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Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Song of the Sea

Some things are made of pure beauty.

er-songoftheseaSong of the Sea

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A traditionally animated tale of Irish folklore come to life. Ben’s mother dies, giving birth to his sister, Saoirse, who can’t speak even at the age of six. But magical things are happening around the girl: as if all the tales Ben’s mother used to tell him weren’t just tales.

How I found it:
I saw The Secret of Kells by the same creators and while I didn’t entirely love it, I admired it. So the trailer of Song of the Sea made me excited to watch it (and it usually takes me four years or so to watch a movie I’m excited about, apparently).

Summary judgment:
It’s a delightful work of art.

Best things about it:
Many things work great in this little jewel but my personal preference is for the art. You can just stare at those lovely painted backgrounds and the details of animation and forget about the story altogether.
It wouldn’t be a wise move, though, because the story enchants – even more, I think, on the human, personal level than on the purely mythical one. I loved the way Ben has to embrace Saoirse and get over his initial hurt.
The mythical part is solid, too.

Worst things about it:
I suppose I would’ve gained even more from the movie if I knew more about Irish folklore but that’s on me.

Other pluses:
✤ I liked the contrast between the more mythical countryside and seaside and the city with its different look.
✤ As often, I appreciate the lack of any actual villains. The antagonists work according to their own sense of justice and manage to change. The hero struggles against his own limitations instead.
✤ It bears repeating: the gorgeousness of the texture of the whole movie. How poetic it is and how much it proves that on the purely visual level traditional animation will always have an advantage over 3D. Feel free to disagree but know that you’ll be wrong.

Other minuses:
Maybe I wished a little bit for the mother to stay with them. I’m just sappy like that. It’s probably a right decision from the narrative point of view that she didn’t.

How it enriched my life:
I learned to pronounce Saoirse (came in useful around Lady Bird). I gathered bits and pieces of Irish folklore. I admired the visuals so much you can hardly admire anything more.

Fun fact:
The first few scenes of the movie is the first animation our son ever watched (we keep him away from screens because we want to bring up a wild child) and he loved Saoirse swimming with seals.
Also, it’s super hard to keep a two-year-old away from screens when all you do all day is stare at them. Our son has already learned typing in Notepad (sort of).

Follow-up:
I’m interested in anything else the creators come up with.

Recommended for:
People who can appreciate beauty and tenderness in any form.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Guilty Pleasures (it’s a title)

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Your Name

I’m not a great expert on anime – I haven’t even seen a whole lot of classics – but I always enjoy a Miyazaki and often other things too. And the latest thing from this category I had a pleasure to encounter, I enjoyed a lot. (Also, some spoilers, as usual.)

er-yournameYour Name

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A 2016 Japanese animation that was apparently the highest grossing Japanese movie ever, or movie in Japan some time or anime – at least one of those. It made a ton of money, and with a good reason because it’s a beauty. It tells a story of two high school students, one from Tokyo, one from a tiny town, who start switching bodies and living one another’s lives. They also develop feelings for one another in the process and while this would be enough to make a movie, there’s a whole other twist to the story, which raises the stakes halfway through the movie.

How I found it:
Maybe IMDb recommended it but mostly it was R’s choice for a movie night.

Summary judgment:
I loved this movie. It looks so pretty and it makes you feel feelings.

Best things about it:
Its best part is the combination of lovely animation – particularly the detailed, painterly backgrounds – and the actually good, exciting story.
I cared for the main characters and when the time gap twist happens in the middle, it’s quite exciting and makes you root for the characters to succeed.

Worst things about it:
This is not at all the movie’s fault but I suppose it took away from my personal enjoyment a little bit: I feel like I might have missed some parts of the story due to my very subpar knowledge of the Japanese tradition and mythology. Again, it’s completely on me, of course. I did get the red string though.

Other pluses:
✤ What sounds like a silly enough premise manages to become something emotional.
✤ The creators know what they’re doing. Sometimes the chopped chronology makes you think: This makes no sense, but in the end it turns out to make sense once you have more data. Impressive.
✤ I liked some background characters, particularly Mitsuha’s friend.
✤ The contrast between metropolitan and rural territories works great, without overly idealizing one over the other.
✤ The fantastical element is very subtle, it doesn’t hijack the story into a different genre, and so it becomes pretty much mythical rather than just gimmicky.

Other minuses:
✤ Maybe the “your name is” yelling happened one or two times too many. That’s me nitpicking though, not a great habit.
✤ I can see how some of the jokes might be a bit uncomfortable, particularly the one with breasts.
✤ I didn’t love the music but it barely matters.

How it enriched my life:
It surprised me how much I liked it. It also gave me a blurry idea of some Japanese customs I knew nothing about so that now I know very little about them.

