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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Stranger Things (S2)

When we finished the first season of Stranger Things, with all the sleep it cost us we decided to take a break before starting the second one. But it just wouldn’t do. As soon as we could, we plunged right back in into Hawkins.

er-strangerthings2Stranger Things (season 2)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Netflix

What it is:
The second part of the instant classic focuses more on the characters we got to know and loved in the first season. Mike is getting rebellious, Eleven is missing and new kids come to town, while pumpkins all over the town are rotting – and it’s almost Halloween.

How I found it:
You just couldn’t miss it with the whole internet waiting for the second season. And even though we watched it relatively soon after it was released, people still threatened to spoil it for us.

Summary judgment:
I liked it even more than the first season.

Best things about it:
People said it didn’t reach season one’s heights but I disagree with you, people. It focuses more on characters, capitalizing on the audience’s attachment to them. It gives them more sweet moments and space to change. It holds the action off till the last episodes, which I imagine might be a problem to some viewers but it only added to my enjoyment.

Worst things about it:
I appreciated that the fighty part was much limited but still the climax had too many ferocious monsters for my taste.

Other pluses:
✤ I loved Hopper and Eleven. You might’ve inferred that already but Hopper is my favorite character and I liked seeing him in this new role.
✤ The conspiracy journalist worked for me, particularly when lampshading Nancy and Jonathan’s relationship.
✤ I loved doctor Owens. I kept waiting for him to turn out evil but was glad when he didn’t.

Other minuses:
✤ I don’t feel that the new Californian characters, Max and the douche, add much to the story. Her, maybe, but so far he didn’t justify his appearance.
✤ The Chicago adventure didn’t feel exactly like the same show. But I would watch it as a spin-off.

How it enriched my life:
We spent another couple of evenings watching exciting adventures – but then we lost so much sleep again.

Follow-up:
I’m not losing sleep, waiting impatiently for the next season but I will watch it gladly.

Recommended for:
Everyone who fell in love with the characters and the setting during the first season.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Holiday break. I need to recharge. I might be back already after Christmas but the new year sounds good, too.

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Stranger Things (S1)

I’m a bit late to the bandwagon but I’ve finally watched

er-strangerthings1Stranger Things (season 1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Netflix

What it is:
An adventure story rife with monsters, conspiracies and friends for life. It takes place in 1983 in a small town called Hawkins where children bike and play DnD while the government runs illicit experiments. The first season lasts eight episodes and tells the story of a child who disappears and all those who will fight to get him back, facing both human and supernatural monsters.

How I found it:
I’ve been aware of everyone watching this show for a while and I promised myself to catch up some time but there was always something else to watch. But then my student wanted to do a project on the show and I felt obliged to watch it in the end.

Summary judgment:
Surprisingly, it’s not overhyped.

Best things about it:
It’s a charming, expertly done period piece, which adeptly juggles recognizable motifs and allusions. It uses my by-far favorite character archetype: the protective brute in the character of Hopper (it’s also the archetype of the best versions of Wolverine, so there). And it succeeds at the almost impossible: utilizing well child actors, who are neither obnoxious nor unrealistic. All the romances and friendships are drawn with delicate, sweet lines and to me matter more than the monsters and scares.

Worst things about it:
It’s not an objective fault, just a big one to me specifically: I hate horrors and so everything that recalls horror aesthetics, like a shaky camera and jump scares is a big turn-off for me. I could do without any of that but I see why these things were used on the show.

Other pluses:
✤ Winona Ryder’s character (I didn’t even recognize Winona until I read the cast list) marries vulnerability and strength.
✤ Have I mentioned that child actors are believable? That’s an achievement by itself.
✤ The interiors look great and so does everyone’s hair: it’s the picturesque kind of 1980s. But it’s the exteriors and the one-storey buildings that I find particularly memorable.

Other minuses:
Like everyone else on the internet I wish Barb had more scenes to shine in.

