Rotten Tomatoes

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Penelope

The leaves are no longer green (except some still are) and the days are short. Halloween is over but Christmas is coming. It is Penelope season, guys. This movie gets some bad rep but for me, it’s one of my favorites. Let me tell you why.

er-penelopePenelope

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 2006 fairy tale starring Christina Ricci and James McAvoy (before he was Xavier). Ricci plays Penelope, a girl born with a pig’s snout because of a family curse and only a marriage to a “blueblood” can lift the curse (or so the story goes). McAvoy plays a down-on-his-luck ex-piano player, who falls in love with Penelope, snout and all. However, as in any rom-com worth its salt, both need to do a lot of growing to deserve a happy ending.
Also, let’s get this out of the way: I heard this movie criticized as one that tells girls they have to be pretty to win a guy and that’s their whole job… this movie says just the opposite. Now, I’m not saying it’s deep and complex but this kind of shallow it isn’t.

How I found it:
I don’t even remember but it was quite random. I like re-watching it in fall.

Summary judgment:
You might have already inferred that I’m a big fan of Penelope.

Best things about it:
It’s a charming visual delight. Everything about the world of this movie is thought-out and designed, like in an old Tim Burton movie: take Penelope’s insane house, especially, but not only, her room and most other locations, even such minor ones as the hotel she’s staying in. Penelope’s clothes are another example. Everything is so stylized that it immediately codes the story as a fairy tale. I also like how out of time the whole world feels, with bits of technology from different periods. And if you’re a visual person at all I challenge you not to be seduced by the colors.
On top of how great it looks, the movie manages to tell a fun, optimistic story in a somewhat original way.

Worst things about it:
It’s not a very profound movie, of course, and if you’re a certain kind of person you will see it as simplistic. But personally I don’t mind.

Other pluses:
✤ I’m not that interested in McAvoy but he delights as Max/Johnnie, even despite the hair. But Peter Dinklage and Simon Woods also do a great job.
✤ Let’s talk the beauty thing. Of course, whenever a movie will choose to focus on its female character’s looks, it sets itself up as regressive. But that is still the reality that women are judged for their looks more than for anything else, even if they run for a freaking president, so why not tell a story with this premise? I used to make fun of how little of a problem the snout actually is on Christina Ricci but when you think about it, that’s the whole point. Women obsess over all kinds of little problems in the way they look so it actually makes more sense than if she looked like a real monster. And in the end the movie makes it clear that there was nothing wrong with her appearance in the first place. I wouldn’t even spend so much time writing about it except I saw many negative reviews focused on the very issue.

Other minuses:
Witherspoon’s character is fun but possibly more could be done with her. Other than that, I’m coming up empty.

How it enriched my life:
It gives me a warm feeling and makes me smile every time I watch it. It is also one of too few things that make me look forward to fall.

Follow-up:
See you next fall, Penelope.

Recommended for:
Fans of romantic comedies with a slight twist, people still in touch with their inner child and those who like to look at pretty moving pictures.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Scott Pilgrim, the movie

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales

Just so you know, I’m not only reading Regency England romances (in fact, contrary to the impression the last few posts might have made, I’m not reading a lot of them at all).  And so today let me share a pretty different work, even if it does come broadly from the same island.

er-scottishfolkandfairytalesScottish Folk and Fairy Tales edited by Gordon Jarvie

Category: Books

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Published in Penguin Popular Classics series, it is what it says: a collection of Scottish folk stories.

How I found it:
I spotted it lying on my friend Z’s table. At the time I was reading Tam Lin by Pamela Dean and was interested to read the original tale – which I did on the spot. A few months later when Z was done with the book, I borrowed it because since then I started looking for stories on fairies and this seemed like a good source.

Summary judgment:
I liked it. It reminded me of how I used to read collections of folk fairy tales as a kid (and how many of them were pretty inappropriate for a kid, to think back on it).

Best things about it:
I like how varied it is. Pretty much every story is of a different character, even a different genre. They seem to come from different periods and focus on different functions of a folk tale.

Worst things about it:
Of course, that means some of them fell flat for me.
Also, I have a soft spot for Penguin Popular Classics but such collections, which contain sometimes opaque elements, would benefit from some introduction and the editor’s notes and this series simply does not include those.

