Randomosity, Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Magicians

I read a few pages of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians in a bookstore once (it’s a thing I used to do) and I fell in instant love. Then I read the whole book and I still enjoyed it a lot though I very much did not enjoy volume two and so didn’t read on. However, I was still interested in the TV adaptation.

er-themagiciansThe Magicians (S1–3)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
This is this adaptation. So far it’s had three seasons, each one, I’d say, better than the previous ones. The story in the show (it differs a lot from those books I read) focuses on a group of students who are accepted into a mysterious college of magic where they learn to harness, well, magic. They are, however, all damaged in their ways and so their magical talents might do them (and the world?) more bad than good. They also discover that the magical world of Fillory of which they (some of them) read as children is real and much less idyllic than the books claimed.

How I found it:
Even though I didn’t love the second book and gave up on the literary series, I knew the adaptation was in the works and was curious. In fact, I watched season 1 a long time ago and barely remember it, especially as it didn’t enchant me (har-har) but I’m glad I never gave up on the show after that.

Summary judgment:
I seriously can’t wait for the next season!

Best things about it:
As the show progresses, it manages to get you more and more interested in the story and the characters (who start off as pretty unbearable). As it embraces the silliness of the premise, it finds ways to become what it should: a fairy tale for adults, not just because of the sex and violence (which, mercifully, they limit later) but especially because of the sense of wonder. It’s so rare these days that a story would evoke this fascination and simple curiosity about what’s going to happen next, which used to be the main reason for reading and watching stuff as a child.

Worst things about it:
Season one starts drunk on the fact that they’re able to show an “adult” fantasy in precisely the wrong sense. This results in a rather depressing story about a bunch of people you’d like to see quartered (well, not literally) rather than succeed.

Other pluses:
✤ Grossman’s book tries to take a more realistic view on what it would be like for young people to get magical powers. It seems to suggest that they wouldn’t do a whole lot of good with it, instead ending up as burnt out disappointments. Starting with this assumption, Grossman gets to play with fantasy tropes and famous series (most notably Harry Potter and Narnia) in quite an interesting and often funny way. The show find its way to this fun, too, and adds to it a lot of meta-humor, with characters recapping stuff to each other and explaining the archetypes which they represent. I know there are classy people who frown upon such things but me this ain’t.
✤ I love the kickass women of the show: Alice and Julia. Both of them are beautiful, smart and powerful and leave the men of the story  in their dust without even trying.
✤ But I also like Penny, jerk that he is. Arjun Gupta is doing possibly the most convincing job with inhabiting his character.
✤ I’m so glad that as the show progresses, the creators stop  being afraid of showing heart: they gradually shed the cynicism and discover that the story only gets better for it.
✤ The fantasy world looks very pretty: from the slightly psychedelic Fillory, through rather unimpressive Brakebills to the gloomy city, all the environments have recognizable visual tone.
✤ I particularly liked the structure of the third season. No more storylines dragging so long that you forget what they are about: instead the characters go on a quest and each episode has a slightly different idea (or gimmick). They even managed an unrepulsive musical episode (gosh, how I normally hate those).

Other minuses:
✤ Even though she slightly grew on me, especially during the last season, it was still a long way to grow and I am not entirely sure I’ve forgiven Margo for being the worst.
✤ Some other characters that it took me a while to, well, even recognize, let alone care about are Kady and Fen. I just don’t find them as compelling.

How it enriched my life:
It gave me many pleasants evenings and the, already mentioned, child-like sense of enchantment and wonderment.

Follow-up:
I wish season 4 was here already because I’m really curious about what’s going to happen (unfascinating as the new big bad looks yet).

Recommended for:
People who love urban fantasy and Narnia-like fantasy and would like to see it not only combined but also from a (sort of) adult perspective.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Arthur & George

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Tick

With all the superhero saturation, how about we discuss a superhero parody?

er-thetick01The Tick (season 1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
Another series by Amazon, this time reimagining the mock superhero Tick: a cheerful, blue mountain of muscle with feelers on his head. Together with an accidental sidekick Arthur in his moth costume they take on the Terror: an octagenerian (?) evil-doer. This description should give you a good idea about the tone of the show.

