Sounds of Music

Songbook: To Ramona

It’s Dylan Time. I promised you we’ll be revisiting him regularly and here we go again, also continuing the unnecessarily personal Songbook posts. This is one of my favorites, not a funny little thing to admire the dry humor of his observations but one of those songs that are there for you when you need them.

“To Ramona” by Bob Dylan

Album: Another Side of Bob Dylan

Year: 1964

Category: Best of Dylan

Why it rocks:
Maybe it’s the triple meter but this song rocks me like a lullaby in its simplicity and numbs existential anxiety (while also making me a little sad). This is not the most profound of Dylan’s songs but maybe the (relative) directness makes so many lines come to me so often and it has a certain spirituality to it. His voice has that intimate quality I love.

Favorite lyrics:
“And there’s no use in tryin’ / To deal with the dyin’ / Though I cannot explain that in lines” I find the strongest, of course, but it’s “Everything passes / Everything changes / Just do what you think you should do” that I usually remember.

Favorite moment:
I love the swaying rhythm introduced in the first line.

Best for: This time more seriously, this song helped me a few times in moments of pain so I say it’s best for when you need a bit of existential wisdom.

Sidenote: If R didn’t hate the name and if had a daughter, I think I’d call her Ramona because of this song.

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Rotten Tomatoes

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Penelope

The leaves are no longer green (except some still are) and the days are short. Halloween is over but Christmas is coming. It is Penelope season, guys. This movie gets some bad rep but for me, it’s one of my favorites. Let me tell you why.

er-penelopePenelope

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 2006 fairy tale starring Christina Ricci and James McAvoy (before he was Xavier). Ricci plays Penelope, a girl born with a pig’s snout because of a family curse and only a marriage to a “blueblood” can lift the curse (or so the story goes). McAvoy plays a down-on-his-luck ex-piano player, who falls in love with Penelope, snout and all. However, as in any rom-com worth its salt, both need to do a lot of growing to deserve a happy ending.
Also, let’s get this out of the way: I heard this movie criticized as one that tells girls they have to be pretty to win a guy and that’s their whole job… this movie says just the opposite. Now, I’m not saying it’s deep and complex but this kind of shallow it isn’t.

How I found it:
I don’t even remember but it was quite random. I like re-watching it in fall.

Summary judgment:
You might have already inferred that I’m a big fan of Penelope.

Best things about it:
It’s a charming visual delight. Everything about the world of this movie is thought-out and designed, like in an old Tim Burton movie: take Penelope’s insane house, especially, but not only, her room and most other locations, even such minor ones as the hotel she’s staying in. Penelope’s clothes are another example. Everything is so stylized that it immediately codes the story as a fairy tale. I also like how out of time the whole world feels, with bits of technology from different periods. And if you’re a visual person at all I challenge you not to be seduced by the colors.
On top of how great it looks, the movie manages to tell a fun, optimistic story in a somewhat original way.

Worst things about it:
It’s not a very profound movie, of course, and if you’re a certain kind of person you will see it as simplistic. But personally I don’t mind.

Other pluses:
✤ I’m not that interested in McAvoy but he delights as Max/Johnnie, even despite the hair. But Peter Dinklage and Simon Woods also do a great job.
✤ Let’s talk the beauty thing. Of course, whenever a movie will choose to focus on its female character’s looks, it sets itself up as regressive. But that is still the reality that women are judged for their looks more than for anything else, even if they run for a freaking president, so why not tell a story with this premise? I used to make fun of how little of a problem the snout actually is on Christina Ricci but when you think about it, that’s the whole point. Women obsess over all kinds of little problems in the way they look so it actually makes more sense than if she looked like a real monster. And in the end the movie makes it clear that there was nothing wrong with her appearance in the first place. I wouldn’t even spend so much time writing about it except I saw many negative reviews focused on the very issue.

Other minuses:
Witherspoon’s character is fun but possibly more could be done with her. Other than that, I’m coming up empty.

How it enriched my life:
It gives me a warm feeling and makes me smile every time I watch it. It is also one of too few things that make me look forward to fall.

