Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Lost in Austen

In this year that unexpectedly seems to happen under the banner of Pride and Prejudice, here’s another thing for (non-orthodox) fans of the book, a miniseries called

er-lostinaustenLost in Austen

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 2008 4-part miniseries about Amanda Price, a lover of Pride in Prejudice, who discovers the door to the Bennets’ house in her own bathroom (yep) and changes places with Elizabeth. While Amanda tries to save the story she loves, she’s doing a perplexingly bad job of it and changes everybody’s fate, including her own. (She marries Darcy, guys – spoiler.)

How I found it:
I don’t remember. I watched it for the first time many years ago, sick in bed, if I recall.

Summary judgment:
I can see why it rubs some Austen fans the wrong way but I enjoy it: it’s modern and cheeky.

Best things about it:
It captures some of the magic of the original, while remaining quite irreverent. It reinterprets all the characters, giving them different motivations and it also looks good. And it’s simply fun to watch.

Worst things about it:
There is actually only one thing that doesn’t work for me in the story: Amanda. For someone who obsessively re-reads Pride and Prejudice she seems inexplicably unaware of the taboos of Regency society (or, really, any pre-modern society) and insists on behaving in a vulgar way. The way she looks doesn’t help: I wish she had slightly more natural hair and didn’t wear make-up when living with the Bennets (how does she even do that?). It’s hard to suspend disbelief and understand how someone who must look like a prostitute to the locals would be received in society.
And you know, I see the attraction of clashing Austenian society with someone who brings with them twentieth-century values, maybe even showing Amanda that her idealization of Elizabeth’s world was excessive… But for all of that to work Amanda would have to be smarter and subtler. It seems like a wasted opportunity.

Other pluses:
Wickham as a decent person, Caroline as a lesbian, Mrs. Bennet as someone much more skilled at the game of husband-hunting… I like all these tweaks. I even like Lizzie as a modern woman.

Other minuses:
✤ While I like most of the ideas for changes in the characters, I can’t get behind this Darcy. Yes, he looks fine, except for the bad wig. He looks even finer in the wet shirt. But what a mess he is! I don’t understand his sudden attraction to the vulgar girl who comes out of nowhere – it’s as if he preferred Lydia to Lizzie in the book. Most of his decisions make no sense and the love affair seems to happen only because it needs to in every proper fan fiction ever, which this show is, after all.
✤ On that note, everything could have been salvaged with another ending: Amanda chooses Wickham or even to return to her world. But this forced “will they, won’t they” culminating in a weird marriage didn’t work for me.

How it enriched my life:
It’s an entertaining piece of entertainment to entertain one and it also makes me think whether I’d do any better in Regency England but I would probably be too horrified at the lack of dental hygiene. Also, I can’t curtsy, let alone ballroom-dance.

Fun fact:
So yes, I didn’t know people used to rub chalk across their teeth to clean them and whatever else Amanda was brought. Though I do know other things people used (or still use), including salt, baking soda and some kinds of tree twigs. History of hygiene is a fascinating subject, actually, and reveals how much stuff we take for granted though we shouldn’t.

Follow-up:
I will probably re-watch this show some time because it’s fun. I would also watch any similar thing though it would likely disappoint me.

Recommended for:
Jane Austen fans who are not too hung up on the original. People who didn’t read the book at all but think it’s a funny concept to transport a modern character into a book.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Speaking of books, I Am Charlotte Simmons

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

er-scottpilgrimScott Pilgrim vs. the World

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Based on a comic, this cult adaptation tells a story of a Canadian slacker Scott Pilgrim, who falls in love with mysterious Ramona Flowers and to win her heart has to battle her seven evil exes. The story uses a very characteristic visual language, calling back to arcade games and comics, and the whole thing looks like a love child of a blockbuster and an indie movie.

How I found it:
I sort of knew it existed but heard of it anew on one of the podcasts I follow and when our pop-culture-savvy friend A confirmed it was okay, we tried it.

Summary judgment:
This is a surprising little gem, unlike most things I ever watched.

