Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Lost in Austen

In this year that unexpectedly seems to happen under the banner of Pride and Prejudice, here’s another thing for (non-orthodox) fans of the book, a miniseries called

er-lostinaustenLost in Austen

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 2008 4-part miniseries about Amanda Price, a lover of Pride in Prejudice, who discovers the door to the Bennets’ house in her own bathroom (yep) and changes places with Elizabeth. While Amanda tries to save the story she loves, she’s doing a perplexingly bad job of it and changes everybody’s fate, including her own. (She marries Darcy, guys – spoiler.)

How I found it:
I don’t remember. I watched it for the first time many years ago, sick in bed, if I recall.

Summary judgment:
I can see why it rubs some Austen fans the wrong way but I enjoy it: it’s modern and cheeky.

Best things about it:
It captures some of the magic of the original, while remaining quite irreverent. It reinterprets all the characters, giving them different motivations and it also looks good. And it’s simply fun to watch.

Worst things about it:
There is actually only one thing that doesn’t work for me in the story: Amanda. For someone who obsessively re-reads Pride and Prejudice she seems inexplicably unaware of the taboos of Regency society (or, really, any pre-modern society) and insists on behaving in a vulgar way. The way she looks doesn’t help: I wish she had slightly more natural hair and didn’t wear make-up when living with the Bennets (how does she even do that?). It’s hard to suspend disbelief and understand how someone who must look like a prostitute to the locals would be received in society.
And you know, I see the attraction of clashing Austenian society with someone who brings with them twentieth-century values, maybe even showing Amanda that her idealization of Elizabeth’s world was excessive… But for all of that to work Amanda would have to be smarter and subtler. It seems like a wasted opportunity.

Other pluses:
Wickham as a decent person, Caroline as a lesbian, Mrs. Bennet as someone much more skilled at the game of husband-hunting… I like all these tweaks. I even like Lizzie as a modern woman.

Other minuses:
✤ While I like most of the ideas for changes in the characters, I can’t get behind this Darcy. Yes, he looks fine, except for the bad wig. He looks even finer in the wet shirt. But what a mess he is! I don’t understand his sudden attraction to the vulgar girl who comes out of nowhere – it’s as if he preferred Lydia to Lizzie in the book. Most of his decisions make no sense and the love affair seems to happen only because it needs to in every proper fan fiction ever, which this show is, after all.
✤ On that note, everything could have been salvaged with another ending: Amanda chooses Wickham or even to return to her world. But this forced “will they, won’t they” culminating in a weird marriage didn’t work for me.

How it enriched my life:
It’s an entertaining piece of entertainment to entertain one and it also makes me think whether I’d do any better in Regency England but I would probably be too horrified at the lack of dental hygiene. Also, I can’t curtsy, let alone ballroom-dance.

Fun fact:
So yes, I didn’t know people used to rub chalk across their teeth to clean them and whatever else Amanda was brought. Though I do know other things people used (or still use), including salt, baking soda and some kinds of tree twigs. History of hygiene is a fascinating subject, actually, and reveals how much stuff we take for granted though we shouldn’t.

Follow-up:
I will probably re-watch this show some time because it’s fun. I would also watch any similar thing though it would likely disappoint me.

Recommended for:
Jane Austen fans who are not too hung up on the original. People who didn’t read the book at all but think it’s a funny concept to transport a modern character into a book.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Speaking of books, I Am Charlotte Simmons

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Mindy Project

This is an impromptu, unscheduled review (yes, there is a schedule) to celebrate the ending of one of my favorite TV series in the past six years. I will probably re-watch it and talk about all the seasons separately but for now let’s just talk about all of

er-themindyprojectThe Mindy Project

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Hulu

What it is:
A rom-com, sit-com, workplace-com unlike any other I’ve ever seen. It tells a story of Mindy Lahiri, a NY Indian American ob-gyn in search of love and of some fun, too, as she goes through innumerable inappropriate boyfriends and situations to end up with the one we always wanted her to end up with.

How I found it:
I started watching it back when I would watch pretty much anything new because I got interested in the trailer and something about this show immediately spoke to me, even though I’m normally not a sit-com kind of person.

