.

Follow-up:
So apparently the creator, Damien Chazelle, wrote La La Land? And I admit I’ve watched it since but it’s not worth a write-up.

Recommended for:
People who admire a psychological drama of abuse and revenge. People who wanted to be professional musicians and need reasons why it’s not that great.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Jane

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