How it enriched my life:
We spent a few pleasant evenings and I got a few character ideas and some sleep deprivation.

Fun fact:
So the design project was for students to present a known story in four black and white icons and the student who wanted to do Stranger Things did a smart work dividing her design into black and white areas, with Will and Eleven placed on fields cut in halves, the boys on a white space and the demigorgon on a black square. But she was kind enough not to spoil the show for me so I only fully appreciated her design after I watched it.

Follow-up:
The next season.

Recommended for:
Everyone who grew up in the 1980s in small town America or wishes they did but with more adventures. Everyone who likes the movies about 1980s small town America with adventures.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: A sentimental journey to the world of True Blood

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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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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Avengers Age of Ultron

We went to see the second Avengers for the first time in the theater with our friends, Z&A. Z is the one person among us who doesn’t get excited about superheroes, to say the least. And by the time the final battle in Sokovia was raging and roaring on the screen, I really felt her pain. This was the first time I re-watched the movie since then and, knowing what to expect, I certainly enjoyed it more.

er-avengersageofultron Avengers: Age of Ultron

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 2015 sequel to The Avengers, still with Whedon at the helm. Iron Man is still the crux of the action, as he designs an AI named Ultron, whose job is to defend the Earth. But Ultron turns out to be the embodiment of all Stark’s worst features with a vengeance and decides to destroy the world instead, as Marvel villains tend to decide. So now it’s up to the Avengers to mop up their own mess. Marvel also got the rights to use two X-Men characters, Maximoff twins, and they debut here (and, spoiler, one of them ends here, as well).

How I found it:
After the trailers I was quite excited for the Scarlett Witch, particularly as she’s one of the characters I always liked.

Summary judgment:
When it’s good, it’s good. Other moments you can probably fast forward, unless you’re into that stuff.

Best things about it:
It manages to create quite nuanced character moments and even ask a few (obvious) philosophical questions about the nature of protection. The party scene early in the movie shows the great potential that these movies have and might be one of the best scenes in all the Avengers movies so far.

Worst things about it:
I wish they didn’t interrupt the great character scenes with fight scenes that need to happen every five minutes or so. Don’t get me wrong, some of them work to build the story, but some are just action fillers (and pretty much all of them are too long).
And they really dialled up the copy-paste villains to eleven. It’s almost literal with the Ultrons at the end. And one Ultron is way more than enough, as he is an obnoxious, irritating villain, with boring agenda and terrible jokes. If villains tell jokes, they must be funny. It’s a rule. And while the stakes in the final battle are well-drawn and the obligation to save the civilians understandable, the fight itself is soooo repetitive.

Other pluses:
✤ Scarlett Witch! I wasn’t at all disappointed with Elizabeth Olsen’s portrayal (and, as I said, my expectations were high). She shows beautiful vulnerability and her accent rocks. Pietro was okay, too, I guess – they could’ve done something better with him than kill him to save Hawkeye.
✤ I like the whole story with Thor’s hammer, particularly how they use it to characterize Vision. It’s a very well-paced beat.
✤ Some banter is very good, as expected. Stark, Banner, Fury and particularly Thor all have their moments.

Other minuses:
✤ The bogus Hawkeye storyline irritates me so much. All the movie long they pretty much tell you he will be killed and then he isn’t. I don’t mind that, as he’s better in this part than he was previously (in Civil War I straight-up like him) but this overdrawn foreshadowing is unnecessary and a waste of time.
✤ I take offence at the moment when Black Widow calls herself a monster because she can’t have children. I know what they tried to do but the result is tastelessly awkward.

How it enriched my life:
I learned about Ultron but I’m sure I could live without this knowledge. But when not watched in the theater, where the action sequences are simply too loud for a pleasant experience, it’s a pleasant enough way to spend an evening.

Fun fact:
Speaking of loud action moments, this is the only movie I saw in a theater when pregnant and J kept kicking during the fights. (Or it was just a coincidence, I guess. I don’t know much about pregnancies.)

