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

Advertisements
Standard
Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Dangerous Liaisons

It’s time for a classic adaptation of an even more classic book,

er-dangerousliaisonsDangerous Liaisons 

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
An adaptation of an 18th-century epistolary novel by Chorderlos Laclos. It tells a story of the corrupt aristocratic elite and their immoral sexual lives. It focuses on the corruptest of the corrupt: Madame Merteuil and viscount de Valmont, who run the game – until they don’t. The movie was made in 1988 and stars pretty much only stars, including Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, young Uma Thurman and very young Keanu Reeves – all of them outshined by John Malkovich as Valmont.

How I found it:
Well, it’s one of the classics. You don’t really have to look for those. The first time I saw it, probably in high school, it was on TV. This time I watched it after Cruel Intentions to compare the two movies.

Summary judgment:
It’s one of my favorite adaptations, managing not to ruin the book – which is great – at all.

Best things about it:
It captures the book perfectly, even managing to manoeuver around its epistolarity, which is never a good thing for a movie. The movie looks great, with the costumes and the interiors building the lavish, outlandish world of the 18th-century French aristocracy. The actors, unsurprisingly, deliver amazing performances, managing to be both dramatic and funny, when needed.
Malkovich deserves an entirely separate paragraph in this. When I watched the movie for the first time, he surprised me with his sex appeal, despite his looks. But this time I was more impressed with how sinister he is and how every sentence he says reminds the viewer that Valmont is acting all the time: all his lines are declamations.

Worst things about it:
That is hardly the movie’s fault but it’s very difficult to root for any of the protagonists. This is only an actual problem with Pfeiffer, whose character starts as an irritating prig and ends as an irritating doormat, while she should make us feel sorry for her.

Other pluses:
✤ Glenn Close. Malkovich gets perhaps a more showy part and manages to steal the show sometimes but they play off each other beautifully. The Marquise impersonates hypocrisy and deception but still remains a human being, even with a thin layer of feminism somewhere there. Her failure at the end (spoiler?) does not feel entirely triumphant for the viewer.
✤ Keanu Reeves. He comes as close as the movie has to a likeable character, even if he remains in the background.

Other minuses:
The ending leaves a bit to desire, with the somewhat heavy-handed montage and Valmont’s theatrical death (spoiler?).

How it enriched my life:
This is undoubtedly where great cinema meets viewers’ actual enjoyment and there are way too few such movies.

Fun fact:
Is it possible to watch this story or read the book and not wonder how many characters had syphilis? I’m betting all of them.

Follow-up:
I will probably re-watch it but now I feel I should return to my snaily read of the book in French, which I started a few years ago and then dropped because life.

Recommended for:
People who like period dramas and large décolletages. Fans of the original. Lovers of Rococo. Cynics with ideals still there at the bottom of their hearts.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Cruel Intentions

Standard
Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Orphan Black (S2)

My re-watch of Orphan Black continues with season 2. The first time I watched it, soon after the stellar first season (read about it here), it was a bit of a letdown. This time I think I liked it more.

er-orphanblack2Orphan Black (season 2)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Sarah’s fight for control over her life continues with the villains now better-defined. Both the evil corporation Dyad and the group of religious freaks want to use the clones for their sinister ends and for most of the season the characters try to escape or outsmart them. Or just burn them to the ground.

How I found it:
Once I watched the first season I couldn’t wait for the second one.

Summary judgment:
It’s better than I remembered it, even if it couldn’t remain as good as the first one.

Best things about it:
With the main characters in place the show may now focus on deepening the relations between them and despite many action sequences it actually manages to spend a lot of time on the people. It throws them into new configurations – like Alison and Vic, Art and Helena etc. – shining new light on all of them and allowing for many delightful comedic moments. It’s not just about Sarah this time: Helena, Cosima and Alison, even Mrs. S are all served right with their storylines.

Worst things about it:
It’s usually the case that when you build an intriguing mystery, whatever answer you provide has to be a bit disappointing. And it doesn’t help how convoluted and vague our answers are (and from what I remember season three doesn’t improve on that). A lot is happening and sometimes I wasn’t even sure who was on which side anymore but I didn’t much care because I really wanted to see more Alison drinking and Sarah bonding with her baby daddy. It’s too bad that my favorite part of the first season, namely the personal stories of the clones, slowly begins to compete with the bigger picture for the screen time.

Other pluses:
✤ I don’t think I mentioned it before but this show is so impressive in how it puts multiple Tatianas on-screen at the same time! In fact, the dancing scene was plain showing off, with all of them dancing together, each one differently. But usually it’s done so naturally you don’t even think about the technical difficulties.
✤ Cal is alright. I used to be very Team Paul during the first watch but now I can see Cal’s probably a better choice (so far).
✤ Winter looks both pretty and realistically depressing in this season.

Other minuses:
✤ Ugh, Rachel, and all of the institute, particularly Daniel reaaaally get on my nerves. I know it’s villains’ job but they are just – too good at it.
✤ This season introduces many new characters but most of them feel superfluous and way less interesting than our previous stars. Case in point: the new clone, I don’t see a reason for introducing Tony, except that everyone wanted to see what else Tatiana Maslany could do?
✤ I know it’s only starting this season but can we please not do the male clones? No? Okay, we’ll get back to this.

How it enriched my life:
I watched it so fast, stealing time from other duties. Such a good show.

Fun fact:
So, I caught a cold – again, this time from my son – and that’s why I managed to watch the show so quickly. (I know this barely classifies as a fun fact but I’m trying.)

Follow-up:
Season 3, again. Season 4. Season 5.