Summary judgment:
I think it’s pretty obvious by now I love Mindy.

Best things about it:
It’s got a unique, light-hearted, unapologetic tone, which is very much like its heroine, Mindy, who pretty much redefines the feminine woman. I was so invested in the central love affair with Danny Castellano because – at least until they make him into a chauvinistic monster for a while – Chris Messina’s Danny sells everything he does as irresistible. And the show is really funny in a surprising way, not like most half-hour comedies in which you see all the jokes coming a mile away.

Worst things about it:
The show does have an inconsistency problem, with dropped storylines, not enough running jokes and disappearing characters.

Other pluses:
Mindy gave us Morgan played by Ike Barinholtz, and he’s comedy gold. Some other supporting actors work wonderfully, too, particularly Adam Pally, but it’s Morgan who’s the heart of the show.
✤ The deadpan way in which the characters react to one another’s quirks creates an atmosphere of universal acceptance. Always makes me feel better.
✤ So. Many. Wonderful one liners.
✤ And so many wonderful guest stars and recurring guest stars. My favorite by far are the Duplass brothers as holistic midwives.

Other minuses:
That time when Chris Messina wanted to do other stuff and so they made his character terrible and then that time when he went to do something else and his character wasn’t on the show at all.

How it enriched my life:
It made me so happy. It also made me laugh a lot and smile even more and gave me a few lines that I still use every now and then.

Fun fact:
When I was watching the first season for a while I used to immediately re-watch an episode right after I watched it for the first time.

Follow-up:
I sense many big re-watches in the future and probably reviewing every single season, too.

Recommended for:
Hm, this is a bit hard. People looking for intelligent comedy that’s not afraid to be quirky but also very feminine? I’d say at least some fans of Sex and the City though it’s by no means the same kind of thing.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Jonathan Strange, it’s scheduled

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Thor Ragnarok

After the refreshment course in the MCU I shared with you here, I finally got to see the newest Thor movie in a theater. And then I got to see it again. Let’s talk

er-thorragnarokThor: Ragnarok

Category: Movies

Find it: in theaters near you

What it is:
The latest MCU offering redefines the fledgling Thor series by changing its tone, its appearance and removing Jane Foster. It focuses on Thor, who has to fight his mightiest opponent yet: his own sister, Hela, bent on worlds domination. But first he needs to find allies, escape a gladiatorial arena and defeat the Hulk – in just the opposite order. A new addition to the bevy of MCU directors, Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows!) directs and he does it with style.

How I found it:
The trailers and the name of the director made it a must-see for me.

Summary judgment:
It’s quickly become one of my favorite MCU movies.

Best things about it:
As befits the director, the movie is very, very funny (which is, of course, an individual thing but it is certainly funny to me), with an improv charm and lightness. I was half-worried they won’t let Waititi do his thing but they clearly did. The movie’s got a strong visual character, particularly Sakaar, its entertainments and street parades. It continues the style that Guardians of the Galaxy introduced and as such joins my favorite part of the MCU franchise: the colorful, bold, humorous and visually rich space opera.

Worst things about it:
Asgard under Hela didn’t excite me too much and whenever there was a cut to it I wanted to see more Sakaar. I felt it was enough to establish Asgard’s plight fast and not necessarily return to it all the time. Oh, and the zombie warriors, how bland they were. I wish Hela only had Fenrir, that would be enough.
In fact, it proves how interestingly Sakaar was designed that Asgard paled in comparison.

Other pluses:
✤ Most actors prove their wonderful comic timing, Hemsworth most of all. Thor has never been more likeable but he’s not just funny, he also manages to show growth and self-assurance (and thank heavens they finally cut his hair). For the first time I understood all the love Thor has always received from the audience. And you know I was at best ambiguous about Loki in the past but I really like him here. I find Valkyrie somewhat overhyped but she’s at least a strong, independent female character (and to think that Thompson played that character in Veronica Mars I hated!). Grandmaster is even better than he had any business being. Korg has a few funny lines. Basically, everyone seems to be having a great time and the audience gets to share in that.
✤ My possibly favorite joke – the one about the snake – illustrates the improvisational nature of this comedy so well.
✤ The play about Loki’s life is such a fun little touch. And Anthony Hopkins (who really barely clocked it in in the previous Thors) is having a great time with his performance.
✤ The fights are not overwhelming as they often are in the MCU. In fact, except for the final confrontation in Asgard, they didn’t bother me at all and I could always tell what was happening – a clear sign I wasn’t tuning out as I tend to do. They didn’t seem to start just because 5 minutes of the movie had passed.

