Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Sex and the City (movie)

Once I finished the six seasons of Sex and the City proper, I figured I’d re-watch the first movie that followed in 2008 because I had a (wrong) impression that it completed the characters’ stories.

er-sexandthecitymovieSex and the City (the movie)

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A continuation of the show made in 2008 to the great excitement (and then disappointment) of fans, it tells the further story of the four friends but mostly of Carrie’s failed attempt at marrying Big. However, it mostly serves as a thinly-veiled vehicle for product placement.

How I found it:
I watched this movie soon after it came out and while I didn’t love it, I didn’t pay attention to how bad it actually was.

Summary judgment:
Wow. I don’t so much mind the flat story and the bad jokes but the world view I found downright offensive.

Best things about it:
The clothes have gotten so extravagant as to become a form of art and I like the visual part of the whole thing (except for Parker’s general look).

Worst things about it:
I guess to me the worst part, and the most surprising one, was the body shaming the women subject one another to. They criticize one another over weight-gain and body hair, not the kind of supportive friendship the show sold us on, and not the kind of message I’m comfortable with from a franchise masquarading as “feminist.”
On a more general level, the writing fails hard. Everything drags as if they needed to fill the space between advertisements (for Starbucks, for Mercedes-Benz, for all the fashion brands) and didn’t quite know how. Carrie’s marriage drama feels so contrived you just want to tell her to get a hold of herself: throughout the entire movie when we’re supposed to feel sorry for her I kept wanting to shake her because yes, the whole thing was her fault and didn’t merit all the hysterics.

Other pluses:
✤ Carrie’s potential apartment is pretty, I guess, and the library where her wedding doesn’t happen looks great, too.
✤ Charlotte’s mutts. Yes, scraping the bottom here.

Other minuses:
✤ I always found it surprising how Miranda is one-sidedly villified over her anger with Steve, who cheated on her. I feel she has every right to be angry and the film never acknowledges that. In what world is Big’s transgression worse?
✤ Ugh, the terrible jokes. It’s like somebody belatedly remembered the “comedy” part in the romantic comedy and added the funniest thing of all, diarrhea.
✤ Yes, Samantha’s sex object of a neighbor looks good but this kind of reversed-male gaze (I’m not sure if it’s called female gaze in a case like this, when it’s objectifying a man) made me really uncomfortable.

How it enriched my life:
It didn’t. The whole thing should’ve ended with the show. This is such a clear, unneccessary money grab.

Fun fact:
Apparently even Cynthia Nixon doesn’t like the “happy ending” of the movie? It’s an internet fact though so don’t hold me to it.

Follow-up:
I’m never watching it again. Also, guys, I did see the second movie back when it came out but it was so abysmal that even this movie seems okay by comparison so I’m not re-watching or reviewing it.

Recommended for:
Completionist fans of the show who don’t mind having their good opinion sullied. Also, people who don’t know the show but like really empty, mediocre romantic comedies without much humor or romance.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: The Dud Avocado

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Sex and the City (show)

Sex and the City was one of the more exciting shows of my high school years. I would wait for it on Saturday evenings (I wasn’t all that popular, in case you were misinformed) and feel somewhat naughty for watching it. But the show is going on twenty now and watching it today feels different.

er-sexandthecityshowSex and the City (the show)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
One of the most iconic TV shows before people talked of any golden eras in TV, tells the story of Carrie Bradshaw, her three best girl friends and their quest for love and sex that lasted six seasons (and two terrible movies that barely count).

How I found it:
I watched two or three seasons on TV, though not quite regularly, and then I systematically re-watched everything a couple of years ago. This time now was my more or less third watch.

Summary judgment:
This time didn’t impress me as much as the previous ones. In fact, parts of it left me bored.

Best things about it:
Twenty years ago, in its own way, the show was fairly revolutionary in its portrayal of a certain kind of relationships: both their psychological and physiological aspect. At least back then, it felt honest and surprisingly open.
The writing is often very smart and funny, with clever juxtapositions of different storylines and surprising conclusions to them.

Worst things about it:
I would say seasons one and six because I enjoyed them the least. But from a more general point of view, if you don’t buy this show for what it is, you will be irritated by so many things: its outdated approach to homosexuality, the vacuity of the characters and their ridiculous economic conditions, their occasional cruelty and forced problems. Bergman this ain’t.

Other pluses:
✤ Some of the clothes and, to a lesser extent, some interiors are lovely to look at for the sheer aesthetic pleasure.
✤ The many things Miranda says.
✤ The characters (arguably except for Carrie) all develop and grow, which is one justification for six seasons of a show like this.

