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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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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