Fun fact:
The way I know about the red string of fate is because I used to read soooo many online comics and there was one that included this. (I didn’t read a lot of that one, though.)

Follow-up:
I will return to it for sure and I’ll also check Makoto Shinkai’s other movies.

Recommended for:
People who like anime and even those who are only lukewarm about it. Anybody who likes Japanese storytelling, particularly one involving many illustrations of trains and train tracks. Even fans of romantic comedies who don’t require them to be live action.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Loving Vincent

er-lovingvincentLoving Vincent

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A bold animation experiment by a Polish artist Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, it tells the story of an attempt to discover the reasons for the death of Vincent van Gogh, undertaken a year later by his casual acquaintance. The movie uses oil painting combined with more typical animation and regular live acting in a truly impressive way, pushing forward the formal limits of animation. Van Gogh’s paintings come to life, the people he painted begin to inhabit his own story and the viewer follows an investigatory journey into his last days. Or you can think of it as of a painted, animated version of that Don McLean song (whose cover, appropriately, is used during the credits).

How I found it:
I saw some sort of trailer when it was being made and thought it a somewhat interesting idea and then my friend A asked me to go with her to see it.

Summary judgment:
Whether you like van Gogh or not (I’m not a fan) this is a chapeau-bas impressive work of art – and of love, which shows.

Best things about it:
I’m really impressed with the guts and patience it took to undertake the whole endeavor, and no less with the fact that it worked. Not only does the movie look great and employs actual paintings by van Gogh in an intelligent way – the story also keeps you interested. It manages to recreate the atmosphere of the places where van Gogh lived in France and to breathe life into the people he immortalized in his portraits. The colors live on the screen and I loved focusing on the thick texture in some of the backgrounds. This technique works particularly well for the images of nature.

Worst things about it:
I said already, I think, that I don’t like criticizing things that are obviously labors of love because I know what it feels like to become so obsessed with a creative idea that you push through just to see it done and, frankly, we could always use more of those. So I’ll just put some minor stuff in “Minuses” but mostly I’m writing to express my admiration.

Other pluses:
✤ The colors and how they are used to create the mood of the scenes. You can see what the light must have looked like for the characters.
✤ It’s quite a feat of both the screenwriters and the actors that even the minor characters are lively and memorable, particularly those in Auvers. You also become quite involved in the very mystery of what happened.

Other minuses:
✤ You need to get used to the vibration that stop-motion animation brings: sometimes the screen seems to twitch before your eyes.
✤ The style is slightly uneven in that in some scenes the actors seem to push through the paintings’ layer more than in others. But I do realize that with an experimental technique like this one, there are no conventions the viewers are used to so everything, both good and bad, becomes more visible.
✤ Probably the storytelling might be called sentimental. I don’t mind so much but I imagine some people I know that would cringe so hard at that. Basically, if you like “Starry Night” the song, you won’t mind this either because the tone is similar.
✤ I guess the biggest thing for me personally is that most of van Gogh’s paintings don’t speak to me on an emotional or aesthetic level (and so I actually preferred their animated versions to the originals). A movie in which e.g. Corot’s paintings come to life, that I would love to see even more.

How it enriched my life:
It interested and impressed me, both on a narrative and technical level.

Fun fact:
At the end of the movie as people where getting up you could hear muffled sniffling in the theater.

Follow-up:
I will be interested in seeing it again, at least to pay even more attention to how the whole thing is done. It’s also definitely worth seeing some sort of making-of movie about.

Recommended for:
Painting and animation lovers. Anyone fascinated by van Gogh’s legend or even just by the whole “tragic artist” myth.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Stranger Things

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

It’s time for an exploration of another Disney classic (or should-be classic?),

er-thehunchbackofnotredameThe Hunchback of Notre Dame

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 1996 Disney animation loosely based on Victor Hugo’s romantic, fatalistic, huge novel Notre Dame de Paris.

How I found it:
I was broadly aware of its existence but never actually watched the movie as a child. This was the first time.

Summary judgment:
Except for a few slightly hiccuppy moments, it’s a good movie and I enjoyed it. Whether I’d watch it with a child is a different matter – I’m not sure.

Best things about it:
It’s actually a good movie: strong, fairly focused, dramatic and socially involved. The characters are instantly likeable or hateable and you feel the atmosphere of the cathedral.

Worst things about it:
I feel this movie is not quite sure who it wants to be for. If it’s for an older audience (dare I say: young adults), there might be too much childish humor personified by the gargoyles. If it’s for kids, maybe there should be a little less sexual obsession and straightforward murder. However, to be quite honest, I might fall into this gray area because I felt I was a representative of the right audience, except I doubt that’s what Disney executives had in mind.