Follow-up:
See you next fall, Penelope.

Recommended for:
Fans of romantic comedies with a slight twist, people still in touch with their inner child and those who like to look at pretty moving pictures.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Scott Pilgrim, the movie

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Bookworming

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

If you wondered why there’ve been no book reviews for a while (you weren’t, were you), it’s because one book took all my reading time:

er-jonathanstrangeandmrnorrellJonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Category: Books

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Clarke’s debut from 2004, a massive novel and, quite possibly, a masterpiece. In three volumes it tells the story of two magicians destined to bring back English magic who take up the task during the Napoleonic wars. It’s alternative history at its best, with the style resembling the classics of 19th-century English novels and the tempo I can only describe as gentlemanly. If there ever was fantasy for adults, this is it (and not a single sex scene in this one, it’s not what I meant).

How I found it:
This was actually my second meeting with the book. First time I found it in a library soon after it was published – and I only finished the first volume. Apparently, as my notes tell me, I found the tone jarring but I suspect it must have been the translation. I’m certainly glad I gave it another try.

Summary judgment:
What a lovely beauty this one is, and unlike anything else I know. Also, definitely my favorite read of the year so far.

Best things about it:
It’s complex. It’s impressive. It knows exactly what it wants to be and adeptly goes about it. The portrayal of the two magicians is magnificent, both in their strengths and weaknesses. I rooted for Strange because he was so likeable but I really understood Norrell (who was anything but) and in the moment when, against his character, Norrell takes Strange on as a student, I realized the book was more than I’d expected.

Worst things about it:
There’s only one thing: I read it for two months (honestly, it’s embarrassing) and it completely ruined my reading statistics for the year. Yes, it’s a long book (and I don’t have nearly enough time for reading these days). But then again, when it’s over you wish it was longer.

Other pluses:
✤ I like the idea of fairies as borderline mad by human standards. The whole supernatural part of the book is so poetic and convincing.
✤ The footnotes work great. I read that some people didn’t like the idea but it’s the right touch and I loved all the semi-historical, semi-anecdotal stories they tell.
✤ The pastiche feels just right to me: not a direct copy of older novels’ style, more of a reverential nod.

Other minuses:
I’m good. No complaints.

How it enriched my life:
It delighted me so much. It shows the value that a slightly older debutante writer brings into their work. It inspires all sorts of Victorian fantasies.

Fun fact:
Yes, I do have reading statistics. They got less impressive in the last two years though.

Follow-up:
I am re-reading this one for sure. Now that I know the story I will be able to focus on closer reading and I’m sure it will reveal many interesting things I overlooked. There’s only one more book by Clarke, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, and I’m going to read that one too. I wish there were more though.

Recommended for:
Me. Or, more precisely, anyone who’s into similar stuff, like Regency/Victorian literature, fantasy, postmodern twists on literary classics… Also, if it’s you, give me a call and let’s hang out.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: The wonder of Penelope

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Mindy Project

This is an impromptu, unscheduled review (yes, there is a schedule) to celebrate the ending of one of my favorite TV series in the past six years. I will probably re-watch it and talk about all the seasons separately but for now let’s just talk about all of

er-themindyprojectThe Mindy Project

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Hulu

What it is:
A rom-com, sit-com, workplace-com unlike any other I’ve ever seen. It tells a story of Mindy Lahiri, a NY Indian American ob-gyn in search of love and of some fun, too, as she goes through innumerable inappropriate boyfriends and situations to end up with the one we always wanted her to end up with.

How I found it:
I started watching it back when I would watch pretty much anything new because I got interested in the trailer and something about this show immediately spoke to me, even though I’m normally not a sit-com kind of person.

Summary judgment:
I think it’s pretty obvious by now I love Mindy.

Best things about it:
It’s got a unique, light-hearted, unapologetic tone, which is very much like its heroine, Mindy, who pretty much redefines the feminine woman. I was so invested in the central love affair with Danny Castellano because – at least until they make him into a chauvinistic monster for a while – Chris Messina’s Danny sells everything he does as irresistible. And the show is really funny in a surprising way, not like most half-hour comedies in which you see all the jokes coming a mile away.

