Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Legion (S2)

You might remember or not but I was really impressed with the first season of Legion. The second… Well…

Legion (S2)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
David and his mutant buddies are now working with the government organization which tried to kill them in the previous season. Shadow King is looking for his body. Syd from the future tries to change the past. There might be a plague? Black-goo aliens? Also, educational videos. Also, also: cows.

How I found it:
I was a fan of season one.

Summary judgment:
It’s like jazz. Ambitious and you know someone is enjoying it, but that someone is not me.

Best things about it:
It remains an ambitious show which looks beautiful. You just know somebody is planning every detail of every scene and working hard to come up with striking visuals. The form of this show leaves nothing to complain about.

Worst things about it:
But it is so much style over substance. After a while you realize you just won’t be getting answers and resign yourself to a numb admiration of the show’s prettiness. While some stories get resolved, most of them leave the viewer hanging (the cows? the chickens?) and I finished the season with a vague feeling of wasted time. (I’m not a fan of artsy cinema though. Fair disclosure.)

Other pluses:
✤ The storylines which do get resolved work well enough, I suppose, though they take their sweet time to reach a conclusion.
✤ I liked how some of the episodes tried more gimmicky structure, particularly the one with the mystery of Syd’s mind (maybe less so the one with alternate realities but it still felt more structured than most of the regular episodes).
✤ Most of the actors still do a great job, they just often don’t have much to do.

Other minuses:
✤ Mostly, the season bored me: it took such a long time to do anything. It felt like the creators focused so much on how everything looked that they forgot about the satisfaction one could get from the story.
✤ Too much of the story was surreal and followed some sort of dream logic – and when anything goes, the stakes drop.

How it enriched my life:
It helped pass the evenings when I was waiting for childbirth. But as I was watching it after The Magicians, I felt acutely the lack of avid interest.

Follow-up:
I’m not decided about the third season but I’ll probably end up watching it anyway. However, I’m not sure it’s possible to build this show around a villainous David so unless it’s a story of redemption, I don’t see how it could work.

Recommended for:
People who thought the first season was too straightforward to enjoy.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: Longbourn

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Show Case

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: The Americans

Another brilliant show that ended not long ago (and I only recently caught up with the final seasons):

er-theamericansThe Americans (S1–6)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A period drama, happening in Washington of 1980s, it focuses on a pair of KGB agents working under the disguise of a typical American married couple. The show focuses on the question of lies and deception, imagining the mentality of people whose entire life is a facade and what happens when this facade begins to crumble. Also, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes spy stuff, if that’s more your jam.

How I found it:
When it first aired, I saw a trailer and found it interesting – though it was a trailer for an entirely different show, a sort of action-packed satire and not this existential psychological drama that we were eventually graced with. So I’m glad both that the trailer got me interested in the show and that it misrepresented it.

Summary judgment:
That might be the most thought-provoking, truly adult show I have seen in recent years.

Best things about it:
No show ever has made me and my husband discuss it as much as this one. We would pause the show to vent our emotions about the story and the characters and we would carry the conversations after we finished watching, analyzing the motives and illusions of the protagonists. Of course, being from Central Europe, we can’t look at KGB as a stock action-drama Agency but we have a more visceral reaction to the issue.
The show’s focus on the inner drama of the characters: their psychological motivations and limits, their humanity (or its lack sometimes) catapults the show so, so far away from any James Bond-nonsense that the theme might suggest.

Worst things about it:
Sometimes, rarely enough, the show will veer into more action-packed Cold War thriller one might expect (particularly badly in season four) and while this would be fully acceptable and maybe even enjoyable somewhere else, on The Americans it feels like a wasted opportunity for further moral explorations.

Other pluses:
✤ What I said so far will probably sound to some of you very much as anti-praise and a recipe for a perfectly boring show, sort of Bergman about Russian spies. But that would not take into account how tight most of the story is and how invested one feels in the plotlines.
✤ Matthew Rhys as Philip is breathtaking. He creates such a nuanced, heartbreaking performance that you want to hug him, shake him and slap him, sometimes in the same scene. But mostly you just keep rooting for him to do the right thing.
✤ Most of the other performances are also very convincing and memorable.
✤ Perhaps most importantly this is such a smart show. It never tells you too much, at the risk of confusing you or allowing for different, conflicting interpretations of the characters’ motives and feelings. Instead, it allows you to draw your own conclusions.
✤ The 1980s work in this vision – the period feels lived-in not caricatural, as it is often shown. I read that the producers had to limit the 1980s fashion so as not to make it distracting and in the first season I was a bit surprised to see this visually calmer version of the 80s but then I really got used to it. Also, the show has a distinctive visual style, with the muted color palettes (so much brown).