Best things about it:
The visual choices make the movie quite original – and they both look good and add a whole layer to the humor of the movie. Little things like the pee bar and coins and big things like ingenious scene transitions more than make up for the banality of the story.

Worst things about it:
I have some problems with the representation of women. It’s not tragic but could use tweaking here and there.

Other pluses:
✤ Great cast full of big names playing small roles.
✤ Did I mention the visuals? Because it’s hard to stress them enough. One rarely finds such a consistent, fun, striking vision in a movie. I’m not usually one to prize looks over the story but here I am.
✤ So many quotable lines! I like Short answer: being vegan just makes you better than most people.
✤ I know I’m harping on the story a little bit because it’s so… insignificant, I guess, but it’s still enjoyable.

Other minuses:
If someone told me they found the movie unbearably trite and empty, I would certainly see where they came from. It wasn’t my experience of it though.

How it enriched my life:
Like so few movies do, it restored a bit of my faith in the modern cinematography. Apparently, it can still be fresh, even working within popular, colorful aesthetics.

Fun fact:
So Toronto doesn’t necessarily look all that exciting in this movie (kind of the point, I know) but it’s still very much on my shortlist of places I want to visit some time.

Follow-up:
I’m sure I will re-watch it more than once. I’ve also started reading the comics since then so stay tuned if it’s something you’re interested in.

Recommended for:
Geeks and geek-wannabes (there are those?). Gamers. Neo-punkrockers. Comic readers. People who seek originality in the movie industry.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Lost in Austen

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Cruel Intentions

After the seriously impressive Dangerous Liaisons we discussed recently (well, I did, while you politely ignored me, as is our deal), it’s time to turn attention to its younger bizarro cousin:

er-cruelintentionsCruel Intentions

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Imagine Dangerous Liaisons but among modern(-ish, it’s a 1999 movie) high schoolers. It’s exactly that.
It also stars Sarah Michelle Gellar, who was big in 1999 when Buffy was getting better, Reese Witherspoon and that third guy plus a plethora of allusions to its 1988 predecessor.

How I found it:
I saw it once or twice a couple of years earlier and quite liked it (you know me, throw a classic into a high school setting and I’m so in). This time I wanted to show it to R and boy, was he surprised.

Summary judgment:
It’s a… um… I guess it really depends on your expectations. It’s not good. But it’s not exactly bad.

Best things about it:
It’s a ballsy idea which actually makes sense. I mean, what’s the modern counterpart of the rotten pre-revolution French aristocracy? Spoilt prep-school brats with too much money. Someone was actually right to come up with the whole concept and they carried it out consistently.
And I loved the allusions to Stephen Frears’ movie: visual throwbacks and small plot details, like Cecile falling off the bed (though by itself it was so over the top) and even a wink like borrowing an actress just for the sake of it. I particularly liked the design of the interiors of Kathryn and Sebastian’s house with all the details that make them decadent pastiches. And those blue walls!

Worst things about it:
Well, the whole thing doesn’t entirely work. Watching the two movies one after another, you see the oceans that separate them, particularly in acting. I loved Buffy but Sarah Michelle Gellar is not Glenn Close and don’t even get me started on Sebastian.

Other pluses:
I prefer Witherspoon to Pfeiffer. Just me?

Other minuses:
I’m not sure if it’s a minus, more of an observation but the movie is so campy: from the humor to the way Sebastian dies (that’s hardly a spoiler, right?). So I guess it depends on whether you’re in the mood for camp.

How it enriched my life:
It probably didn’t enrich it a whole lot but it’s enjoyable enough.

Fun fact:
I dislike many things about Sebastian but one of them is his hair. Remember the 90s? When every boy looked like hair gel cistern exploded onto him? Man, I hated this hairstyle more than anything, including Back Street Boys. (Showing my age here, huh.)

Follow-up:
So did you know there were sequels? With completely different cast and, I’m guessing, mostly unrelated stories. I vow not to check them out though. And there seem to be other high-school-set adaptations of classics, like O – it was apparently a thing in the 90s and I missed it – but I think I need a break.