Other minuses:
✤ I once read somewhere that the show owed its success to Parker’s likability but I mostly find her childish and irritating, particularly in the moments when she’s trying for endearing. I don’t expect you to remember but there’s a scene in which she talks about Aidan’s “nook”, which perfectly embodies everything I dislike about her.
✤ In the first season or two the show is still looking for its style, with the mockumentary street interviews and too many random characters. It grows better when it gains the courage to drop these crutches.

How it enriched my life:
Now it hasn’t particularly. But the first time I watched it I was in high school and I learned stuff from the show (often very theoretical stuff but isn’t most knowledge, particularly in high school?). The second time I really admired the writing and got quite interested in all the long-term stories.

Fun fact:
Not a single one of Carrie’s relationships was halfway functional. But I always liked Charlotte and Harry. Theirs was a fun story.

Follow-up:
I did watch the movie. We’ll talk about it. I might get back to the show some time but I need to forget most of the stories because this time it bothered me how much I remembered what was going to happen.

Recommended for:
Single ladies. Fans of the early 2000s culture. People in love with New York or, I guess, Sarah Jessica Parker.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Let’s whine about the movie

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Strictly Ballroom

I did some bed rest recently and so I watched more movies than I normally do, which includes some I wouldn’t normally watch at all.

er-strictlyballroomStrictly Ballroom

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
Hah, bear with me: it’s an early (1992) Baz Luhrmann movie that he created back in Australia. It tells a story of a truly grotesque ballroom studio whose best dancer has a shot at some big prize or another, except he insists on making his own moves and almost risks complete failure. Luckily, an ugly duckling wants to dance with him and will free his inner (Spanish?) fire.

How I found it:
It was mentioned in a podcast and I honestly don’t know why it made me think I might enjoy it, except for the traditional rom-com setup maybe, which sounded pleasant enough. Also I really was watching too many movies at the time.

Summary judgment:
Dear heavens, this was terrible.

Best things about it:
I guess the music. It was inoffensive.

Worst things about it:
This is such a trite movie with all the obvious checkpoints but it insist on presenting them in this repulsive stylization. Everything and everyone looks grotesque (except for the Spanish family, maybe) and you have a feeling that the creators don’t like anyone and enjoy making them look pitiful. Nothing about the writing struck me as original or surprising, except the Monty Pythonesque moments (e.g. when one of the dancers breaks her legs or something?), which didn’t fit in with the rest of the tone. Mostly, it lacked basic human sympathy for its characters (again, except the Spanish family, I guess).

Other pluses:
✤ The only moment I didn’t hate and where the over-the-top stylization somehow worked for me was the retrospection with the father’s story. Apparently they only did it as such for the lack of budget.
✤ For all its (numerous) faults it watches easily enough, it only leaves you with a sense of wonder why you watched it at all.

Other minuses:
✤ I don’t think at all that everyone must agree with my opinion on stuff but the universally positive response to this film puzzles me. You’d think it was the greatest thing since sliced bread, reading the reviews.
✤ I hate the way Fran is presented as ugly and clumsy and the teen-movie way she is then transformed. Sure, when she changes her clothes, her skin gets better. On a deeper note, I also hate how she is destined to be this magic outsider savior for the very underwhelming protagonist while her story is never really explored to a satisfactory extent.
✤ Those children acting as a Greek choir really irritated me. You didn’t need them to understand this extremely complicated plot.
✤ The satire seems too strong for its target. Politicians barely deserve this level of ridicule, let alone people who sacrifice their lives to the relatively harmless occupation of ballroom dancing.

How it enriched my life:
It actually had a big impact on me: I’ve decided I can’t take any more movies, good or bad, and it’s time to move on to other entertainments. I’ve read a ton of X-Men comics since then, too.

Fun fact:
I guess the best comment about this experience came from my husband, who walked in on me watching this movie and when I explained it was an early Luhrmann and I hated it, he asked what exactly I’d expected. “Did you think he started great and then slid from there?” I guess I was hoping he sold out?

Follow-up:
Nope. Never.

Recommended for:
Baz Luhrmann’s fans. People who like different stuff than I do.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: Sex and the City

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Jane

I checked out another adaptation of a Victorian classic, this time one of my favorites: Jane Eyre, in a comic form.

er-janeJane by Aline Brosh McKenna

Category: Comics

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
A modern-day adaptation of (bits of) Jane Eyre’s story. Jane escapes her unloving family to New York, where she enrolls in an art college and starts working for a mysterious businessman as his daughter’s nanny. But there’s a door upstairs she’s never allowed to touch. What’s behind the door? (You know what. Not a twist.)

