Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Jane

I checked out another adaptation of a Victorian classic, this time one of my favorites: Jane Eyre, in a comic form.

er-janeJane by Aline Brosh McKenna

Category: Comics

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
A modern-day adaptation of (bits of) Jane Eyre’s story. Jane escapes her unloving family to New York, where she enrolls in an art college and starts working for a mysterious businessman as his daughter’s nanny. But there’s a door upstairs she’s never allowed to touch. What’s behind the door? (You know what. Not a twist.)

How I found it:
I heard the author talking about her comic on a podcast about script writers (she normally writes the show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, something of which I bounced off pretty hard). The idea, obviously, appealed to me immensely.

Summary judgment:
All in all, it’s a wasted opportunity but the great art saves it from being a waste of time.

Best things about it:
Definitely the art by Ramón Pérez. He has a casual lightness of line and an ease of switching between styles that elevates the story and makes it oh-so-pretty. His art remains engaging but never becomes too artsy and so inaccessible.

Worst things about it:
The story doesn’t justify the idea. Why choose to work on Jane Eyre if you have nothing new to tell about the tale and don’t even seem to care about the original story as it is?

Other pluses:
✤ In addition to Pérez’s great art, the competent coloring by Irma Kniivila deserves a special mention.
✤ What I found the most interesting part of the story was actually the cursory foray into artistic education (which doesn’t really have time or space to develop realistically). I feel maybe Pérez employed some of his own experience in this part? I would much rather read a story about a girl from nowhere trying to become a New York artist.

Other minuses:
✤ The story doesn’t even try to do anything worthwhile with the inherently problematic character of Rochester, his morality and his decisions. Sure, the wife thing is slightly mitigated but just enough to make it boring, not justifiable.
✤ New side characters only seem introduced for the sake of diversity but nothing happens with them.
✤ I found the criminal/gothic ending particularly disappointing, as if the author realized she’s almost out of pages and the story needs wrapping up. In fact, I generally felt there was not enough space to do the story justice.

How it enriched my life:
I really enjoyed the art and found it inspiring.

Fun fact:
So where I mostly know Pérez from is his work on Wolverine and the X-Men – a comic I always liked, also for the art, though didn’t make the connection without visiting Pérez’s website.

Follow-up:
There’s not a direct thing to follow up with but I’m sure I would enjoy more of Pérez’s work in this style. I’m also up for any future adaptations of my Victorian favorites. Bring it on.

Recommended for:
People who care about art more than about story. People who will take any Victorian adaptation gratefully.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Hatin’ on Strictly Ballroom (you’ve been warned)

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Rotten Tomatoes

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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Sounds of Music

Songbook: Iowa

I’m not sure I understand every single word of this song – though most of it is straightforward enough – but it speaks to me on this sub-intellectual level which makes me uncomfortable with poetry.

“Iowa” by Dar Williams

Album: Mortal City

Year: 1996

Category: Recent acquisitions

Why it rocks:
It creates its own gentle, hypnotic space that lulls me into wonderment, and teaches me about some emotions I’ve never really wanted to experience too much.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
“Her husband had just left her, / She sat down on the chair he left behind, she said, / ‘What is love, where did it get me? / Whoever thought of love is no friend of mine'” for this moment of slice-of-life observation.
And for different reasons: “But way back where I come from, / We never mean to bother, / We don’t like to make our passions other people’s concern.”

Favorite moment:
The ending of the last verse.

Best for: The kind of love affairs that end up in broken hearts.

Listen here.

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Three Princes

Some books are a gamble and you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. But some that seem like a very safe bet might still surprise you.

er-threeprincesThree Princes by Ramona Wheeler

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
It’s the 19th century and the Egyptian empire built by Caesar and Cleopatra rules most of the world, only rivaled by the Inca empire in South America – who are trying to travel to the moon. Victoria heads the future revolution against the Egyptian dominance and Bismarck acts as her main agent while the faithful agents of Egypt try to stop their nefarious plans and also to learn about the Inca technology of air travel. It doesn’t get more alternative history than that and you could use the premises for three or more books.

How I found it:
Honestly, I have no idea. It sounds like something I’d get from a list of best steampunk books and maybe that’s where it came from. In theory it sounds like something written specifically for me.

Summary judgment:
I failed to connect with this book on most levels.

Best things about it:
I appreciate the ambitious idea and that the author clearly loves the world she created to such an extent that she thought out many (arguably unnecessary) world-building details. Some descriptions are quite vivid and all of them very detailed.

