Metarambling

Mildly Enthusiastic Reviews of Things: Anniversary

It’s been a year of writing my Mildly Enthusiastic Reviews and I must say they have really revived my interest in blogging, which I had thought dead. Maybe I just like filling in questionnaires but this form allows me to look anew both at blogging in general and at writing about things I come across. And, most of all, it works as a kind of diary of the mostly fun things I enjoy in my spare time.

Speaking of things I enjoy, if you didn’t know before how much of a friendless nerd I am, here’s something that should make the picture clear: I love making infographics. I could blame it on my work but no, I loved drawing fun graphs before I ever thought of being a designer. I think it’s either a rare or a secret hobby: I’ve basically only know of me with my yearly book summaries and that other guy from high school who did graphs of how much money he spent but, guys, that’s just weird, right?

So, here’s a short, hand-drawn (why not) summary of the last year of reviewing.

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So far I’ve written 82 reviews even though I originally planned to only post once a week. But the list of unpublished reviews was growing too fast. Now, however, I’m back to the once-a-week schedule (mostly because of my not-quite-fully-myself condition).

er-merot-infographics3I’m not as huge a movie buff as this would suggest (quite the opposite) but movies just take the shortest to get to know in full. Also, just to make things clear, I don’t review everything I read. Just saying.

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I tend to write about things I like, mostly because not being a student and not getting money for any of this I am not forced to finish stuff that bothers me.

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I truly expected “vampire” to make it to the list and “Victorian” to end up higher but sometimes those things surprise you. That’s why infographics are so much fun.

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Green Solutions

Going Green: Cleaning Up the Woods

er-gg-woodsI have decided to share with you some of the extremely small habits and decisions we make to be more conscious of our green impact. Here’s an introduction with the rationale and this is the first post in the series – about cleaning the woods during a daily walk. With spring making long walks in the woods possible this seems like a reasonable story to start with.

Story:
When in school, around Earth Day every year we were taken to the woods nearby to pick up trash left by careless walkers. I must say I never minded it and, in fact, enjoyed the chance to leave the school desk and go for a walk. Now, knowing how I forgot most of the dates and chemical formulas they tried to teach me, I actually think children should spend a part of their school day outside every day, ideally doing something useful like that. I’m not a school legislator and will not make that happen but about two years ago for Earth Day we rekindled this school tradition privately.
We live near a forest and we go there almost daily so during our walk with J (then a baby in a pram) we took a bunch of old plastic bags, rubber gloves and picked up all the trash we could find along the way: all the beer bottles, candy wrappers and such. We segregated it into different bags so that when we got back we just threw thtem into the right containers. The pram came in handy because we didn’t even have to carry the bags, we just hanged them around the handle.

Why do it:
Because it’s better than helplessly grumbling against all the people who leave that trash in the woods. You stop the trash from polluting the forest and prevent the animals from eating it. As a bonus, you conduct hands-on research into the peculiarities of human behavior (we found a pregnancy test packaging and an empty bread bag, among other things).

Cost:
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
It literally costs nothing if you repurpose bags (actually you’re bound to find some bags in the woods).

Difficulty:
★ ★ ☆ ☆
(Probably three stars if you’re very squeamish but as a reasonably squeamish person myself I must say it is actually quite painless.)

Challenges:
✤ We don’t do it as often as we might because it’s a bit of hassle to remember the gloves and the bags and you have to carry them all the way, of course.
✤ You literally look like a bag lady. Of course, it might be easier (if slower) to only take one bag and segregate it later or, well, not at all?
✤ Sometimes you can’t help the resentment building against your fellow human beings when you see how careless and lazy they are. But once you start paying attention, you also realize that lots of people must be doing the cleaning because there’s actually not a whole lot of trash and it disappears regularly.

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Dud Avocado

Today’s book is an almost forgotten classic which remains cherished by some. I never heard of it before I found it randomly but I’m glad I did find it.

er-thedudavocadoThe Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
A not-so-well-known classic from 1950s. Sally Jay Gorce is spending her carefree time in Paris thanks to generosity of an uncle. She gets mixed up with the bohème, aristocratic elites, diplomats and some shady characters but will face everything with vivacity and wild hair colors.

How I found it:
It was on the list of Greta Gerwig’s favorite books. When I read that it was about Paris I read a few first pages of an online preview and fell in love.

Summary judgment:
It doesn’t entirely live up to the spectacular beginning but I still really liked it.

Best things about it:
Everything I loved best about the book is already there in the first scene: Sally’s joie de vivre, her perfect carelessness, spontaneity, all of them spilling through to the language itself. Her voice is very well-defined and seductive. Oh, and Paris.

Worst things about it:
I feel like in the second part of the book, as Sally leaves Paris, the book loses some of its focus. The discovery about Larry seems slightly too intense for the tone of the rest of the story.

Other pluses:
However, it also speaks to Sally’s resilience that she can take the darkest side of life with bravado (except for that short panic mode) and with the same carelessness that makes her endearing…

Other minuses:
✤ …Even if it makes her either unrealistic or callous.
✤ On an unrelated note, south of France is not shown with the same level of devotion as Paris and the characters related to the movie-making didn’t strike me as very interesting or convincing.
✤ I sort of liked the fairy tale romance at the end, if only because the photographer was so enticing, but it did come out of nowhere.
✤ Maybe the best part of this reading experience is that it gives you all the fun of a trashy novel with the veneer of a much better language and style.