Other pluses:
Here go my favorite stories: “The Seal Catcher and the Merman” – it has a clear image of selkies and even an ecological message. “The Magic Walking-stick” – it was completely different than what I expected, a Victorian short story rather than a folk tale, and it had very well drawn setting. “The Lonely Giant” – well-crafted story with a memorable protagonist. “Through the Veil” – Conan Doyle rarely disappoints and while this is very much a Victorian short story, it’s a good one.

Other minuses:
Some stories simply failed to interest me at all, like “The Milk-white Doo” (not a great introduction to the book) or “Adam Bell.”

How it enriched my life:
I learned about a selkie palace and who Thomas Rymer was.

Fun fact:
Penguin Popular Classics were the first books in English I ever owned. I got two Alices by Carroll and one Conan Doyle (I think The Hound) for Christmas and then kept getting them for various occasions when I discovered, to my delight, that my English was good enough to read them. So I know there are better Penguin series but this one will always have a soft spot in my heart. Also, they are dirt-cheap, which is always nice.

Follow-up:
It made me want to re-read The Golden Bough so I have to dig it up because I know I have it somewhere.

Recommended for:
Anyone interested in fairy tales or Scottish folklore, of course, but not inquisitive enough to need additional editorial notes.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Younger

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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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Bookworming

Fairytale in New York: The Golem and the Jinni

er-thegolemandthejinniAround St. Valentine’s I happened to read something more or less love-related so here comes a thematic post.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker will appeal to all you (us) Gaiman fans, at least those who always thought there’s too much pop culture savviness in his books and not nearly enough tenderness. It tells a story of end-of-nineteenth-century New York with its crucible of cultures, each of which brings its own legends and, unknowingly, magical creatures. Yes, something like American Gods but with less sex and way less gods.

As the title immediately informs, the protagonists are the golem, come from around Gdańsk, who represents Jewish culture, and the jinni, from a Syrian desert, who lives with Christian Syrian community. Their stories start separately but come together somewhere in the middle of the book, the encounter possible thanks to the magic of New York.

While the love that will ensue (is this a spoiler? I guess it’s obvious from the title) is not particularly thunderous (it evolves rather than erupts), another love dominates it: the one for the city of New York. New York of the novel is a mythical place, not only inhabited by magical creatures but also, like any true myth, it brings together opposites. The rich and the poor meet in the same parks and people exist both as a part of their secluded community and of something bigger that grows out of it. I quite enjoyed walking this city with the characters.

Like the city, the golem and the jinni struggle to unite oppositions: their generic nature that makes them act one way, and the confusing expectations of humanity that they’ve joined. Like most fairy tales, this is not particularly difficult or nuanced but the attempt to understand human beings – resulting in deciding to join their society – is interesting. Of the two creatures, I found golem much more engaging. She struggles maturely with her situation, not like a brat whose toys are taken away, the way the jinni sometimes acts. But also, the Jewish community itself held more attraction for me, maybe because of Gdańsk (or, historically accurate, Danzig, but we don’t like this name) and because Jewish culture is part of the literature I come from.

I also felt that the natures of the golem and the jinni reflected on, rather stereotypical, natures of women and men. The golem is born to submission, she lets caution guide her actions and passes the time with drudgery. The jinni rebels against caution, human ways and boring jobs, walks the city at night and leaves heiresses pregnant in his wake. I was wondering what would happen, were they the opposite and decided the male golem would be dull and the jinniyeh (which is apparently female jinni) irritatingly loose. So, I guess those stereotypes are not going anywhere. But the character who steals the show is actually the villain, the golem’s creator who arrives to New York in quest for eternal life: the author manages to make him both repulsive and fascinating as a villain should be.

Definitely not one of those grand reading experiences that stay with you forever, The Golem and the Jinni still read great and kept my interest; it even managed to be poetic at times. Sometimes (or, quite often) that’s all you ask of a book. Happy Valentine’s, especially to those of you who spend it with a book.

PS. The one scene that intrigued me was when the golem and the jinni met a couple of other unidentified-but-probably-supernatural creatures. I like that it was never explained who they were.

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