How I found it:
I heard the author talking about her comic on a podcast about script writers (she normally writes the show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, something of which I bounced off pretty hard). The idea, obviously, appealed to me immensely.

Summary judgment:
All in all, it’s a wasted opportunity but the great art saves it from being a waste of time.

Best things about it:
Definitely the art by Ramón Pérez. He has a casual lightness of line and an ease of switching between styles that elevates the story and makes it oh-so-pretty. His art remains engaging but never becomes too artsy and so inaccessible.

Worst things about it:
The story doesn’t justify the idea. Why choose to work on Jane Eyre if you have nothing new to tell about the tale and don’t even seem to care about the original story as it is?

Other pluses:
✤ In addition to Pérez’s great art, the competent coloring by Irma Kniivila deserves a special mention.
✤ What I found the most interesting part of the story was actually the cursory foray into artistic education (which doesn’t really have time or space to develop realistically). I feel maybe Pérez employed some of his own experience in this part? I would much rather read a story about a girl from nowhere trying to become a New York artist.

Other minuses:
✤ The story doesn’t even try to do anything worthwhile with the inherently problematic character of Rochester, his morality and his decisions. Sure, the wife thing is slightly mitigated but just enough to make it boring, not justifiable.
✤ New side characters only seem introduced for the sake of diversity but nothing happens with them.
✤ I found the criminal/gothic ending particularly disappointing, as if the author realized she’s almost out of pages and the story needs wrapping up. In fact, I generally felt there was not enough space to do the story justice.

How it enriched my life:
I really enjoyed the art and found it inspiring.

Fun fact:
So where I mostly know Pérez from is his work on Wolverine and the X-Men – a comic I always liked, also for the art, though didn’t make the connection without visiting Pérez’s website.

Follow-up:
There’s not a direct thing to follow up with but I’m sure I would enjoy more of Pérez’s work in this style. I’m also up for any future adaptations of my Victorian favorites. Bring it on.

Recommended for:
People who care about art more than about story. People who will take any Victorian adaptation gratefully.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Hatin’ on Strictly Ballroom (you’ve been warned)

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Rotten Tomatoes

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Whiplash

I’ve finally watched a movie I’ve been meaning to watch for a while and it didn’t disappoint.

er-whiplashWhiplash

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
Damien Chazelle (who must be a jazz fanatic) wrote and directed this 2014 movie about a music student, played convincingly by Miles Teller, who gets a chance at the top distinction in his school: joining a demanding band that can jumpstart his career. The only problem is that the instructor (J.K. Simmons, great as usually) will stop at nothing to push his players. Also, so much drumming.

How I found it:
A few years ago I saw the trailer and I immediately loved it for a couple of reasons. I meant to watch it but, of course, didn’t and I’ve only caught up now.

Summary judgment:
I liked everything about this movie, on this very cerebral, admiring level.

Best things about it:
It’s smart but never boring; it cranks up the drama but at the same time the stakes remain debatable: not everyone would give up their life and dignity for a spot on a band (which only makes it more fascinating).
My favorite part of the whole story is the relationship between the two antagonists: how they destroy and save each other at the same time because they remain two sides of the same obsessively ambitious coin. This might be the best written protagonist-antagonist relation I’ve seen in a long time.

Worst things about it:
Honestly, the only thing that comes to mind is I slightly wish for more female presence in the story (even if just as some other musicians in the band). But I don’t have many complaints. They even made jazz exciting.

Other pluses:
✤ I like how this story belongs very much to Andrew. It’s his obsession with excellence and achievement that makes him a perfect victim but also he never really feels like a victim. Small things you notice in the plot combine to build the character, e.g. at first it’s surprising to see no relations between him and the other students but slowly it all begins to add up. In a way, the less we like Andrew as a person, the more he becomes a worthy adversary for his teacher.
✤ I was genuinely surprised at the final part, after everything that happens in the school.

Other minuses:
I was maybe a little tired of the relative ugliness of Andrew’s surrounding, which comes from filming them so realistically but that’s my personal bias for pretty interiors.

How it enriched my life:
It made me think and admire the storytellers. It also made me appreciate the art of drumming.

Fun fact:
I always had an appreciation for drumming, as a matter of fact. Actually, I used to fantasize that if I were to be in a rock band, I would definitely be the drummer (mostly because I’m completely tone-deaf and the rhythm is all I could manage; except I couldn’t, probably, especially once I’ve seen this film and realize how hard it is). I even wanted to take drumming lessons for a while but I never wanted it hard enough to follow through.

Follow-up:
So apparently the creator, Damien Chazelle, wrote La La Land? And I admit I’ve watched it since but it’s not worth a write-up.