Worst things about it:
The show does have an inconsistency problem, with dropped storylines, not enough running jokes and disappearing characters.

Other pluses:
Mindy gave us Morgan played by Ike Barinholtz, and he’s comedy gold. Some other supporting actors work wonderfully, too, particularly Adam Pally, but it’s Morgan who’s the heart of the show.
✤ The deadpan way in which the characters react to one another’s quirks creates an atmosphere of universal acceptance. Always makes me feel better.
✤ So. Many. Wonderful one liners.
✤ And so many wonderful guest stars and recurring guest stars. My favorite by far are the Duplass brothers as holistic midwives.

Other minuses:
That time when Chris Messina wanted to do other stuff and so they made his character terrible and then that time when he went to do something else and his character wasn’t on the show at all.

How it enriched my life:
It made me so happy. It also made me laugh a lot and smile even more and gave me a few lines that I still use every now and then.

Fun fact:
When I was watching the first season for a while I used to immediately re-watch an episode right after I watched it for the first time.

Follow-up:
I sense many big re-watches in the future and probably reviewing every single season, too.

Recommended for:
Hm, this is a bit hard. People looking for intelligent comedy that’s not afraid to be quirky but also very feminine? I’d say at least some fans of Sex and the City though it’s by no means the same kind of thing.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Jonathan Strange, it’s scheduled

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Thor Ragnarok

After the refreshment course in the MCU I shared with you here, I finally got to see the newest Thor movie in a theater. And then I got to see it again. Let’s talk

er-thorragnarokThor: Ragnarok

Category: Movies

Find it: in theaters near you

What it is:
The latest MCU offering redefines the fledgling Thor series by changing its tone, its appearance and removing Jane Foster. It focuses on Thor, who has to fight his mightiest opponent yet: his own sister, Hela, bent on worlds domination. But first he needs to find allies, escape a gladiatorial arena and defeat the Hulk – in just the opposite order. A new addition to the bevy of MCU directors, Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows!) directs and he does it with style.

How I found it:
The trailers and the name of the director made it a must-see for me.

Summary judgment:
It’s quickly become one of my favorite MCU movies.

Best things about it:
As befits the director, the movie is very, very funny (which is, of course, an individual thing but it is certainly funny to me), with an improv charm and lightness. I was half-worried they won’t let Waititi do his thing but they clearly did. The movie’s got a strong visual character, particularly Sakaar, its entertainments and street parades. It continues the style that Guardians of the Galaxy introduced and as such joins my favorite part of the MCU franchise: the colorful, bold, humorous and visually rich space opera.

Worst things about it:
Asgard under Hela didn’t excite me too much and whenever there was a cut to it I wanted to see more Sakaar. I felt it was enough to establish Asgard’s plight fast and not necessarily return to it all the time. Oh, and the zombie warriors, how bland they were. I wish Hela only had Fenrir, that would be enough.
In fact, it proves how interestingly Sakaar was designed that Asgard paled in comparison.

Other pluses:
✤ Most actors prove their wonderful comic timing, Hemsworth most of all. Thor has never been more likeable but he’s not just funny, he also manages to show growth and self-assurance (and thank heavens they finally cut his hair). For the first time I understood all the love Thor has always received from the audience. And you know I was at best ambiguous about Loki in the past but I really like him here. I find Valkyrie somewhat overhyped but she’s at least a strong, independent female character (and to think that Thompson played that character in Veronica Mars I hated!). Grandmaster is even better than he had any business being. Korg has a few funny lines. Basically, everyone seems to be having a great time and the audience gets to share in that.
✤ My possibly favorite joke – the one about the snake – illustrates the improvisational nature of this comedy so well.
✤ The play about Loki’s life is such a fun little touch. And Anthony Hopkins (who really barely clocked it in in the previous Thors) is having a great time with his performance.
✤ The fights are not overwhelming as they often are in the MCU. In fact, except for the final confrontation in Asgard, they didn’t bother me at all and I could always tell what was happening – a clear sign I wasn’t tuning out as I tend to do. They didn’t seem to start just because 5 minutes of the movie had passed.

