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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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Wonder Woman

Here’s another movie I’m watching a bit after the raving has finished.

er-wonderwomanWonder Woman

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
DC’s attempt (somewhat successful, even if not from my point of view) at catching up to MCU. It shows the origin of Diana, aka Wonder Woman, a lasso-wielding, short-dressed Amazon who comes to regular, non-mythic Earth to help solve WW1.

How I found it:
For a while it was all the rage, remember?

Summary judgment:
I expected to dislike this film but for different reasons (or fewer reasons) than I eventually did.

Best things about it:
We watched it during a long train ride and it lasted about 6 hours like the ride itself so we had something to occupy the time without feeling like we’re wasting a good movie on that.

Worst things about it:
I don’t like war movies and that’s why it took me a while to watch this one, even though everyone was raving about the feminism of this film, which should’ve been enough to pick my interest. Well, the war part wasn’t the worst part. In fact, what I disliked most was the predictability of the plot, as if the script was written by a complete beginner. I knew the “twist” from the first line the actual Ares spoke (if it sounds like bragging, you have no idea how transparent that “twist” is) and the “mystery” of Diana’s origin is equally easy to figure out from a thing she says super early on. Additionally, the movie bored the hell out of me: once she gets to the front line there’s absolutely no reason to keep watching.

Other pluses:
✤ Kid Diana was adorable.
✤ Diana’s arrival to London and her meeting with the new team were the least awful parts of the movie – which the producers fully knew because they filled most of the trailer with these scenes.

Other minuses:
✤ Where’s the feminism? I’m glad they let a woman direct a superhero movie but that’s not enough. There was nothing in this story that wouldn’t work with Captain America in Diana’s place: he would also opt to save the village and feel sorry for the children and probably even didn’t like the way people treated women.
✤ I’m sure Gadot is a lovely person and what not but I found nothing charismatic or convincing about her performance. She still mostly functioned as eye candy and the creators of the movie didn’t make any interesting choices about her character (like at least updating her costume). What’s revolutionary about her ability to kick ass? Literally every other well-known female superhero can do that.
✤ A mandatory action scene complaint: this time I hated how prolonged and full of pathos they were. Seriously, with the slow motion. Apparently it’s something characteristic of DC? I don’t like it.
✤ I wish they came up with a more interesting visual language for the mythical island. Look at what Black Panther did: they also didn’t have a very interesting story to tell (they didn’t) but the visual style with which they told it! Wonder Woman just has a lot of obvious choices and wasted potential.

How it enriched my life:
It helped us pass a train ride. And it re-convinced me I’ve got nothing to look for in the DC movie universe.

Follow-up:
For now I’m not interested in anything else from this franchise but I’ll probably be misled again in the future.

Recommended for:
Personally, I don’t know, but judging by the enthusiastic reviews this movie got, I’m sure there are many people who enjoyed and will enjoy this. Good for them.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: Fun Home

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Cloak & Dagger

Keeping up with the superhero fare, we watched

er-cloakanddaggerCloak & Dagger (S1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
Freeform tries their own approach to Marvel with this story of two teen superheroes discovering their powers. Tandy, or Dagger (though, to the show’s credit, they don’t really use nicknames) has light powers: she can manipulate hopes and create deadly daggers made of light. Ty (Cloak) manipulates fears and teleports. They go against evil corporations and corrupt police in a very lovingly portrayed New Orleans.

How I found it:
I knew it was one of Marvel shows in development and while I didn’t wait excitedly for this one, I was still interested enough to give it a try.

Summary judgment:
I enjoyed this one well enough.

Best things about it:
I guess the surprise that this show is. Even though it’s produced by Freeform, the home of teen soaps, it doesn’t focus on love triangles and dramatic backstabbings. Instead it goes for a more sombre tone and not everyone looks like a supermodel.

Worst things about it:
I guess Ty and Tandy’s personal stories and stakes didn’t grab me as much as they could’ve: for most part I was only somewhat interested in their troubles.
And a particular pet peeve: the shaky camera. We know you can afford a tripod, Disney, stop being pretentious.

Other pluses:
✤ The city of New Orleans and how it’s an integral part of the story, not just an anonymous setting. The stakes become more intimate (they don’t fight to save the world, just their city) and this is always a feature of any good urban fantasy that the city lives in it.
✤ I particularly enjoyed the police storyline, which is normally not my interest. But the corrupt police department and the one good cop won me over.
✤ I liked the proportion of action scenes to drama. It didn’t feel like the writers were obliged to put a fighting scene into every episode just so it would be there.

Other minuses:
Sometimes it was really hard to root for Tandy with all the cruel decisions she habitually made.

How it enriched my life:
It became another show to watch with my husband – and literally the only Freeform show he’s ever seen with me (yes, I’ve seen quite a few; miss you, Greek).

Fun fact:
The thing that made the show double fun for me was the fact that Comic Book Club guys made an after-podcast about it. Hearing their take on the show made watching it more fun.

Follow-up:
I will watch season two and see which way it goes.

Recommended for:
Marvel fans looking for a slightly younger angle without the overpolished look that Runaways have.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: The Age of Wonder

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Crooked Kingdom

Summer is great for reading books for pleasure, particularly when your doctor tells you to spend a part of the day in bed and so: no remorse!

er-crookedkingdomCrooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
A sequel to Six of Crows, a YA (but not infantile) adventure fantasy about a group of teenage criminals who take on the system, conning merchants, armies and politicians with nothing but a handful of talents and the power of friendship.

How I found it:
I read the first volume – maybe last year? I quite enjoyed it but forgot the story so completely that before reading Crooked Kingdom I needed to read an online summary.

Summary judgment:
Pure entertainment, but of a very competent and enjoyable kind.

Best things about it:
Bardugo builds an interesting world based loosely on historical places (the Netherlands, a sort of idealized Russian empire, only with magical mutants, Scandinavia) and the entirety of this volume takes place in Ketterdam, the capital of the Dutch-like Kerch, where profit is god (literally), which allows her to focus on the city and make it more than just a location. The specificity of the place differs the story from most adventure fantasies with their stock locations.

Worst things about it:
I guess the fact that I forgot the first volume proves that this is a fairly forgettable experience. Still, it’s better than pretty much any adventure movie you could watch instead

Other pluses:
✤ The book never bores you, always swift with the action and properly entertaining. Some of the twists manage to be surprising.
✤ The completionist in me really enjoys the fact that it’s just the duology. I’m always a little daunted by those multiple-volume fantasies.
✤ I liked some of the characters, particularly Nina.

Other minuses:
✤ I’m not a fan of the typical adventure story structure where each chapter ends on a cliffhanger but at least in Kingdom‘s case I could hope that each new chapter will soon grab my attention, too.
✤ I feel the characters could use a bit more development. We don’t learn much about them beyond what was already revealed in the previous part.

How it enriched my life:
I simply enjoyed reading it, without necessarily changing my outlook or learning anything in particular.

Cover notes:
The crow-city combo was done better on the first volume’s cover. Here, while the crow is expressive, the buildings become a little naive. I have minor complaints against the typography (even though the fancy title typeface works inside of the book) but despite my whining it’s still levels above your average YA cover.

Follow-up:
Bardugo wrote more books about her Grisha mutants and I’m not opposed to reading one of those some other lazy summer (or, you know, winter).

Recommended for:
Fans of good YA adventure with careful world building.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Cloak & Dagger

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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: Three Princes

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

er-threeprincesThree Princes by Ramona Wheeler

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

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

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Show Case

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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