Recommended for:
People who admire a psychological drama of abuse and revenge. People who wanted to be professional musicians and need reasons why it’s not that great.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Jane

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Three Princes

Some books are a gamble and you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. But some that seem like a very safe bet might still surprise you.

er-threeprincesThree Princes by Ramona Wheeler

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
It’s the 19th century and the Egyptian empire built by Caesar and Cleopatra rules most of the world, only rivaled by the Inca empire in South America – who are trying to travel to the moon. Victoria heads the future revolution against the Egyptian dominance and Bismarck acts as her main agent while the faithful agents of Egypt try to stop their nefarious plans and also to learn about the Inca technology of air travel. It doesn’t get more alternative history than that and you could use the premises for three or more books.

How I found it:
Honestly, I have no idea. It sounds like something I’d get from a list of best steampunk books and maybe that’s where it came from. In theory it sounds like something written specifically for me.

Summary judgment:
I failed to connect with this book on most levels.

Best things about it:
I appreciate the ambitious idea and that the author clearly loves the world she created to such an extent that she thought out many (arguably unnecessary) world-building details. Some descriptions are quite vivid and all of them very detailed.

Worst things about it:
I never got really interested either in the story or the characters. For something so packed with travel and spy adventures the book felt slow and a bit aimless. I don’t know if it’s planned as a part of series but at some point I started wondering if the author would manage to finish the main story within the remaining part of the book or would she end it with a big cliffhanger (she managed to finish it). Not a single one of the three princes earned my interest and I found all of them rather idealized.

Other pluses:
✤ It is a fairly visual book, which I always appreciate even if I found some of the descriptions too long.
✤ The idea of not-queen Victoria as a revolutionary is probably my favorite alternate history element and I got quite excited when it was introduced but very little happens on this front.

Other minuses:
✤ The sense of just starting a long series informs the whole experience of reading the book. Many characters, especially female ones, seem just sketched and undeveloped. Consequently, it’s hard to care about their fate.
✤ For such an exotic, little-known culture as Inca I would expect the part happening there to be more thrilling, even in the descriptions.

How it enriched my life:
I liked some of the imagery, not necessarily the most thrilling parts even.

Fun fact:
I love the author’s name. Anyone named Ramona will always get a plus from me.

Follow-up:
Even if other books are going to follow this one, I’ll pass.

Recommended for:
Fans of alternate history stories who like wild, original premises.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: Whiplash; but seriously these posts take forever to post now because I’m useless these days. Ask anyone. So we’re not quite back to the regular schedule but once a week is a promise and I’m working on the backlog again.

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Landline

I will often watch a smaller dramedy with a bit of an indie whiff, enticed by a trailer and a premise. I will most often also end up disappointed.

er-landlineLandline

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A 2017 dramedy about a family in some crisis (a cheating crisis). It takes place in 1995 and Jenny Slate stars, which was all I needed to know to watch it.

How I found it:
The classic way: an IMDb trailer.

Summary judgment:
It’s painless (which I’m not sure it was supposed to be).

Best things about it:
As expected, Jenny Slate. I fell in love with her as Mona Lisa on Parks and Recreation and I watched her in Obvious Child (which I’m still not sure what I think of). She’s irresistibly likable, no matter what a silly or even repulsive role she plays, with impeccable comedic timing. But I liked most of the other actors, with a particular shout-out to Edie Falco as the mother, who does very little but keeps it human and likable.

Worst things about it:
It feels like a very lightweight story. Sometimes I felt unsure why I was watching it (which, admittedly, is my frequent reaction to indie comedies).

Other pluses:
✤ I liked the music, particularly the Angel Olsen song. It would be my instinct to choose around-1995 songs but – side fact – not long ago I had to create a 1997-themed playlist and most of that music really sucked. So I get it.
✤ As always, I’m a sucker for depictions of family love.

Other minuses:
✤ I’m not sure why the movie is taking place in 1995 at all. That might be some local color I don’t get but nothing (except for the landline phones) marks it as a particularly 1990s movie and it would work among a more hipsterish family.
✤ I didn’t connect with Ali. Her rambling rebellion irritated me.

How it enriched my life:
I enjoyed it well enough. That’s about it.

Fun fact:
I completely didn’t recognize Jay Duplass as Ben. Weird, after all the Mindy Project episodes I saw him in. I didn’t even have that I’m-sure-I-know-this-actor-from-somewhere feeling.

Follow-up:
I’ll be there for Jenny Slate.

Recommended for:
People who like low-key, slice-of-life family stories, especially involving a strong sisterly bond and some wacky moments.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Three Princes

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