Rotten Tomatoes

Bulk Review: Teen Superheroes, Moody Actresses and Mars

I’m failing to properly review all the movies I’m watching (plus, I’m not watching some of them very closely) so I decided to put a bunch of much shortened reviews together for some of the films I watched within the last few months.

Sky High

Year: 2005

What it is
A superhero movie before they tried to be for adults, it’s not embarrassed to be colorful, include bad jokes and smell of Disney when everyone associated it with Mickey Mouse.

Memorable parts
This is such a campy movie, from the costumes to Kurt Russell’s performance.

Why watch it?
You can watch it with your children and everyone will find something about it to enjoy. If you watch without kids,  you might want to play a drinking game in which you drink every time you guess ahead what is going to happen – but that might kill you.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

All About Eve

Year: 1950

What it is
Bette Davis plays an aging theater star, Margo, who allows herself to be seduced by the admiration of a young superfan, Eve. But then Eve shows her more sinister face and it will take both Margo’s friends’ devotion and someone even more sinister to thwart her plans.

Memorable parts
Bette Davis proves her mettle but for the short time when she’s present it’s the young Marilyn Monroe that gives the most charming performance of the movie.

Why watch it?
It’s a classic and well-worth its renown, if you don’t mind the truly theatrical character of the story. It could play as well on an actual scene but I like how it’s unapologetically a psychological drama.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

The Big Sick

Year: 2017

What it is
A sort-of romantic comedy based on the creators’ own experiences. Kumail and Emily come from different cultures, which makes their relationship difficult but it’s her sudden illness that will (gradually) change everything.

Memorable parts
I particularly liked Emily’s parents: they’re human, believable and get some great lines. I found it hard to connect to other characters, including the main ones.

Why watch it?
If you like romantic stories with a tinge of real-life bitterness, you might enjoy this one. Some jokes made me smile though it’s not a hilarious kind of comedy.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

East of Eden

Year: 1955

What it is
The classic adaptation of Steinbeck’s novel focusing on the most exciting part of the book: the relationship between the younger Trask brothers.

Memorable parts
Obviously, how Cal is played by James Dean in one of the two parts defining his legend.

Why watch it?
It’s a competent, good-looking adaptation. James Dean remains interesting (though remembering he’s supposed to play a teenager taxed me a little) and Raymond Massey as Adam Trask shines in the background.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

The Martian

Year: 2015

What it is
A grounded science-fiction (and a big NASA ad) about a cosmonaut accidentally left on Mars and about the efforts to recover him.

Memorable parts
Mars looks great (wherever they created it), beautiful and indifferent. Matt Damon proves he’s one of few actors who can pull off monopolizing the camera for such long stretches of time, thanks to his charisma. (Plus a personal bonus: it has Sean Bean.)

Why watch it?
It’s an essentially optimistic tale of human solidarity and resilience and manages to create suspense without relying on any villains.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Pretty in Pink

I can’t seem to shake off the 1980s. Here we go again.

er-prettyinpinkPretty in Pink

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
One of those John Hughes movies about American teenagers in the 1980s (though this time he’s only the writer and Howard Deutch directs). Molly Ringwald plays Andie, artistic, smart, on the verge of graduating from high school – and in love with a “richie”: a boy with money. When they start dating, two worlds collide and this turns out more difficult than fairy tales have taught us.

How I found it:
It was on the list of those movies I meant to watch because I heard it referenced often but I never felt that interested.

Summary judgment:
I liked it more than I’d expected to.

Best things about it:
The social part of the story makes it much more grounded than your regular Cinderella-meets-Prince-Charming. Interestingly, it focuses on the repercussions of such a meeting and how nobody really approves.

Worst things about it:
Some scenes take too long, including almost all that focus on Duckie. In fact, Duckie is not nearly as endearing as the makers of the film seem to think and shouldn’t have so much screen time.

Other pluses:
✤ I appreciate Andie’s clothes, horrific as they sometimes are. They almost become a character in the story.
✤ The city (town?) where the story takes places feel very real in its ugliness and stratification and so does the high school.
✤ I liked the father character.

Other minuses:
✤ The romantic interest is somewhat underwhelming, not just physically but mostly in his passive behavior.
✤ Too bad Iona has to get normalized at the end. I liked her bohemian style.

How it enriched my life:
It didn’t particularly but at least I got to tick off another classic of the very long list of classics I never saw.

Follow-up:
Now that I’ve seen this, Sixteen Candles and Breakfast Club I feel the one thing left is Ferris Bueller, but I’m not particularly excited for this one.

