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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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Landline

I will often watch a smaller dramedy with a bit of an indie whiff, enticed by a trailer and a premise. I will most often also end up disappointed.

er-landlineLandline

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A 2017 dramedy about a family in some crisis (a cheating crisis). It takes place in 1995 and Jenny Slate stars, which was all I needed to know to watch it.

How I found it:
The classic way: an IMDb trailer.

Summary judgment:
It’s painless (which I’m not sure it was supposed to be).

Best things about it:
As expected, Jenny Slate. I fell in love with her as Mona Lisa on Parks and Recreation and I watched her in Obvious Child (which I’m still not sure what I think of). She’s irresistibly likable, no matter what a silly or even repulsive role she plays, with impeccable comedic timing. But I liked most of the other actors, with a particular shout-out to Edie Falco as the mother, who does very little but keeps it human and likable.

Worst things about it:
It feels like a very lightweight story. Sometimes I felt unsure why I was watching it (which, admittedly, is my frequent reaction to indie comedies).

Other pluses:
✤ I liked the music, particularly the Angel Olsen song. It would be my instinct to choose around-1995 songs but – side fact – not long ago I had to create a 1997-themed playlist and most of that music really sucked. So I get it.
✤ As always, I’m a sucker for depictions of family love.

Other minuses:
✤ I’m not sure why the movie is taking place in 1995 at all. That might be some local color I don’t get but nothing (except for the landline phones) marks it as a particularly 1990s movie and it would work among a more hipsterish family.
✤ I didn’t connect with Ali. Her rambling rebellion irritated me.

How it enriched my life:
I enjoyed it well enough. That’s about it.

Fun fact:
I completely didn’t recognize Jay Duplass as Ben. Weird, after all the Mindy Project episodes I saw him in. I didn’t even have that I’m-sure-I-know-this-actor-from-somewhere feeling.

Follow-up:
I’ll be there for Jenny Slate.

Recommended for:
People who like low-key, slice-of-life family stories, especially involving a strong sisterly bond and some wacky moments.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Three Princes

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Bulk Review: Teen Superheroes, Moody Actresses and Mars

I’m failing to properly review all the movies I’m watching (plus, I’m not watching some of them very closely) so I decided to put a bunch of much shortened reviews together for some of the films I watched within the last few months.

Sky High

Year: 2005

What it is
A superhero movie before they tried to be for adults, it’s not embarrassed to be colorful, include bad jokes and smell of Disney when everyone associated it with Mickey Mouse.

Memorable parts
This is such a campy movie, from the costumes to Kurt Russell’s performance.

Why watch it?
You can watch it with your children and everyone will find something about it to enjoy. If you watch without kids,  you might want to play a drinking game in which you drink every time you guess ahead what is going to happen – but that might kill you.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

All About Eve

Year: 1950

What it is
Bette Davis plays an aging theater star, Margo, who allows herself to be seduced by the admiration of a young superfan, Eve. But then Eve shows her more sinister face and it will take both Margo’s friends’ devotion and someone even more sinister to thwart her plans.

Memorable parts
Bette Davis proves her mettle but for the short time when she’s present it’s the young Marilyn Monroe that gives the most charming performance of the movie.

Why watch it?
It’s a classic and well-worth its renown, if you don’t mind the truly theatrical character of the story. It could play as well on an actual scene but I like how it’s unapologetically a psychological drama.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

The Big Sick

Year: 2017

What it is
A sort-of romantic comedy based on the creators’ own experiences. Kumail and Emily come from different cultures, which makes their relationship difficult but it’s her sudden illness that will (gradually) change everything.

Memorable parts
I particularly liked Emily’s parents: they’re human, believable and get some great lines. I found it hard to connect to other characters, including the main ones.

Why watch it?
If you like romantic stories with a tinge of real-life bitterness, you might enjoy this one. Some jokes made me smile though it’s not a hilarious kind of comedy.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

East of Eden

Year: 1955

What it is
The classic adaptation of Steinbeck’s novel focusing on the most exciting part of the book: the relationship between the younger Trask brothers.

Memorable parts
Obviously, how Cal is played by James Dean in one of the two parts defining his legend.

Why watch it?
It’s a competent, good-looking adaptation. James Dean remains interesting (though remembering he’s supposed to play a teenager taxed me a little) and Raymond Massey as Adam Trask shines in the background.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

The Martian

Year: 2015

What it is
A grounded science-fiction (and a big NASA ad) about a cosmonaut accidentally left on Mars and about the efforts to recover him.

Memorable parts
Mars looks great (wherever they created it), beautiful and indifferent. Matt Damon proves he’s one of few actors who can pull off monopolizing the camera for such long stretches of time, thanks to his charisma. (Plus a personal bonus: it has Sean Bean.)

Why watch it?
It’s an essentially optimistic tale of human solidarity and resilience and manages to create suspense without relying on any villains.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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