Recommended for:
People who like experimental adaptations – or just anything set among high school students. Researchers of the history of teen dramas – a few scenes are absolute classics.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Back to Orphan Black Thor

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Dangerous Liaisons

It’s time for a classic adaptation of an even more classic book,

er-dangerousliaisonsDangerous Liaisons 

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
An adaptation of an 18th-century epistolary novel by Choderlos de Laclos. It tells a story of the corrupt aristocratic elite and their immoral sexual lives. It focuses on the corruptest of the corrupt: Madame Merteuil and viscount de Valmont, who run the game – until they don’t. The movie was made in 1988 and stars pretty much only stars, including Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, young Uma Thurman and very young Keanu Reeves – all of them outshined by John Malkovich as Valmont.

How I found it:
Well, it’s one of the classics. You don’t really have to look for those. The first time I saw it, probably in high school, it was on TV. This time I watched it after Cruel Intentions to compare the two movies.

Summary judgment:
It’s one of my favorite adaptations, managing not to ruin the book – which is great – at all.

Best things about it:
It captures the book perfectly, even managing to manoeuver around its epistolarity, which is never a good thing for a movie. The movie looks great, with the costumes and the interiors building the lavish, outlandish world of the 18th-century French aristocracy. The actors, unsurprisingly, deliver amazing performances, managing to be both dramatic and funny, when needed.
Malkovich deserves an entirely separate paragraph in this. When I watched the movie for the first time, he surprised me with his sex appeal, despite his looks. But this time I was more impressed with how sinister he is and how every sentence he says reminds the viewer that Valmont is acting all the time: all his lines are declamations.

Worst things about it:
That is hardly the movie’s fault but it’s very difficult to root for any of the protagonists. This is only an actual problem with Pfeiffer, whose character starts as an irritating prig and ends as an irritating doormat, while she should make us feel sorry for her.

Other pluses:
✤ Glenn Close. Malkovich gets perhaps a more showy part and manages to steal the show sometimes but they play off each other beautifully. The Marquise impersonates hypocrisy and deception but still remains a human being, even with a thin layer of feminism somewhere there. Her failure at the end (spoiler?) does not feel entirely triumphant for the viewer.
✤ Keanu Reeves. He comes as close as the movie has to a likeable character, even if he remains in the background.

Other minuses:
The ending leaves a bit to desire, with the somewhat heavy-handed montage and Valmont’s theatrical death (spoiler?).

How it enriched my life:
This is undoubtedly where great cinema meets viewers’ actual enjoyment and there are way too few such movies.

Fun fact:
Is it possible to watch this story or read the book and not wonder how many characters had syphilis? I’m betting all of them.

Follow-up:
I will probably re-watch it but now I feel I should return to my snaily read of the book in French, which I started a few years ago and then dropped because life.

Recommended for:
People who like period dramas and large décolletages. Fans of the original. Lovers of Rococo. Cynics with ideals still there at the bottom of their hearts.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Cruel Intentions

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: 10 Things I Hate About You

I caught a mild cold last week but I needed to get well quickly and not to pass it on to my son, so I spent a few days in bed, not working and watching bad stuff. I’m not gonna lie to you: it was fun. Totally worth the sore throat. One of the things I watched, and possibly even the best one (which should tell you something), was

er-10thingsihateaboutyou10 Things I Hate about You

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 1999 high school drama / romantic comedy starring Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger. But wait! It’s based on Shakespeare so it can’t be totally worthless, right? Weeeeell. It reinterprets The Taming of the Shrew, placing the two sisters and their suitors in high school – a move I always approve of (but that’s just me).

How I found it:
I knew it was a thing that existed. I never felt much need to watch it before.

Summary judgment:
I enjoyed it much more than I expected to but I still cringed every now and then.

Best things about it:
This movie possesses a surprising amount of charm, most of it owed to Ledger’s performance. He radiates warmth (to such an extent that he doesn’t really sell the badass he’s supposed to be at the beginning) like a playful, hunky puppy. What.