Other minuses:
✤ I’m not happy with Topaz. Does one of the really few female characters have to be so malicious and cruel for no reason?
✤ My feelings about Hela are at best mixed. No doubt Blanchett is a great actress and she looks amazing but I’m not sure she fits in with this campy, light movie. But maybe it’s just my general dislike for villains speaking.

How it enriched my life:
I had a great time both times I saw it and it helped me clarify what exactly it is I expect from a Marvel movie: This.

Fun fact:
So apparently Chris Hemsworth hated playing Thor as he was before this incarnation and so they redefined the whole character: cut his hair, broke his hammer… And remembered that sometimes, at his best moments, he was really funny in the previous parts.

Follow-up:
I’m watching this again some time in the future. Also, maybe Infinity War won’t be awful? Maybe.

Recommended for:
Not only regular fans of MCU movies but also those who find most of them hard to bear – as long as what they’re missing is more humor.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: A book! Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

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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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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Man Up

How do you feel about romantic comedies? Me, I’m conflicted. I’m bored and often discouraged by their by-the-numbers plots and usually won’t even get through the whole movie. But then, their natural lightheartedness and optimism appeal – or should appeal – to me. And so for a while now I’ve been on a quest for an original, good romantic comedy which has recently led me to

er-manupMan Up

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 2015 British rom-com directed by Ben Palmer. It stars Lake Bell and Simon Pegg (I didn’t know either of them before) as a couple who mistakenly go on a blind date together (it’s contrived but not excessively by the standards of the genre) and – who didn’t see that coming – find out they’re perfect for each other.

How I found it:
Heh, I found it on a list of recommended romantic comedies somewhere. I liked the trailer, particularly as it included a diss on Dan Brown.

Summary judgment:
I didn’t have any expectations but this movie surprised me: first with the d-word joke which unexpectedly made me laugh and then with how invested I became in the characters. It might not be reinventing the wheel (or the genre) but it’s fun to watch.

Best things about it:
It’s actually funny quite a few times and I really enjoyed watching it.
Characters look more or less like real people not like Hollywood actors who spend their entire days working out and undergoing cosmetic procedures and, I guess, the older I get, the more I appreciate this kind of variety on-screen.
It’s very well acted, particularly by Bell, who’s relatable and outlandish at the same time.

Worst things about it:
It doesn’t even try to reinvent the genre. I wish it was at least a little bit more original.

Other pluses:
I like most of the characters; even those who by the conventions of the genre should be ridiculous – like Jessica – turn out full of heart.
I enjoyed the relations between the members of Nancy’s family: the cool parents and the supportive sister – very inspiring.
The scenes taking place in the streets of London made me nostalgic for holidays.
In some places music fits the scene perfectly.
I appreciate the little jokes, like the triathlon Nancy comes up with.
The emotional range is quite wide.

Other minuses:
I except Sean from my admiration for the characters: he is way too much though it remains true to the nature of the movie that even he gets some good will in the end (and the pudding scene was kinda funny?).
A few jokes went over the top for me, but mostly because they felt overdrawn.

How it enriched my life:
It made me laugh – and so few movies do.

Fun fact:
So about the quest? In case you’re curious what gems it has brought so far, it’s Penelope and (500) Days of Summer. The search continues.

Follow-up:
I’ve got a few things on the rom-com list but I’ll be honest: they don’t look too promising. I think My Big Fat Greek Wedding will be next.

Recommended for:
Fans of romantic comedies with predictable happy endings (spoiler?) and not discouraged by raunchy humor.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Harry Potter Lego board game

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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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