Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Love, Simon

Who said romantic comedies have to be about straight people?

er-lovesimonLove, Simon

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A warm romantic slash family story about Simon, whose life seems perfect but who has a secret (he’s gay, obvsly).

How I found it:
I was aware of this movie because it had so much hype (and was also promoted on Riverdale) and I planned to watch it sometime though it didn’t seem particularly urgent.

Summary judgment:
I was surprised by how much I liked it.

Best things about it:
It’s such a warm, heartfelt movie. It shows that feel-good stories can also talk about gay teenagers and the theme doesn’t need to mean a caricature or a tragedy. I loved Nick Robinson as Simon: he was remarkably human and managed to make me believe both in his dilemmas and in his relationships with other people.

Worst things about it:
After 13 Reasons I really couldn’t with Katherine Langford. It’s not her fault but I cringed every time she appeared onscreen. This is so minor though.

Other pluses:
✤ I liked the sometimes-a-villain Martin and how he wasn’t entirely one-dimensional.
✤ The identity of Blue wasn’t obvious (nor, arguably, the most important thing in the story), which I found refreshing (particularly after the “mysteries” of Wonder Woman).
✤ Simon’s town looks delightful. Where is it? I should move there.

Other minuses:
✤ An argument can be made about the privilege of the story, which pushes it into the realm of unrealistic. And I hear this argument and see its validity. But, on the other hand, I’m glad that the movie means diversification in the field of a romantic fairy tale. Who said we can only watch unrealistic fantasies for women dreaming of a Mr. Darcy?
✤ Not a fan of Jennifer Garner. I’ve got nothing specific against her performance here, I just don’t particularly like her. The father was great though.

How it enriched my life:
I thoroughly enjoyed it and watched it with my husband who, perhaps a bit surprisingly for romantic comedies are so not his thing, enjoyed it too.

Follow-up:
The next teen rom-com, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, sometime.

Recommended for:
People who like romantic comedies, teen dramas and family dramas which look good and make you feel warm’n’fuzzy.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Younger, yet again

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Bookworming

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Among Others

Sometimes you find a book which reminds you what fun it was to discover magical books randomly as a child.

er-amongothersAmong Others by Jo Walton

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
Technically speaking, it’s a YA fantasy novel but it doesn’t bow to most conventions you would expect from those. Mori’s story happens after her great battle – to which we only hear allusions – ended. She survived but her twin sister didn’t and now she needs to build a life after she’s saved the world, surviving a snotty boarding school, getting to know her estranged father and, most of all, reading tons of science fiction.

How I found it:
Don’t remember. It was on my to-read list with 4 stars so I must have read an inviting review somewhere. Maybe LibraryThing?

Summary judgment:
I haven’t enjoyed a book quite like this for a while.

Best things about it:
The unconventional way it treats fantasy, so that it resembles magical realism more than anything else. Mori is very matter-of-fact about seeing fairies and doing magic and focuses more on down-to-earth matters of growing up, which makes the story very grounded.

Worst things about it:
For people who want their fantasy fulfilling certain expected conventions, it must be a letdown, a book in which barely anything happens. In fact, as I was approaching the end, I wondered if it had a continuation because I wasn’t sure if it would manage to finish a story at all (it did).

Other pluses:
✤ The very idea to focus on what happens to the hero after the battle is won is successful in its un-flashiness.
✤ I really like how unostentatious magic is, more a moral question than a source of fireworks and how its lack of glamour allows Walton to focus on the heroine’s personal dramas. In fact, you could probably remove the magic altogether and still have an interesting story about a dysfunctional family (and a disturbed girl). At a stretch, you could probably interpret it this way.
✤ The just-unrealistic-enough love affair is cute. I would’ve loved it as a younger person. Now I focus more on the unrealistic part, I guess.
✤ The places live in the story, not just Wales, which the author clearly loves, but even the school and the small town nearby.

Other minuses:
Sometimes the protagonist reads as many as eight novels a week, five regularly. I find that hard to believe (even in my better reading days I never managed as much).

How it enriched my life:
It made me want to read more, for one thing. It also reminded me of the joy of reading just for the sake of getting to know the story.

Fun fact:
It’s funny how much of the science fiction novels that Mori devours I have actually read. Because the story takes place in 1979 and 1980, it is a love letter to older science fiction and fantasy which I used to read in large amounts because that’s what the local library had in stock.

Cover notes:
(A new section because why not. It’s the thing I’m most qualified to discuss anyway. It will always refer to the version of the cover illustrated on the top.)
The photo captures the atmosphere of the book magnificently but the stars are an overkill: they should’ve been done as a photographic trick of light, rather than so literally because this cheapens the concept (both of the cover and the book).

Follow-up:
I might check out Walton’s other stuff if I come across it but I like how much of a standalone this one is. I might possibly return to it some time.

Recommended for:
Fans of classic science fiction and fantasy who don’t mind challenging the conventions. People who enjoy an unromanticized vision of a boarding school, or just of growing up.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Lovesick

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: 13 Reasons Why

er-13reasonswhy13 Reasons Why (S1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
An adaptation of a YA book by Jay Asher. Hannah Baker commits suicide and, like an asshole, leaves behind a set of cassettes to torment those who led her to this end, or at least to explain her reasons. The rather bland book (yes, I read it, a long time ago) turns into a dark TV show that aims to show high school at its worst.

How I found it:
Since I read the book and didn’t care for it, at first I ignored the ravings about the show but finally I gave in and watched the first season.

Summary judgment:
It’s better than the book but still failed to impress me.

Best things about it:
For the most part it’s very competent, turning the story into almost a thriller (at least in the first half) and fairly efficiently using the difficult tool of flashbacks. It does make you want to know what happens next and who else is on the tapes. Some actors do a great job and I appreciate the lack of cuteness which is typical of most high school stories and which the book didn’t manage to eschew.

Worst things about it:
The further it goes, the more it feels exploitative and unconvincing. Also, it really drags. Every episode could be shorter and the whole season could have fewer episodes in general.

Other pluses:
✤ Hannah’s mom, played by Kate Walsh, stands out in her depiction of grief and vulnerability. Often, she seems taken from a different, less confused show. I don’t even remember Hannah’s parents from the book so maybe it was an attempt to ground her story more and if so, it worked.
✤ Clay kind of grew on me. He really irritated me in the first episodes but I liked his path towards a more active stand.
✤ Other good depictions include Jessica (a hard role to pull off, I’m sure) and Justin.

Other minuses:
✤ One could expect that from the synopsis, I guess, but pretty much all the characters (including Hannah) are really unpleasant for most of the time, which doesn’t add to the enjoyment of watching.
✤ A lot of the show felt to me like a fearmongering piece directed at parents with kids in high school. I hate fearmongering.
✤ The violence towards the end becomes really hard to watch and, frankly, unnecessary to tell the story.

How it enriched my life:
Meh, it was mostly a way to pass a few evenings when I was too exhausted to do anything else. Also, one time it gave me a nightmare (but that’s the opposite of enrichment).

Fun fact:
My high school was nowhere near as traumatic, I can’t imagine for anyone. But then again, we don’t have this whole jock culture at all (or we didn’t ages ago when I was in high school).

Follow-up:
I’m not watching season 2. I read some spoilers online and there’s nothing for me there.

Recommended for:
People who like to watch miserable teenagers and be glad they’re no longer them. Perhaps (though I doubt it, frankly) miserable teenagers who want to wallow?

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: Among Others

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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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