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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Gaming Night

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Harry Potter Hogwarts

I am a fan of Harry Potter, board games and Lego blocks. And so today’s game was made specifically for me.* Let’s talk about

er-hplegoboardgameHarry Potter Hogwarts: a Lego game

Category: Games

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
It is a Lego board game where you build the board out of Lego blocks and then play a game with Lego figures (but those smaller than regular ones). You play as one of the Hogwarts houses, trying to complete four homework assignments (which basically means collect four objects) and return to your homeroom before anyone else. The difficulty lies in the fact that throwing dice is inherently hard and that corridors are constantly moved by players so you often find yourself on a blocked path.

How I found it:
I guess I saw it in a store? We got it as a Christmas present a couple of years ago and play every now and then when we want to play something silly and fun.

Summary judgment:
It’s a fun game that most people enjoy, with just enough competition and a lot of Hogwarts atmosphere.

Best things about it:
We are pretty sure this is the best Harry Potter Lego set and Lego board game set that was released (not that we have any others). Its depiction of Hogwarts, while symbolic and minimalistic, allows you to feel its atmosphere like the books do.

Worst things about it:
This feeling when you don’t know how to move the corridors to get where you want to and to stop Slytherin from getting to their destination. (I’m not great at strategy or spacial planning.)

Other pluses:
The game is quite intelligently designed in that the mechanics fit with the fact that it is built of blocks.
Like Lego tends to be, the components are of good quality and building the board is simply fun, like assembling any other simple set.
You can change the rules of the game by changing sides on the die, which we do happily every time to make for a more varied – and meaner – game.
I’m not normally into competitive playing but here it’s a lot of fun and I’m sure it would also work with kids.

Other minuses:
I guess the instruction booklet could use a bit better visual design. But it works, which means I’ve seen worse instructions.

How it enriched my life:
It’s a great addition to any evening with people who don’t take themselves too seriously and don’t irrationally hate on Harry Potter.

Fun fact:
Whenever we play no one wants to play Hufflepuff and everyone gangs up on Slytherin. I usually play Ravenclaw (and managed to lose badly the last time).

Follow-up:
I would play another Lego game if I had a chance though not necessarily buy one.

Recommended for:
Fans of any of the following: family board games / Harry Potter / Lego blocks. Which is to say: everyone?

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

* No, it wasn’t.

Next time: Holiday break. But I’m sure I’ll be back with a lot of new stuff to review

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Rotten Tomatoes

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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Rotten Tomatoes

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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Rotten Tomatoes

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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Rotten Tomatoes

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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