Follow-up:
Now I’m ready to see the third Thor movie!

Recommended for:
People who liked the first Avengers but wished the villains blabbered more. People who want to see more character development and don’t mind fight scenes. People who want to see more fight scenes and don’t mind character development.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Finally back to Orphan Black?

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Avengers

My preparations for the new Thor continue, this time with the third watch of

er-avengersThe Avengers

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
The first movie with the Avengers, created in 2012 with Joss Whedon. Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow and the Hulk come together to save the world from Loki and his insectoid army under the suspicious guidance of Nick Fury and the S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s a grand-scale spectacle that tries to keep all its balls in the air and often succeeds, and these are so many balls… Oh, Hawkeye is also there.

How I found it:
I couldn’t wait for it! It was Marvel and Joss Whedon and I was sure this would be the best thing ever.

Summary judgment:
It’s not the best thing ever. I was pretty disappointed the first time I watched it but this time I enjoyed it for what it is and focused on the good parts.

Best things about it:
It actually manages to include a lot of Whedonian banter and to build relations between the characters through it. Most characters are strongly drawn within their limited alotted time and there are clear lines of conflict between them. And, let’s not fail to emphasize it, the banter is really funny.

Worst things about it:
I wish they didn’t spend so much time on the fighting and exploding and just used it for more banter. And before you yell at me: I know that’s not what superhero movies are for but hey, why not exactly? The battle of New York is so boring I barely watched it at all this time.

Other pluses:
✤ This time I appreciated more the proportions between action and character moments. I might have been a bit too tired with the copy-paste aliens when I left the theater to realize that there’s a lot of good stuff in this script.
✤ Tony Stark steals the whole movie: it’s pretty much another Iron Man with the rest of the Avengers guest-starring. But Thor, Banner and Rogers have their good moments too.

Other minuses:
I’m still not convinced about Loki. But at least he has a semblance of motivation, I guess.

How it enriched my life:
Like so many people I learned about Hawkeye from this movie (not that it’s a colossal gain). And I enjoyed a lot of it, too.

Fun fact:
Probably my first experience with the movie was tainted by viewing it in 3D. I really dislike 3D movies, they give me headaches.

Follow-up:
The second Thor and the second Avengers.

Recommended for:
I guess everyone who already is a fan of superhero movies or wants to see if this is a genre for them: this is a pretty good test to measure your superhero tolerance.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Another Marvel week starts with Thor No. 2

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Thor

In anticipation of Thor: Ragnarok we’ve embarked upon a task of re-watching previous Thor movies. And what a task it is. Let’s start with the first one:

er-thorThor

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
It’s the fourth MCU movie, introducing the Norse god of thunder, Thor, as he’s kicked out of Asgard flat onto New Mexico desert. There he meets a physicist Jane Something (in the stupidest meet-cute ever) and their redundant love story begins. But simultaneously in Asgard Loki, Thor’s (adoptive) brother is playing his games of lies. Thor is played by Chris Hemsworth, who brings a pretty good comedic timing and a whole lot of muscle to this enterprise. Oh, and Kenneth Branagh directs.

How I found it:
I watched it a while after it first premiered. The MCU was already a thing then but by no means did everyone talk about it like we do now.

Summary judgment:
It’s actually a pretty bland movie. It’s enjoyable enough but nothing special.

Best things about it:
We get glimpses of goofy Thor, which is really the best kind of Thor.
And I imagine people stand divided about this aspect, but I kind of like the visuals of Asgard: it’s memorable and mythic enough, much more interesting than the whole Earth part.

Worst things about it:
You figured it out: the Earth part, particularly the romance, which comes from nowhere and fails to explain itself. I know Thor had to forge connections with Earth for the sake of future stories but this was really half-assed.

Other pluses:
Some of the characters were quite good, including Sif, Frigga and Erik Selvig. I have very little opinion about Loki: I didn’t mind the performance but apparently everyone is in love with him and this I just don’t get. Of course, it’s where Agent Coulson’s brilliance starts and he really is charming.