Other pluses:
It’s a very interesting, swiftly moving movie that touches upon extremely ambitious, unusual subject matters: xenophobia, fanaticism, alienation, all those things you normally only find in animations as metaphors.
Quasimodo’s character, as well as Esmeralda’s, are quite complex and relatable.
Animation is lovely, especially the cathedral looks great. It is so central to the narrative that is becomes another character and I always like when any place can be presented in such a lovely way, let alone a place so dear to my heart.

Other minuses:
I’ve got just one huge problem, which might even be “the worst thing.” Quasimodo is very marginalized in the story! It’s taken for granted that he could never get the girl, just because he’s not handsome. And yes, I know it’s loosely inspired by Hugo but the ending is different anyway, so couldn’t we make it a bit more progressive? Phoebus is great, I know, and they make a good couple with Esmeralda but Quasimodo is shown as having a huge crush on the girl only to have to learn that she is way out of his league. And it might even be a realistic lesson we all learn at one point in life but with the way he and Phoebus are presented, I’m afraid what children take out of this is “pretty goes with pretty.” Again, it might be true but not a message by whose reinforcement I stand.

How it enriched my life:
It’s always fun to look at the Notre Dame cathedral, which is one of my favorite places in the entire world, no kidding. Also, I always wonder what’s up there on those upper balconies where tourists are not allowed to go and the movie is taking place there so I enjoyed that.
It is also very interesting to see this different tone in a classic Disney animation. I think it might be the most underappreciated one out there.

Fun fact:
Esmeralda is not a part of the official Disney Princesses franchise and there is really no good reason for this omission. She’s one of the most kickass princesses (well, “princesses,” but so is Mulan), brave, talented and not afraid of her sexuality. Shame, Disney.

Follow-up:
In due time I will continue to explore those Disney classics that I somehow missed in childhood. And I will probably rewatch this one some time.

Recommended for:
Fans of Disney animation who are already capable of making their own judgments and not excessively afraid of hellfire or of depictions of fanaticism.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Marvels

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Zootopia

I may not follow most of modern cinematography but I’m reasonably up to date with animations (except for Minions; can’t stomach those) and recently I caught up on

er-zootopiaZootopia

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 2016 animation about a city of anthropomorphic animals which have left behind their days of hunting and being hunted and instead live together in a civilized state – at least, until some of the predators start to go wild again. An ambitious rabbit police officer is determined to solve the case with the help of a fox con man (con fox?). In other words, it’s an animated action movie for kids, with a thinly veiled social message of tolerance.

How I found it:
I think the usual way, a trailer on IMDb. We also have friends whose child is just the right age to follow up current animated movies so they update us on what is good.

Summary judgment:
The story and animation are okay but the metaphor doesn’t really sit with me.

Best things about it:
The animation is pretty good, especially the attention paid to creating all the different environments in which different animals live – not just the more or less natural environments but the more creative ones, like the small district and the rural bunny area.

Worst things about it:
Okay, I know the message about tolerance and not stereotyping people is extremely important and current but it really took away from my pleasure of watching the movie. Not only was it extremely unsubtle but I couldn’t help feeling it didn’t exactly work. The more you get into the metaphor, the more unconvincing it becomes.

Other pluses:
The characters are pretty likeable, particularly the fox. I’m also glad a strong, determined female character continues to be favored by Disney and girls get new role models (even if to me personally Judy felt extremely on-the-nose). The message that if you try hard enough you can achieve anything is worth repeating and maybe it will become true one day.
I suppose the allusions to classic action dramas are exciting for people who actually watched them?

Other minuses:
So, this metaphor… I feel the more you scratch at it, the more it doesn’t work because the animals can’t really change who they are, can they? So some of them are born with tendencies to prey on the others? And Judy and Nick can’t really be together, can they? All sorts of problematic.
And I do know metaphors are never complete analogies (sidenote, I did read Metaphors We Live By and I do find it insightful) but this one just doesn’t convince me. It might be my problem, I’ll admit.

How it enriched my life:
I always like spending some time watching animation and it’s a pretty, fast-paced, generally pleasant movie with a positive message if you don’t overthink it.

Fun fact:
We love foxes in all shapes and forms so a fox as the main character will always be a plus. And little Nick was almost too cute.

Follow-up:
I’m not at all excited for Zootopia 2. Also, I wish they didn’t make series of all the movies because the next ones are almost never good.

Recommended for:
Mostly children. And for people who like both action movies and children’s animations.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Lego Batman Movie

We spent two evenings recently trying to have fun despite a lot of work and too little sleep and the way we chose to achieve it was watching

er-batmanlegoThe Lego Batman Movie

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
It’s like The Lego Movie only with Batman? It’s like a Batman movie made of Lego? Yep. That.

How I found it:
I liked The Lego Movie. And I have no religious admiration for Batman, like some people do, so I don’t mind his ridiculous rendition (in fact, it was one of the more likeable versions of Batman I’ve seen). So when I saw the trailer on IMDb (yes, that’s how I mostly find out about movies: I like trailers) I decided to watch it some time.

