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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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Spider-Man Homecoming

Welcome to an unusually timely review because again I managed to catch a movie in the theater. I know I promised a different review this time but I want to talk about Spider-Man while the impression is still fresh and you might still care. So,

er-spidermanhomecomingSpider-Man: Homecoming

Category: Movies

Find it in: theaters, for now

What it is:
The newest version of the Spider-Man franchise when Marvel has finally managed to regain its flag hero (or partly regain him because it was still branded with Sony; I don’t know, you don’t come here for insider gossip, do you). For the first time ever we don’t get an origin story – instead Peter Parker is getting his sea legs (spider legs, maybe?) as the masked hero and trying to be both a high school student and a wannabe Avenger.

How I found it:
How could I not. I obviously saw the proto-trailer in the third Captain America. Then I saw the really bad actual trailer, which made me think “No way, this is going to be stupid.” But then I listened to a podcast where they said this was more of a high school movie than a superhero movie and I suddenly got way more excited.

Summary judgment:
It’s really pretty good. Not my favorite superhero movie by far but it has many things I normally miss in those. Like actual character moments.

Best things about it:
The tone. It was just light enough, without the unbearable grandiosity of most superhero movies, which made Peter believable. And it did manage to incorporate pretty well the high school aspect of the story, which also gave the creators a chance to dig deeper into character development rather than just to escalate battle scenes (looking at you, Ultron).
And super extra points for the animation in the first part of the credits, it was pretty great: creative, edgy and imaginative. It looked almost like a student project, only a really good one. I salute Marvel for keeping the art of credits alive.

Worst things about it:
Just skip this part because I’m sure I’m irritating you by now with my predictability but, you guessed it, the part I liked the least was the fight on the plane. It took too long – but at least there were just two people fighting, not a whole army of copy-paste aliens/robots.

Other pluses:
Tom Holland is great as Peter Parker. Again, a fantastic casting choice for MCU, up there with Robert Downey Jr even.
Vulture was a decent villain for Marvel, with believable (if boring) motivation. At least he didn’t want to destroy the world, he was just selfish and careless.
MJ! If she is to be a new Mary Jane, I’m all for it because it’s such a good take on this traditionally irritating character. If not – why not?!
I liked that most women looked like real women (more or less), even aunt May, whose beauty everyone was praising. And that her glasses weren’t props (pet peeve).
The school was realistic and neither glorified nor too depressing, with very naturally introduced diversity.
Oh, it had possibly the most successful product placement (the Lego Star Wars set) I have ever seen in that it didn’t bother me at all. I only noticed that it was a product placement when I read it in the credits.
And, most of all, it was a pretty funny movie.

Other minuses:
I didn’t care for Liz. She was one of those too-perfect, boring love interests and I hope MJ will be so much better. I don’t see how she wouldn’t be.
And that’s all! Can’t come up with anything else.

How it enriched my life:
I enjoyed myself. And I really like seeing how superhero movies try new modes and, pretty much, genres.

Fun fact:
So I know everyone has their canonical Spider-Man but mine is probably unsual: it’s the 90s cartoon that I was watching as a kid and it was one of the most exciting cartoons on TV at that time (but only because they didn’t show X-Men here). That, and Captain Planet. They should totally reboot Captain Planet.

Follow-up:
Next up Thor, of course.

Recommended for:
Fans of Spider-Man. Fans of MCU. People who want to see slightly differ superhero genres with actual characters.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: It will be Lizzie Bennet Diaries this time

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: When Demons Walk

Not everything I read is deep and ambitious. In fact, at least since I gave birth and my reading rates dropped drastically (sad but true), most things probably aren’t. But at least some of those lighter books are very entertaining. Like

er-whendemonswalkWhen Demons Walk by Patricia Briggs

Category: Books

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 1998 fantasy novel following Shamera, a magician turned thief who is recruited by a controversial leader of the intruders who invaded her country to stop a series of murders in the castle. Secrets, adventures and predictable romance abound.

How I found it:
Patricia Briggs in an author of another fantasy series about Mercy Thompson, a shapeshifter car mechanic, of which I am a fan despite its ridiculous covers (see below). When I came upon her other fantasy work, I was happy to check it out.

Summary judgment:
Well, it’s not a deep philosophical treatise to change one’s life. But as far as (non-)guilty pleasures go, it’s a fine one.