Other minuses:
While I like the general impression of Asgard, some things I like less. These include the Bifrost and the Frost Giants’ world.

How it enriched my life:
It didn’t particularly, except for the usual pleasure of a spectacle.

Fun fact:
This is not related at all, but when we were first planning on watching Thor, I wanted to buy (barely alcoholic) beer for it and the lady asked to see my ID. I seriously thought she was joking and she thought I was being obstinate. Good story, huh.

Follow-up:
Unfortunately, Thor: The Dark World and Avengers, probably, all leading up to the new Thor movie.

Recommended for:
Fans of Norse mythology and (or: in) Marvel comics. People who like looking at ridiculously huge muscles or at silly horned helmets or at a desert. And I guess all those Tom Hiddleston fans.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Avengers

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Fantastic Beasts

I like most things Harry Potter and so, even though I wasn’t really waiting for it impatiently, I was quite ready to enjoy Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. And while it was pleasant enough to watch, I must say I expected more.

er-fantasticbeastsFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A Harry Potter movie spin-off from 2016, written by J.K. Rowling herself and directed by David Yates. Newt Scamander, the author of the fictional textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, arrives to New York with a suitcase full of fantastical animals. He plans to go to Arizona to release one of his beasts into his natural habitat but he gets sidetracked by local politics, the beasts’ escape and his own budding love – and somehow saves NY magic community, too. Ah, and it’s the 1930s so we get some allusions to the original HP series but no real players make appearances.

How I found it:
The usual way, IMDb trailers – plus all the buzz online and posters in the streets. You know, millions-worth marketing.

Summary judgment:
It looks so good but the story leaves much to desire.

Best things about it:
The visuals work great, particularly the presentation of New York: it’s very pretty in its sepia colors inspired by old photographs. I liked the look of the streets and of people (even if some of the streets looked a bit sleepy for such a huge city). The beasts didn’t excite me quite as much but that’s my personal indifference, they are probably very competently CGI-ed.

Worst things about it:
It feels like an adaptation of a book you didn’t read. But there is no book! However, the movie is created as if there is a story behind that you don’t quite follow. In other words, for a while there I wasn’t sure what – or why – was happening.

Other pluses:
Casting was partly great: Jacob and particularly Tina’s sister (I had to google her: Queenie) worked for me and I’d prefer them as focal points.
I liked glimpses of the stories that could’ve been fascinating were they in any way available to us. I feel like there is an untapped potential in the story.
I liked how real the actress who played Tina looked, much as I found her character bloodless and forced.

Other minuses:
I don’t quite get the idea behind this story. It feels like a patchwork of  different elements desperately sawn together. There’s no great reason for Newt to be the hero of the main events (other than the metro scene where the frightened boy is pictured like a wild animal?) – pretty much anyone else would have a better reason to get involved and his expertise is almost useless for the main plot, until he suddenly and unexplainably knows who the main villain really is. (I guess his knowledge of clichés told him?) All the escaped animals feel like a filler and distraction without any real bearing on the story. Many of the developments thus appear incidental and unmotivated.
And I had a real trouble understanding Eddie Redmayne’s speech, which tired me and made it impossible to relate to his character. Not the greatest character choice.

How it enriched my life:
I spent some relaxing moments watching it with R just enjoying the movie night(s) but that’s just about it.

Fun fact:
While I’ve read Harry Potter series many times (and some books in a few languages just for practice) and I even suffered through Cursed Child, so far I’ve drawn the line at Fantastic Beasts and Quidditch Through the Ages. Restraint.

Follow-up:
Even if they tap into the potential I sense here, I don’t really expect to be watching the second instalment. It would have to get some soaring reviews, I think. However, I feel another HP re-read coming on.

Recommended for:
Die-hard fans of Harry Potter (but you might be disappointed). People who like period pieces mostly for their pretty looks.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Musée Jacquemart-André

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