Other minuses:
✤ Keri Russell as Elizabeth does not, unfortunately, rise to Rhys’s standard (but calling this tour de force “standard” is probably unfair) and her character for most of the series is odious in her blind devotion to a child’s notion of communism.
✤ That’s not a minus exactly but the show does not give a lot of historical background for its political plots. I wonder if people from other areas of the world realize just how bad Philip and Elizabeth’s employers are. But again, it’s part of the smartness of the show, letting you figure things out for yourself.

How it enriched my life:
I rarely watch shows with such excitement and so many emotions about whatever’s going on. This was also a bonding experience for me and my husband because of all the discussions it provoked.

Fun fact:
Philip and Elizabeth constantly wear disguises and most of them are unbelievably silly. You would think they couldn’t possibly work but then again I have no idea how people are ever able to describe anyone to the sketch artist so they would certainly work on me. (Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to accurately describe things like the chin or nose of my closest friends from memory.)

Follow-up:
We had a huge break between seasons 3 and 4 so not everything happening was crystal clear and this is a great reason for a re-watch some time in the future. Also, I’m possibly there for Matthew Rhys’s next project (unless it’s something awful).

Recommended for:
People looking for a smarter kind of show.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: The 50 States

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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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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Guilty Pleasures

Some books I read entirely for pleasure – and yes, some I read for guilty pleasure (I went there). This here is a rather appropriate title, except it doesn’t really make me feel all that guilty.

er-guiltypleasuresGuilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
It’s the first novel in Hamilton’s most popular series: on Anita Blake, the vampire hunter (and, I figure, lover?). Anita (who for some unnecessary reason is also a necromancer) gets involved in an investigation of vampire murders even though she has been responsible for a few vampire deaths herself (hence the hunter part). Even though most vampires are repulsive, some she finds much more intriguing.

How I found it:
Honestly, Hamilton’s other series, about Meredith, the fairy princess, is one of my most consistent guilty pleasures (see fun fact for more details; and sure, you may judge me). Even though some of those books veer into overly erotic descriptions I – like true perverts also say, I’m sure – read them for the plot. I knew about Hamilton’s more popular series but didn’t find time for it before.

Summary judgment:
Well, it’s not a great book, but a sufficiently competent pleasurable read.

Best things about it:
It reads fast and really got me interested in the plot. I think it changes later but for now the erotic aspect doesn’t exist, instead leaving a lot of time for action-adventure and I got curious as to who the murderer was and also to the intricacies of Anita’s life. It does a good job of building a memorable heroine with her strength offset by past trauma.

Worst things about it:
If you read for ambitious reasons (do you, though?), steer clear. Other than that, I guess some details needed a bit more clarification to get more vivid but that might happen in later volumes.

Other pluses:
✤ I found Edward a pretty fascinating side character who didn’t become completely defined even by the end of the book.
✤ While it doesn’t add much to the vampire mythos, I appreciate how it also doesn’t add silly things to it (talking about sparkling, of course).
✤ Jean Claude, while a stock character so far, has potential for an interesting love interest.
✤ I enjoyed how the main villain was only a part of the danger Anita had to fight against.
✤ While the “urban” part of urban fantasy remains merely a sketch, I think the books might develop vampiric St. Louis into something interesting (they probably don’t, if the other series taught me anything).

Other minuses:
✤ We spend too much time on unimportant and unfascinating side characters, like the gullible friend (name forgotten) or the greedy boss.
✤ I could do without the party scenes. They felt like a setup for things that never happened.

How it enriched my life:
It made me exercise more willingly because I was curious what was going to happen.

Fun fact:
So I have an old model of Kindle with a text-to-speech function. And while I guess I understand their fiscal reasons for removing this feature, it remains my absolute favorite. About a half of the books I read, I don’t so much read as listen to while doing my morning exercises. Of course, this doesn’t work with more serious, subtle books which need focus and appreciation but allows me to read so much urban fantasy.

Follow-up:
I’m sure to hear the next volumes while working out.

Recommended for:
Fans of girly urban fantasy with a decent amount of action and potential for romance.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
(You remember I judge enjoyment not quality, right?)

Next time: Nights at the Circus, speaking of more serious books

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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

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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