Worst things about it:
It includes quite a few cringeworthy scenes (though, to be honest, so does the original), two of which bother me immensely, for completely different reasons. The lightweight is Heath Ledger singing on the sports field. I know you need to swallow some saccharine and cheese when watching a high school romantic comedy but this exceeded my tolerance. But I have a real problem with the party sequence and the drunk girl Patrick just passes on to the next guy, which is played for laughs. I guess we should be glad the cultural sensitivity moved on and we may now recognize it for what it is? Namely, not a joke.

Other pluses:
The contrived story manages to make some degree of sense and, arguably, more so than the original? With the father being an obstetrician and Kat rejecting high school culture, their motivations make sense.
At first I was worried they would be dropping Shakespeare-like sentences left and right but they showed uncharacteristic restraint and only did it half a dozen times or so.
I liked some of the music (and all of it places the movie in a very specific moment of history).

Other minuses:
Other cringe-inducing things include many failed attempts at humor and general cutesy-ness (see the detention scene. And others. So many.).

How it enriched my life:
It made my sick day more fun. I also felt obliged to reread the plot of The Taming of the Shrew and I’m sure one day I will remember the names of all the characters of this play.

Fun fact:
Apparently the cast had a lot of fun working on the movie and all became best friends (it’s an IMDb kind of fun fact, sorry). You can tell some of it because the whole movie has a very lighthearted atmosphere, which often feels unforced (though sometimes it really, really doesn’t).
Another thing: The Taming of the Shrew is awful, right? I know you can justify anything that’s old enough, especially written by a venerable author, but it’s plain awful.

Follow-up:
I can tell you what similar thing I’ll be reviewing next (some time next) because I’ve already watched it: Cruel Intentions. But I can’t think of more movies of the kind to watch.

Recommended for:
This is unsurprising: fans of lighthearted romantic high school comedies and/or Heath Ledger. Not necessarily for Shakespeare buffs.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Continuing the theme, High School Drama

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Gaming Night

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Mousquetaires du Roy

Board games are one of my hobbies and we play them often, either just with R or with our regular “gaming group,” Z&A – or, occasionally, with other people who share our interest. I’ve played many different games but for me personally nothing beats the co-operative mechanics where all the players come together to beat the game itself. All my favorite games belong to this category and the first place (though jointly with another game) is forever held by an unknown gem called

er-mousquetairesduroyMousquetaires du Roy

Category: Games

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A board game based on Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. In the standard version 1–4 players play as musketeers and 1 plays as Milady, who tries to trump all their attempts to save the queen’s honor. In the version we strongly prefer all players play against the game in a typical co-operative way where everybody tries to beat Milady together.

How I found it:
Probably on boardgamegeek.com and then I got it as a gift for my birthday from R – and what a great gift it was.

Summary judgment:
It’s one of my two favorite board games ever and seeing that I’ve played quite a few of them, that’s saying something.

Best things about it:
This game has uncanny balance. It always seems to me like with all the different things to do, each harder than the next one, and the slightly messy gameplay, it should feel unbalanced but usually we end up winning or losing by a very small margin, which makes every dice roll exciting.
Story-based board games usually have a difficult job because too often they feel like complex mathematical constructs with some theme thrown on top of it. Not so here: you feel yourself in Paris, fighting for the queen’s honor as hard as she’s trying to ruin it.

Worst things about it:
This might seem minor to some of you but it’s a big thing for us: some typographic elements of the game are horrendous, particularly everything including numbers.

Other pluses:
The characters are drawn great in the cards. I particularly like dirty-yet-sexy d’Artagnan in his white shirt (who I usually play). The art style has just the right mix of cartoony and semi-realistic to please me.
The custom dice are lovely and also make for one of the most intuitive, fun duel mechanics I know.
The different tasks and mechanics that the game employs cover most of the basic plot of the novel and you don’t feel like anything is missing (except for the satire, of course, but that’s standard in the novel’s adaptations).