Recommended for:
John Hughes’ fans who are in it for the social commentary.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Legion

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Heathers

It’s the 80’s/90’s nostalgia wave and I am willing to oblige.

er-heathersHeathers (1989)

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A 1989 dark comedy / high school satire or something like that. Three Heathers and a Veronica rule a school but Veronica, played by a really young Winona Ryder, doesn’t find it as exciting as she hoped. So when she meets a charming psychopath, played by a really young Christian Slater, she joins him on a killing spree. This, however, she doesn’t find that exciting either.

How I found it:
Now that people are remaking the movie as a TV show I remembered its existence. I once saw a part of this movie on TV but I didn’t know what I was getting into and the tone of the movie put me off immediately. I decided to give it another go now that I knew what to expect.

Summary judgment:
I don’t think I’m the ideal audience for this movie and I find it really hard to judge.

Best things about it:
It’s stylish, with all the main characters and even, alright, Slater, looking great. The visual side of the movie makes it clear how it works more like a film version of a comic than a portrayal of an actual school clique.
They created a whole dialect for this movie. People say of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that Whedon wrote a teen slang that is completely invented but sounds realistic and I think Heathers‘ writers tried to do it first. The dialogs don’t really sound natural but they are full of quotable gems, “f*ck me gently with a chainsaw,” being the most memorable.

Worst things about it:
I had a problem with the tone of the movie. Of course, it’s fairly obvious what it is going for but at least now, thirty years later, it feels particularly tone-deaf. Everything is drawn with such thick lines and you can’t really care for any of the characters. It really does feel like an adaptation of some nihilistic cartoon stripe, which would be fine, but then sometimes it goes for those analyses of the condition of (then) modern teenagers and of how high school reflects society, which sound false. I’d rather have a consistent collection of cartoonish sketches.

Other pluses:
✤ I liked the joke with mineral water.
✤ The color-coding of the girls, while obvious, always earns a plus in my book.
✤ I like the emancipated (and smoked) Winona Ryder in the end. But I still have a hard time understanding her character.

Other minuses:
✤ The last part with the bombing. And boy, did this film grow old when you think of it. It’s hard to imagine a modern teen movie, even a satirical one, using the same motifs (which makes it half-interesting how they’re going to pull off the remake).
✤ I really disliked Christian Slater in this role. And “Greetings and saluuutaations” earns the movie another minus in my book.

How it enriched my life:
I discovered a source of some quotes I sometimes come across. And if I were the kind of person to send people animated gifs in emails as emotional comments, I would find a ton in this movie.

Fun fact:
I can totally see myself saying “How very” for a while now. My husband will just have to deal ’cause that’s how I roll.

Follow-up:
I’m not coming back to this one and unless I read very interesting things about the re-make, I doubt I will be watching it either.

Recommended for:
People with a very serious case of 1980’s/90’s nostalgia or curiosity who don’t mind superficiality in their portrayal of social ills. Or fans of 80’s fashion, maybe.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Riverdale

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Rotten Tomatoes

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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Sounds of Music

Songbook: At Seventeen

If I’d known this song in high school I’d probably have checked the closet to see if Janis Ian was not hiding there. Just kidding, of course (I didn’t have a closet in my room) but some things in this song sounded uncannily true to me when I heard it for the first time – though not all of them, and I’m not saying which is which.

“At Seventeen” by Janis Ian

Album: Between the Lines

Year: 1975

Category: Classic charmers

Why it rocks:
For the reasons I hinted at in the introduction: it’s an incredibly well-put description of a certain kind of adolescence. It feels very personal and thus relatable. It creates a nostalgic feeling with its swaying bossa-nova tune but the words clearly oppose any nostalgia – and I’m all for this kind of tension in a song.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
We all play the game, and when we dare / We cheat ourselves at solitaire / Inventing lovers on the phone / Repenting other lives unknown / That call and say: ‘Come dance with me’ / And murmur vague obscenities.”

Favorite moment:
The introduction itself shows you immediately all the strength of the song. And all the moments when her voice gets stronger.

Best for: Feeling glad you’re no longer 17.

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Cruel Intentions

After the seriously impressive Dangerous Liaisons we discussed recently (well, I did, while you politely ignored me, as is our deal), it’s time to turn attention to its younger bizarro cousin:

er-cruelintentionsCruel Intentions

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Imagine Dangerous Liaisons but among modern(-ish, it’s a 1999 movie) high schoolers. It’s exactly that.
It also stars Sarah Michelle Gellar, who was big in 1999 when Buffy was getting better, Reese Witherspoon and that third guy plus a plethora of allusions to its 1988 predecessor.

How I found it:
I saw it once or twice a couple of years earlier and quite liked it (you know me, throw a classic into a high school setting and I’m so in). This time I wanted to show it to R and boy, was he surprised.