How I found it:
I used to enjoy the animated Tick from the 90s. I found it when I was first getting interested in the superhero genre and while I found some episodes uneven, I still enjoyed the humor in many of them. I didn’t immediately get excited about a live action version but in the end I decided to check it out.

Summary judgment:
It’s the right approach to the often overstuffy genre. I enjoyed it.

Best things about it:
Except for the first episode it hits the right tone, embracing the full ridiculousness of both superheroes in general and this specific bunch of them. Most of the characters, even some villains, are exceptionally likable and many ideas made me laugh.

Worst things about it:
The first episode doesn’t, I feel, know exactly where it wants to go: at times it’s a bit too close to Daredevil (I don’t like Daredevil). Overall, the show doesn’t necessarily become something essential but it’s a pleasant enough way to pass the time.

Other pluses:
✤ Ms. Lint might be my favorite villain of the superhero genre, especially with her very logical predicament (see the name).
✤ You have no idea how much I appreciate the villain as a creepy old guy because I always see them as villainous (take Xavier, for instance).
✤ I like the casual cheerfulness of the characters.
✤ There are small funny details, like Terror’s ship in the shape of T, whose escape pod is shaped like a lower case t. What, I like this kind of stuff. While we’re at it, I also found the creepy Danger Boat funny.

Other minuses:
Except for the fact I already mentioned, that is the general insubstantiality of the story, I don’t have complaints.

How it enriched my life:
It gave me a few fun evenings and it made my husband, even more genre-weary than me, reconsider superheroes.

Fun fact:
In the Polish-dubbed version of the animated Tick, they found the perfect voice for the main character: he made you feel happier and safer. But while Peter Serafinowicz doesn’t look exactly like I’d imagine the Tick, he does a good job with the voice-acting.

Follow-up:
Season two.

Recommended for:
Fans of superheroes who have gotten tired of the seriousness of those stories.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: The Lost Books of the Odyssey

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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

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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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Riverdale (S1)

I never read Archie Comics. I was aware of their existence but I only knew that’s where “Betty and Veronica” came from (TV Tropes is my heroin). But I saw the trailer for Riverdale and decided it looked interesting.

er-riverdale-1Riverdale (season 1)

Category: TV show

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A CW reinvention of classic Archie characters, which tries to make the story dark. It starts with the murder of Jason Blossom (and some statutory rape, to be very strict about it) to make it sufficiently dark from the go. Archie, Betty and Veronica (and also everyone’s favorite pretentious Jughead) are all somewhat involved with the murder, and with one another. The whole other bunch of stories revolves around the parents (who include Luke Perry, so I’m all for it) and their mostly dark pasts. So you know, it’s not the classic Archie story.

How I found it:
After I saw the trailer, I watched a couple of episodes and while I liked the look of the show, I dropped it for a long time. But during our game of Monster Hearts (never mind), A was always using Riverdale for inspiration and it made me return to finish the season.

Summary judgment:
This show turns out to be a lot of fun.

Best things about it:
It looks great. The stylization, the colors, everyone’s eyebrows: it’s all to the point and makes watching the show a visual feast. I particularly like how they use colored lights, especially aqua, magenta and red, to create the mood of the whole thing. Seriously, there are no white light bulbs in the entire town – and it creates such a memorable look. Oh yeah, and the story is okay, I guess.

Worst things about it:
I couldn’t care less about Jason Blossom’s murder. This whole crime part of the show didn’t grab me at all.

Other pluses:
✤ Well, hello there, Luke Perry. I spent my late childhood in love with Dylan McKay and I’m glad to see Luke Perry mature well.
✤ Speaking of this, Mrs. Cooper looks great: she’s clearly not 30 but possibly one of the most attractive people on the show. I like that age shows on some of the parents.
✤ I like how the show is going for far-fetched rather than realistic and how it’s clearly a decision, not an accident. It (barely) saves it from just being a weird soap opera.