Best things about it:
It’s extremely entertaining. It reads really fast and keeps one very interested in how the story will unfold and, say what you will about lofty goals of literature, keeping the reader’s interest is the basic thing a book has to do. I’ll fight anyone on that.

Worst things about it:
I guess the title is the worst part because it’s pretty embarrassing and only tangentially appropriate for the story anyway.

Other pluses:
Pleasure reading for me lives or dies by its characters who have to be memorable and strongly drawn and Briggs succeeds with aplomb, not only in her portrais of Sham and Kerim but also of some of the side characters. The theory of magic makes sense, more or less, which I always prefer to when it doesn’t (I love Harry Potter but magic there is ridiculous).

Other minuses:
I might have been reading without enough focus (again, I guess) but I’m not sure why the trunk was open all the time and I expected it to become a significant twist. Speaking of twists, I felt that for the last fifth part of the book it was a bit too obvious who the culprit was, even before the characters realized it (but I guess that’s always a risk of mystery stories: either it’s too simple for the reader to figure it all out or so difficult that they have to be surprised at the end).

How it enriched my life:
It’s been a while since I read a book that I’d be really looking forward to continuing just to find out what happens next. It made several train rides to and from work much more pleasant.

Fun fact:
So the way I came upon Patricia Briggs’ work was through the covers of her books: but not because I thought them good. Once upon a time on the other blog we were writing a series of posts about bad book covers – we don’t do this anymore because it was unnecessarily mean but mostly because it took forever to write and document – and Mercy Thompson series was just hard to resist with the sexy lady seductively embracing a car wrench. Nobody was reading our posts back then but this one managed to attract a bit of attention and most of it came from the fans of the series who didn’t so much defend the covers as claimed that the books were good. So I finally read them, always on the lookout for a new fun series. And what do you know, they were right so thanks, fans.

Follow-up:
Apparently there are other Briggs works set in the same world and I am going to read Masques some time when I need this kind of entertainment again.

Recommended for:
Fans of accessible fantasy, strong female leads, magic mysteries and budding buddy romances.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: What We Do in the Shadows

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Mockingbird

I’ve been away for a few days but now that I’m back to my schedule:

er-mockingbirdMockingbird by Chelsea Cain

Category: Comics

Find it on: Amazon – Vol 1 | Vol 2

What it is:
A Marvel comic, all 8 issues long, about Bobbie Morse, Mockingbird, who takes on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s corrupt medical system and zombies and ghost pirates… Nope, I’m not up to summarizing this one, just read it for yourselves.

How I found it:
Actually, through this podcast. I’m a fan and I will often read things they plan to talk about so that I’m up to date.

Summary judgment:
It’s an original work of art, quite fast and enjoyable to consume. It’s also funny.

Best things about it:
Humor and the visual clues that you may look for or not in the background of the main story. It’s quite entertaining and ever since I liked the first three seasons of Family Guy I’m a sucker for a cutaway joke – and this comic has so many! The rescue tally might be one of my favorites.

Worst things about it:
I guess the overall arc once we got to explanations was a bit too unreal and, if you will, Marvel-like for my taste. I wouldn’t mind something a little bit down-to-earth (and coherent) – but maybe I just didn’t pay enough attention, distracted by all the details and shirtless Hunter.

Other pluses:
Mockingbird is a cool enough character: I like her competence and her devil-may-care attitude. I’m also a fan of Hunter since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (back when I watched it, that is). It reads really fast and you have to admire the puzzle box structure (even though I don’t think it’s as complex as the comic makes it out to be).

Other minuses:
I know it’s standard but I don’t like when art changes during a comic’s run so guest art was not my thing.

How it enriched my life:
I spent a pleasant evening and morning reading the whole run and was reminded that Marvel comics don’t have to be so standard and predictable as they sometimes appear to be.

“Fun” fact:
It’s not fun at all but apparently the author was harassed and threatened online by crappy readers who didn’t like the feminist overtones of the comic. Ugh, shouldn’t nerds be more open-minded, having been probably bullied or at least misunderstood themselves? (Not how it works, I know.)

Follow-up:
The comic was cancelled after 8 issues so I don’t expect to really follow up on it but I might be interested in other work by Ms. Cain.

Recommended for:
Open-minded fans of Marvel (or superheroes) who like twists in their superhero fare. People who like visual riddles. Feminists, maybe, or just people who like to see extremely competent female heroes.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Typo Berlin 2017

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