Summary judgment:
I don’t even know! This was such a weird thing. Maybe I expected something a bit different.

Best things about it:
Same thing that was great about the first Lego Movie: the animation that suggested stop-motion Lego movies made by fans and all the cute visual ideas of how to use recognizable blocks to tell the story (or just to insert some visual gags). Yet, I feel it was more impressive in the first movie (not least of all, because then it was a fresh idea).

Worst things about it:
I guess it just wasn’t exactly a movie for me. On the one hand, it had so much chaotic action it was hard for me to follow all the battles. I know I always rant about how I dislike battle scenes but here it wasn’t exactly that: I mostly resented that I couldn’t tell very well what was going on with too much action on the screen and too many elements (hehe) so that I was missing all the ingenious little details. On the other hand, the main theme of the story, how Batman needs to find a new family and have courage to accept it (yep) was clearly directed at (young) children with all the innumerous repetitions. It just bored me.

Other pluses:
I actually liked the unapologetic use of all the trade marks Warner Bros owns, particularly when Voldemort appeared so out of character. It was very in-your-face but, I guess, this kind of humor works for me? Also, I’ll never resent a Harry Potter allusion, whatever it is.
Of course, many jokes were still funny, I just think I hoped for more of them. Many visual ideas were cute.
Will Arnett’s Batman is one I stand behind.

Other minuses:
I managed to put them all into Worst Things and it just doesn’t feel right to look for even more of those faults in a movie whose target I clearly wasn’t. I would feel like harping on a movie for three-year-olds that it didn’t have enough depth and drama.

How it enriched my life:
It was mildly entertaining, and still better than most serious movies I could’ve been watching at the time. I also remember I learned something from the elusive Batman mythology but I’ve apparently already forgotten it…

Fun fact:
So, in case you haven’t noticed so far, I’m definitely a Marvel girl. And I know it doesn’t seem to make sense, as liking Marvel one should also like DC, but somehow it doesn’t work that way. Not for me, anyway.

Follow-up:
So I saw the trailer for the next Lego movie: Ninjago and I’m definitely NOT watching that one. It looks like a very extended ad.

Recommended for:
Children who like Lego and Batman. Adults who like them so much they will gladly watch a children’s movie that has both. Parents who need to watch movies with their children and prefer something that has at least some jokes for parents in it.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Waitress

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Beauty and the Beast

I find classic Disney movies one of those things you don’t really grow out of: like any true work of art you can enjoy it at any age for different reasons. Of course, not everything Disney comes up with fits the definition so join me on my judgment on

er-beautyandthebeastBeauty and the Beast (1991)

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
One of Disney’s princess movies. An animated story based on the French fairy tale, where a young girl displeased with her provincial life, trades her freedom for her father’s. She gets to live in an enchanted castle with the Beast and his magical reified servants and both she and the Beast learn to love one another for a happily ever after.

How I found it:
It wasn’t the first time I watched it but a podcast I heard recently reminded me of the movie and made me wonder if I would still be so disenchanted with it as I was when I rewatched it a few years ago.

Summary judgment:
No, I wasn’t. In fact, I greatly enjoyed the movie, it might be one of my favorite Disney princess stories (up there with Tangled and Little Mermaid).

Best things about it:
It has a lovely atmosphere. I particularly like the pretend “Frenchness” of it: the beautiful landscapes and how the songs allude to various kinds of French music.

Worst things about it:
The curse makes so little sense, the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. Why did the servants get turned at all? How many were there? Did they get turned based on their job descriptions or last names? What happened to the original brooms and closets? Wasn’t it extremely awkward to eat with live spoons that used to be your table maids? Did they all eat people or just the one turned into a chest? If so, who did they eat???

Other pluses:
I’m normally not a fan of all the song interruptions in Disney movies but here they really work: I liked at least a half of these songs and the opening scene is quite brilliant. The story is enjoyable and does not meander into unnecessary places. Everything looks pretty great!

Other minuses:
There are some problems with representation, especially when it comes to Le Fou and the asylum doctor: more sensitivity wouldn’t have hurt. To be fair, though – it was the 90s.

How it enriched my life:
It charmed me and trasnported me to a pleasant place.

Fun fact:
We were watching the movie during our stay in Berlin and all the time we kept thinking: “Wish we were in France now.”

Follow-up:
I will probably rewatch this movie some time in the future. I also plan on watching and rewatching some other Disney movies that somehow slipped through the cracks for me.

Recommended for:
Girls who have dreams greater than marriage (but will settle for marriage, assuming it’s to a rich prince). People who like old-school, 2D animation. People who wish they were spending their holidays in Provence.

Enjoyment:

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: When Demons Walk

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