Other minuses:
So here are a couple of characters I hate: Mr. Blossom, Mrs. Blossom, Mrs. Grundy (ugh). Veronica straddles the line and Hermione often crosses it.

How it enriched my life:
At first it was a bit of a time-killer but then I got quite invested.

Fun fact:
It’s got nothing to do with Riverdale, just with Dylan McKay but close enough. So a couple of years ago we watched a few first episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 and wow, was Dylan a terrible boyfriend. At one point he tells Brenda that he has his “needs” and it’s not his fault that she finds him with another girl if she missed a train by which she was supposed to come see him. It ruined some of my precious childhood fantasies. Also, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re clearly not my generation.

Follow-up:
I’m ready for season two.

Recommended for:
Fans of teen soap dramas on the dark side who don’t mind them rather theatrical. People who miss Beverly Hills 90210.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Still at it with Riverdale After Dark

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Show Case

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Pride and Prejudice

It’s becoming my new Christmas tradition (I did it for the second time this year, that is) to watch BBC’s Pride and Prejudice over the Christmas break. And this time I even made my husband watch it with me (and he loved it, or so he said).

er-bbcprideandprejudicePride and Prejudice by BBC

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
The most classic adaptation of the novel made in 1995. It has Colin Firth, who plays Darcy, who, for some reason, jumps into the lake. It’s the one you probably heard of even if  you never watched it: even Veronica Mars watched this one.

How I found it:
It’s a part of common cultural knowledge. But I decided to watch it last year after listening to a podcast about the novel.

Summary judgment:
It’s close to perfect, definitely my favorite among the many Pride and Prejudice-adjacent works I saw.

Best things about it:
It takes its time to tell the whole story, rather than just butchering it like shorter adaptations have to do. Thus, it manages to retain the atmosphere and the tone of the novel. It looks charming and does justice to many of the classic characters: these are my definitive Darcy and Lizzie but e.g. the Bingleys work great, too.

Worst things about it:
Sometimes it doesn’t trust the viewer enough. The characters make theatrical asides and see other people’s faces when they look into mirrors or at the landscape, which becomes humorous rather than dramatic and is entirely unnecessary for understanding the story.

Other pluses:
✤ I like the pacing of the story: it neither rushes nor drags.
✤ The first failed proposal of Darcy shall remain one of my favorite dramatic moments on TV.
✤ I like how Lydia is not vilified in this version but you still get to see her as destructive.

Other minuses:
✤ I don’t get all those scenes with wet Darcy. Is it just a female gaze thing? ‘Cause he looks plenty fine with his clothes on, too.
✤ Mrs. Bennet is a caricature. In fact, when my husband heard me watching the show last year, he kept remarking that he thought these were Monty Python guys pretending to be women whenever the actress monologued and, you know, I see where he was coming from.
✤ And this is not the adaptation’s fault because the situation remains the same in the book but it always irritates me so much that I can hardly focus on anything else: Mr. Bennet! What a perfect villain of the story, with his indifference, laziness and withholding affection from everyone but one chosen daughter. Seriously, I can’t do justice to my disgust at Mr. Bennet (and at how the story tries to make him likeable).

How it enriched my life:
It brings the book to life and, I think, it actually made me like the book more. Believe it or not, I wasn’t actually such a huge fan of it to begin with.

Fun fact:
Not fun, just me going on and on about Mr. Bennet (I’m such fun at parties, guys). It struck me this time how he hurts all his daughters but none more than Mary. Just think about it: he keeps saying how his two eldest daughters are smart and the rest is silly. But Mary, the third daughter and so the first deemed silly by her father, tries so hard to be smart, with her reading and her quotes. It loses her Mrs. Bennet’s interest, which the other two silly daughters have, but Mr. Bennet, whom she’s trying to impress, still groups her with the uninteresting part of the family. Poor Mary, irritating as she is.

Follow-up:
I’m already planning to re-watch it next Christmas. I might also revisit Keira Knightley’s film some time in the future.

Recommended for:
Fans of Pride and Prejudice and of solid, British costume dramas. Fans of Colin Firth, too.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: To Say Nothing of the Dog

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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 and 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 her 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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