Other minuses:
I guess the instruction booklet is very unclear and it even needed some clarifications from Board Game Geek forums but once you learn the rules it doesn’t matter so much.

How it enriched my life:
It’s so much fun! I spent hours playing this game either with R or Z&A and it never disappoints, even that one time when we wasted a few turns trying to beat someone who permanently had two shields raised and we couldn’t hit him at all, showing what lousy fencers our characters were. In fact, it was one of the most hilarious games we played.

Fun fact:
This is off-topic, but have you tried re-reading The Three Musketeers as an adult? It’s quite surprising how the story functions as this great adventure novel about four friends and their exciting hijinks (and that’s certainly how I read it for the first time as a kid) while, in fact, it’s quite a merciless satire with despicable main characters. D’Artagnan is a rapist, Athos (whom I loved as a kid) an insane murderer, all of them abuse women and people of lower social classes… It’s so weird how little of this transferred into the general knowledge of the story. I suppose the action is just too good for people to pay attention to anything else?

Follow-up:
I’m sure we’ll be playing the game many times more but I will also review a few of my other co-operative favorites in the future.

Recommended for:
Anyone who likes co-operative games and is ready to muddle through the instruction until they figure out the game. Fans of themed games. Fans of corrupt 17th-century France.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Man Up

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

I talked a while ago about my soft spot for vlog adaptations of classic literature and I figured it was time to return to the one that started it all:

er-thelizziebennetdiariesThe Lizzie Bennet Diaries by Pemberton Digital

Category: Web series

Find it on: YouTube

What it is:
An adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in the form of vlogs recorded by Lizzie Bennet. Her sisters, particularly Lydia, and some other characters also star. Lizzie is a communications student who works on her diploma, Jane is a fashion designer and Lydia is… Lydia, of course. Bing Lee and William Darcy arrive and shenanigans ensue, all more or less as Ms. Austen had planned.

How I found it:
Do you know that I don’t even remember? When I came upon it for the first time, the series wasn’t even finished yet though it was already in its last, less interesting, stage. I remember watching it (like, regularly watching rather than just having it play in the background; good times) around Christmas and devouring it very fast.

Summary judgment:
It’s surprisingly good. It keeps the spirit of the story fresh while – mostly – successfully adapting it to new realities.

Best things about it:
It’s really well-acted. Lizzie and Lydia are pretty amazing: not only do they know how to act (which is less frequent in these things than you’d expect), they also interpret Bennet sisters for the modern age. It has drama, emotions and humor, all the while remaining faithful to the original.

Worst things about it:
Weeeell, okay, this is not my Darcy. And I’m saying this in the nicest possible way because the actor seems like a fun guy and this character is almost impossible to pull off (defnitely up there with Gatsby) and also costuming doesn’t do him any favors… but no, that’s not a believable Darcy.

Other pluses:
It’s quite entertaining and while it doesn’t exactly keep you surprised (the story is preeeeetty well-known) it certainly keeps you interested.
The actors have some fun with playing their characters pretending to be other characters (it makes sense if you watch it) and I’m a sucker for this (let’s talk Orphan Black when I catch up).
The romances mostly hold up but the aspect of sisterly relations is particularly well developed, perhaps more so than in the novel itself.

Other minuses:
Eh, this costume theater thing is a bit too cutesy for me. I get what it does and it gives the actors the chance to have fun (and the producers to save some money) but it becomes too celebrated within the narrative itself and then it irritates me even more.

How it enriched my life:
It opened my life to the rich world of vlog adaptations of literature, but we already talked about it, I think.

Fun fact:
I was once listening to a podcast about various adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and the author claimed The Lizzie Bennet Diaries to be the best adaptation out there. Well, it doesn’t beat the 1995 BBC one, in my opinion, but it really is pretty good.

Follow-up:
I’m sure more vlogs await though I don’t currently have a specific list.

Recommended for:
Jane Austen fans. People who like a good story with relatively low production values and don’t take their entertainment too seriously – and conventionally.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Old Friends and New Fancies (yes, still Austen)

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