Other minuses:
✤ I’m not happy with Topaz. Does one of the really few female characters have to be so malicious and cruel for no reason?
✤ My feelings about Hela are at best mixed. No doubt Blanchett is a great actress and she looks amazing but I’m not sure she fits in with this campy, light movie. But maybe it’s just my general dislike for villains speaking.

How it enriched my life:
I had a great time both times I saw it and it helped me clarify what exactly it is I expect from a Marvel movie: This.

Fun fact:
So apparently Chris Hemsworth hated playing Thor as he was before this incarnation and so they redefined the whole character: cut his hair, broke his hammer… And remembered that sometimes, at his best moments, he was really funny in the previous parts.

Follow-up:
I’m watching this again some time in the future. Also, maybe Infinity War won’t be awful? Maybe.

Recommended for:
Not only regular fans of MCU movies but also those who find most of them hard to bear – as long as what they’re missing is more humor.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: A book! Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Orphan Black (S5)

So this is how it ends. After devoted viewing through the entire show I’ve arrived at the last season and the grand finale of Orphan Black. (Spoilers, probably.)

er-orphanblack5Orphan Black (season 5)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
In the conclusion of the clone saga Sarah and her family need to face the last standing villains and then deal with the fallout as they embark on their normal lives again.

How I found it:
Naturally.

Summary judgment:
Endings are never as good as beginnings but this is as good as it gets.

Best things about it:
The story ends completely, without irritating hanging threads. Our beloved characters get a well-deserved send-off and, best of all, it’s mostly a happy ending. I love those.

Worst things about it:
I wasn’t such a big fan of the Moreau island. It didn’t interest me visually (though the Victorian mansion was a nice touch) nor dramatically and things picked up once everyone returned to the city.

Other pluses:
Till the very end Tatiana Maslany astounds. Just think about the childbirth scene or the motherly confessions.
✤ The episode with Felix’s art opening is brilliantly emotional, and not just because it prepares the viewer for S’s death. This show is always at its best when it contrasts the clones’ adventures with regular social gatherings. Remember Alison’s pot luck?
✤ I like how they show a different body type with Donnie and wish they did this with women, too.

✤ Even with the high stakes of the finale the show remembers to have fun.

Other minuses:
The villains remain unexciting.

How it enriched my life:
It’s time to speak of the show as a whole here: it definitely gave me hours of quality entertainment, deeply humanist storytelling and wonder. It’s one of better shows I’ve ever seen.

Fun fact:
I kept having to remind myself not to watch during breakfast because I always worried there might be a beheading of a swan coming or something unappetizing like that. But I really wanted to watch at breakfast!

Follow-up:
This story is such a complete work and I enjoy it so much that I’m sure to return to it once the details of the plot get blurrier in my memory. There are also comics and I might check them out though from what I’ve seen the art is not the kind I enjoy.

Recommended for:
Everyone who needs their clone story completed.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Thor Ragnarok – it’s high time

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Sounds of Music

Songbook: At Seventeen

If I’d known this song in high school I’d probably have checked the closet to see if Janis Ian was not hiding there. Just kidding, of course (I didn’t have a closet in my room) but some things in this song sounded uncannily true to me when I heard it for the first time – though not all of them, and I’m not saying which is which.

“At Seventeen” by Janis Ian

Album: Between the Lines

Year: 1975

Category: Classic charmers

Why it rocks:
For the reasons I hinted at in the introduction: it’s an incredibly well-put description of a certain kind of adolescence. It feels very personal and thus relatable. It creates a nostalgic feeling with its swaying bossa-nova tune but the words clearly oppose any nostalgia – and I’m all for this kind of tension in a song.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
We all play the game, and when we dare / We cheat ourselves at solitaire / Inventing lovers on the phone / Repenting other lives unknown / That call and say: ‘Come dance with me’ / And murmur vague obscenities.”

Favorite moment:
The introduction itself shows you immediately all the strength of the song. And all the moments when her voice gets stronger.

Best for: Feeling glad you’re no longer 17.

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