Summary judgment:
It’s a… um… I guess it really depends on your expectations. It’s not good. But it’s not exactly bad.

Best things about it:
It’s a ballsy idea which actually makes sense. I mean, what’s the modern counterpart of the rotten pre-revolution French aristocracy? Spoilt prep-school brats with too much money. Someone was actually right to come up with the whole concept and they carried it out consistently.
And I loved the allusions to Stephen Frears’ movie: visual throwbacks and small plot details, like Cecile falling off the bed (though by itself it was so over the top) and even a wink like borrowing an actress just for the sake of it. I particularly liked the design of the interiors of Kathryn and Sebastian’s house with all the details that make them decadent pastiches. And those blue walls!

Worst things about it:
Well, the whole thing doesn’t entirely work. Watching the two movies one after another, you see the oceans that separate them, particularly in acting. I loved Buffy but Sarah Michelle Gellar is not Glenn Close and don’t even get me started on Sebastian.

Other pluses:
I prefer Witherspoon to Pfeiffer. Just me?

Other minuses:
I’m not sure if it’s a minus, more of an observation but the movie is so campy: from the humor to the way Sebastian dies (that’s hardly a spoiler, right?). So I guess it depends on whether you’re in the mood for camp.

How it enriched my life:
It probably didn’t enrich it a whole lot but it’s enjoyable enough.

Fun fact:
I dislike many things about Sebastian but one of them is his hair. Remember the 90s? When every boy looked like hair gel cistern exploded onto him? Man, I hated this hairstyle more than anything, including Back Street Boys. (Showing my age here, huh.)

Follow-up:
So did you know there were sequels? With completely different cast and, I’m guessing, mostly unrelated stories. I vow not to check them out though. And there seem to be other high-school-set adaptations of classics, like O – it was apparently a thing in the 90s and I missed it – but I think I need a break.

Recommended for:
People who like experimental adaptations – or just anything set among high school students. Researchers of the history of teen dramas – a few scenes are absolute classics.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Back to Orphan Black Thor

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Gaming Night

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: High School Drama

As a few weeks ago we dusted off one of the games that’s become a classic for us even though is pretty much unknown, let’s talk about it, shall we:

er-highschooldramaHigh School Drama

Category: Games

Find it on: you may try Amazon, I guess, or maybe eBay?

What it is:
A board game (or, more precisely, a card game) by Shifting Skies, in which you build your high school clique by hooking up with students and organizations and breaking up other player’s cliques so that yours is the most popular. If that doesn’t sound awesome, I don’t know what does.

How I found it:
Very early in my days of interest in board games I came upon a description of this one and it sounded like something made exactly for me! So, as it was unavailable here, I went through heaps of trouble (okay, I just asked M, who lives in the States) and got it and it became one of our favorites to which we regularly return.

Summary judgment:
From a gamer’s point of view it leaves a lot to desire but the storytelling possibilities and the atmosphere more than make up for it.

Best things about it:
It’s a high school experience in a box – if anyone’s experience actually resembled the load of clichés that high school movies try to sell us. Of course, the game is created with this awareness and it drips with irony to satisfy even the most demanding hipster (I imagine?). The art also perfectly matches the tone with its crisp, cartoony illustrations of most high school archetypes one can think of.

Worst things about it:
The gameplay is a mess. It looks like it was barely play-tested at all and the instruction booklet makes it hard to understand whatever rules there are. Often once someone takes lead on the scoring board – which, quite nicely, is a yearbook – there’s no catching up with them and if you decide to focus on breaking up others’ relationships, you won’t have enough actions to build your own… Stuff like that.

Other pluses:
Having said all that about the gameplay, I must say that its faults barely matter because the game is just so much fun! With the right group of people it would be an enjoyable game even if it consisted of throwing the cards at one another and trying to catch them – and the actual rules are better than that.

Other minuses:
There might be minor graphic improvements one could suggest but let’s not be that kind of person. Not today anyway.

How it enriched my life:
It added something with a completely different flavor to our game collection and gaming nights.

Fun fact:
Some of the characters in the game include Cruelest Girl, Tortured Artist, Pretty Rich Girl and Emotional Vortex but my favorite by far is Sensitive Jock. If possible I will always choose to play a character I have little in common with.

Follow-up:
The game was quickly dropped by the developer (though they did publish a second edition that I don’t have: possibly the rules were fixed there) so there are no extensions but I’m sure it will enliven many of our future gaming nights.

Recommended for:
Anyone who loves high school clichés, obviously. People who value a theme beyond game mechanics. People who managed not to get traumatized by their actual high school experience.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Orphan Black

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