How it enriched my life:
I enjoyed reading it on trains and it made me want to go to Paris again.

Fun fact:
It seems (from the foreword) that Elaine Dundy was quite a character herself.

Follow-up:
I’m not sure I’m planning to read any more of Dundy on the strength of the Avocado alone but if I come across something, I’ll give it a try. I might also re-read this one in the future.

Recommended for:
Americans in 1950s Paris or those who wish they could be them.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Song of the Sea

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Green Solutions

Going Green: Introduction

To celebrate this year’s Earth Day let me introduce a new kind of post, Going Green. In today’s Google Doodle Jane Goodall talks about how everyone can effect change and I do believe it, at least to an extent. That’s why I’m going to talk about things me and my family do in our household that we hope make a small difference for the better and make the world a little cleaner.

Now, I’m no expert environmentalist and these decisions we make are common-sensical rather than scientifically proven (by us, anyway). In other words, they might not work as well as we hope they do and we might decide to modify them in time. Of course, we didn’t come up with these solutions either, just applied things other people suggest. But these are, for the most part, simple, affordable changes that shouldn’t disrupt anybody’s life too much and I hope maybe one, two – gasp – five? people might be inspired to try something similar or different but with a similar aim. That would justify all this writing for sure.

That’s why I’m starting this series despite the not-an-expert part, because ecology is important to me: at least as important as music and definitely more than movies. I thought the blog should finally reflect that. So I’ll tell you what we do and how problematic and/or expensive we find it (spoiler: usually not too much) and I hope you’ll think of your own ways to live greener (or share what you’re already doing).

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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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Sounds of Music

Songbook: Seven Curses

Back to Dylan Time! Which should be all the time, basically.

“Seven Curses” by Bob Dylan

Album: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1

Year: 1963

Category: Best of Dylan

Why it rocks:
It’s such a simple song, a true illustration of Dylan’s folk roots (I’d argue it’s truer than his protest songs even): with no ornamentation and a very simple, very stark story it raises Dylan’s vision of the Wild West to a mythical realm. And my personal favorite thing about Dylan’s songwriting is how he can tell a story: an actual story with characters, a plot and a resolution. Also, thank heavens they published it on the Bootleg Series because it’s such a loss it was never released on an album.

Favorite lyrics:
I like the simplicity as in a real folk ballad and the vengeful numbers game at the end. I’m not sure if I have a favorite line though, it’s such a consistent text.

Favorite moment:
I like the moment when the narrative changes once the judge has lied.

Best for: It’s a decent sing-along and it could make a decent movie.

Listen here.

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Sex and the City (show)

Sex and the City was one of the more exciting shows of my high school years. I would wait for it on Saturday evenings (I wasn’t all that popular, in case you were misinformed) and feel somewhat naughty for watching it. But the show is going on twenty now and watching it today feels different.

er-sexandthecityshowSex and the City (the show)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
One of the most iconic TV shows before people talked of any golden eras in TV, tells the story of Carrie Bradshaw, her three best girl friends and their quest for love and sex that lasted six seasons (and two terrible movies that barely count).

How I found it:
I watched two or three seasons on TV, though not quite regularly, and then I systematically re-watched everything a couple of years ago. This time now was my more or less third watch.

Summary judgment:
This time didn’t impress me as much as the previous ones. In fact, parts of it left me bored.

Best things about it:
Twenty years ago, in its own way, the show was fairly revolutionary in its portrayal of a certain kind of relationships: both their psychological and physiological aspect. At least back then, it felt honest and surprisingly open.
The writing is often very smart and funny, with clever juxtapositions of different storylines and surprising conclusions to them.

Worst things about it:
I would say seasons one and six because I enjoyed them the least. But from a more general point of view, if you don’t buy this show for what it is, you will be irritated by so many things: its outdated approach to homosexuality, the vacuity of the characters and their ridiculous economic conditions, their occasional cruelty and forced problems. Bergman this ain’t.

Other pluses:
✤ Some of the clothes and, to a lesser extent, some interiors are lovely to look at for the sheer aesthetic pleasure.
✤ The many things Miranda says.
✤ The characters (arguably except for Carrie) all develop and grow, which is one justification for six seasons of a show like this.

Other minuses:
✤ I once read somewhere that the show owed its success to Parker’s likability but I mostly find her childish and irritating, particularly in the moments when she’s trying for endearing. I don’t expect you to remember but there’s a scene in which she talks about Aidan’s “nook”, which perfectly embodies everything I dislike about her.
✤ In the first season or two the show is still looking for its style, with the mockumentary street interviews and too many random characters. It grows better when it gains the courage to drop these crutches.

How it enriched my life:
Now it hasn’t particularly. But the first time I watched it I was in high school and I learned stuff from the show (often very theoretical stuff but isn’t most knowledge, particularly in high school?). The second time I really admired the writing and got quite interested in all the long-term stories.

Fun fact:
Not a single one of Carrie’s relationships was halfway functional. But I always liked Charlotte and Harry. Theirs was a fun story.

Follow-up:
I did watch the movie. We’ll talk about it. I might get back to the show some time but I need to forget most of the stories because this time it bothered me how much I remembered what was going to happen.

Recommended for:
Single ladies. Fans of the early 2000s culture. People in love with New York or, I guess, Sarah Jessica Parker.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Let’s whine about the movie

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