Worst things about it:
I never got really interested either in the story or the characters. For something so packed with travel and spy adventures the book felt slow and a bit aimless. I don’t know if it’s planned as a part of series but at some point I started wondering if the author would manage to finish the main story within the remaining part of the book or would she end it with a big cliffhanger (she managed to finish it). Not a single one of the three princes earned my interest and I found all of them rather idealized.

Other pluses:
✤ It is a fairly visual book, which I always appreciate even if I found some of the descriptions too long.
✤ The idea of not-queen Victoria as a revolutionary is probably my favorite alternate history element and I got quite excited when it was introduced but very little happens on this front.

Other minuses:
✤ The sense of just starting a long series informs the whole experience of reading the book. Many characters, especially female ones, seem just sketched and undeveloped. Consequently, it’s hard to care about their fate.
✤ For such an exotic, little-known culture as Inca I would expect the part happening there to be more thrilling, even in the descriptions.

How it enriched my life:
I liked some of the imagery, not necessarily the most thrilling parts even.

Fun fact:
I love the author’s name. Anyone named Ramona will always get a plus from me.

Follow-up:
Even if other books are going to follow this one, I’ll pass.

Recommended for:
Fans of alternate history stories who like wild, original premises.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: Whiplash; but seriously these posts take forever to post now because I’m useless these days. Ask anyone. So we’re not quite back to the regular schedule but once a week is a promise and I’m working on the backlog again.

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Rotten Tomatoes

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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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Legion

I’ve been waiting forever for X-Men to come to the TV, thus combining some of my favorite things. When X-themed shows started cropping up, they were not exactly what I expected (I basically wanted a mix of X-Men Evolution and Whedon’s comic with charismatic actors) but I took what I was offered and here’s my take on

er-legion1Legion (season 1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
Created by Noah Hawley and starring Dan Stevens, the show focuses on, you guessed it, Legion, Xavier’s son with huge powers and huge mental problems. He believes he has schizophrenia and discovers during the show that the truth might be more complicated but not necessarily easier to bear. It sounds very commonplace but the show doesn’t resemble any other superhero fare you have ever seen, trust me.

How I found it:
As I said, I waited for the X-shows to appear. But after watching the first episode I decided to bingewatch all of it later because it really doesn’t lend itself to broken watching (you have no idea what’s going on, is what happens).

Summary judgment:
It’s an ambitious achievement that proves not everything has already been done with superheroes.

Best things about it:
Superhero stories might be considered a guilty pleasure unworthy of a serious thought – but definitely not this one. It is an ambitious project with a singular, strong vision. It is confusing, challenging, overpowering – and it looks amazing. Dan Stevens pulls off David as always on the verge of creepy and yet sympathetic and human (and I was sure it wouldn’t be possible). Rachel Keller, who plays the love interest Syd, starts off as a plot device only to become the focus and the agent in later episodes, which I found surprising and admirable. And have I mention how good everything looks?

Worst things about it:
This is such a cerebral show that it doesn’t necessarily engage emotions at all times. I found myself admiring rather than enjoying it.

Other pluses:
✤ The characters are complex and don’t turn into clichés (mostly). You don’t necessarily like them but you feel they have depth that many TV shows deny their characters. Jemaine Clement deserves a special mention for the impenetrable weirdness of Oliver.
✤ I like how out-of-time the show feels, with women’s clothes reminiscent of the 60s and technology mostly outdated. I’m still not sure when the show is supposed to take place but it looks good.
✤ If you read me at all, you know I don’t give, um, two figs about fight scenes and I’ve yet to see them better solved than on this show. They barely attract any attention at all, they remain stylized and focused on the results rather than any precise choreography. I know it won’t happen, but can we make it the standard way of showing fights from now on?

Other minuses:
I kept waiting for someone else to turn out to be David’s figment of imagination to have my mind blown like in Fight Club (I was young) but it didn’t happen. It’s not a fault, just my minor disappointment.

How it enriched my life:
It strengthens my faith that there is much more to be done with superheroes than all the Avengers have shown us. I also spent a few pleasant evenings with the show.

Fun fact:
It’s not “fun.” But when the show started I went to IMDb forums to see people’s opinions (I used to do that when the forums still existed, RIP) and I found a post by a father whose daughter had schizophrenia how he considered the show harmful for reinforcing illusions about special powers that mentally ill people might harbor. Of course, the show has to do this because it’s the whole point but I can imagine how problematic this show must feel to someone in his situation.

Follow-up:
I’m not sure where they can go with the second season, especially that I like how closed the first one is, but I will check it out.

Recommended for:
People who look for something different among superhero stories.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Landline (but we’ll switch for a post-a-week schedule for a while until I get my s* back together)

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Rotten Tomatoes

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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