Recommended for:
People who loved the first season. People who loved it but thought that maybe there was too little of evil corporations, sinister military or too few characters altogether.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Dangerous Liaisons

Standard
Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Younger, Again

After my interest in Darren Star’s upbeat show Younger grew over the first three seasons of, at first half-hearted, watching, I watched season four already quite invested in Liza. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here‘s the first review for Younger with details on the show.)

er-younger4Younger (season 4)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Liza’s story as a likeable fraud continues. She manages to stay in her publishing job and even mend her relationship with Kelsey, who learned of Liza’s secret last season – so that more attention can be given to her romantic entanglements. And I fully approve.

Summary judgment:
Except for a disappointing finale this might be the best season yet.

Best things about it:
The show is slowly moving past its one-note premise, which was the most problematic part of the first seasons. Instead of focusing on the increasingly unlikely mystery of Liza’s age it is now showing characters’ development and allowing them to have emotions.
Also, Charles.

Worst things about it:
The finale didn’t capitalize on any of the emotional build-up the show managed to create throughout the season. Instead, the crew went to Ireland. It felt like a denouement with the climax missing. I guess they’re trying to carry on this emotional load into the next season but it didn’t feel like playing fair with the audience.

Other pluses:
After dealing with Kelsey’s feelings of betrayal – which was done quickly enough, luckily, because I prefer the two women as friends – the season focused on Liza’s developing relationship with Charles and, as you might remember, I’m all for this story and I enjoyed it immensely, particularly his passionate outbursts. Hey, it’s this kind of show, deal with it.
Diana finally got a worthy storyline which gave her more depth. She has successfully progressed from a near-caricature to an interesting character and maybe even had the most emotionally satisfying transformation of the season.

Other minuses:
Kelsey doesn’t have much to do these days and her relationship with the rival editor didn’t quite work but maybe it will be more exciting once they focus more on the rival part next season.
I didn’t really warm up to Claire, even when we were supposed (I think?) to like her.

How it enriched my life:
Actually, it always gave me 20 minutes of respite, regardless of what else was happening that week.

Fun fact:
I usually watched the show when R was putting our son to sleep. Ours is this kind of progressive household (for which I’m so grateful).

Follow-up:
Season 5, of course. Bring it on.

Recommended for:
People who liked the previous seasons, particularly the portrayal of friendship. Not Liza and Josh shippers.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Back to Orphan Black

Standard
Rotten Tomatoes

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Orphan Black

I have so far watched three seasons of Orphan Black, with varying levels of enthusiasm, and before watching the last two I’ve decided to re-watch the beginning. So today I’m sharing my thoughts on season one, but bear in mind that while they might be colored by my knowledge of seasons two and three I know nothing yet about the further developments in the show.

er-orphanblack1Orphan Black (season 1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A mildly science-fiction show about Sarah Manning, who accidentally discovers that women identical to her exist, precisely – that they are her clones. They become increasingly involved with one another as they try to discover the truth about their origins and about the many dangers they face. The show stars Tatiana Maslany, who does wonders playing all the clones in all their differences. As if that wasn’t marvellous enough, she also gets to play clones who pretend to be other clones and wow, is she amazing. Sometimes you forget it’s the same actress all along. The first season focuses on discovering variants of Sarah and on their private lives and as such is, so far, my favorite.

How I found it:
Back when tv.com was a good website I was mildly addicted to it and when they started promoting Orphan Black (which the fans of the show requested), I decided to check it out. And boy, was I hooked. I watched the first season within two or three days and loved every minute of it.

Summary judgment:
This is one of the all time great first seasons of TV shows, no matter how many times I watch it.

Best things about it:
Sarah: she’s a great protagonist, a determined survivor with a soft side and a strong loyalty, firmly keeping us on her side throughout the season.
Paul: very crushable, even when he’s shady. The episode in which he crashes a suburban party is my favorite.
Also, the show looks amazing, with the filtered subdued color palette and the various interiors, each evoking a different social and emotional situation (my absolute favorites are Beth’s and Felix’s apartments).

Worst things about it:
Rachel, but luckily she only appears at the end. The more of the Institute there will be, the more messy the show will become.

Other pluses:
Felix: flamboyant and lovable, the best sidekick one could hope for.
Alison: putting heart into a suburban mom cliché and possibly Maslany’s quiet tour de force.
Cosima: even though she makes irritatingly stupid decisions, in a way she’s the most relatable clone.

Other minuses:
Helena: I know that within the next two seasons she will become quite great but I never liked her in the first season.

How it enriched my life:
It’s one of my favorite seasons of TV, as said, and even during the third watch it still kept me excited about what was going to happen.

Fun fact:
It was one of quite few shows which kept me up at night binge-watching and not feeling guilty about it afterwards. The other one was the first season of True Blood – you know that the first season was good, whatever happened later.

Follow-up:
Season 2, again. Season 3, again. Season 4. Season 5.

Recommended for:
Anyone who enjoys a well-done, exciting story with just the right balance between action/mystery and emotional moments. Actors serious about their craft, so that they can study Maslany and get depressed.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Younger, again

Standard
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

Standard
Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: 10 Things I Hate About You

I caught a mild cold last week but I needed to get well quickly and not to pass it on to my son, so I spent a few days in bed, not working and watching bad stuff. I’m not gonna lie to you: it was fun. Totally worth the sore throat. One of the things I watched, and possibly even the best one (which should tell you something), was

er-10thingsihateaboutyou10 Things I Hate about You

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 1999 high school drama / romantic comedy starring Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger. But wait! It’s based on Shakespeare so it can’t be totally worthless, right? Weeeeell. It reinterprets The Taming of the Shrew, placing the two sisters and their suitors in high school – a move I always approve of (but that’s just me).

How I found it:
I knew it was a thing that existed. I never felt much need to watch it before.

Summary judgment:
I enjoyed it much more than I expected to but I still cringed every now and then.

Best things about it:
This movie possesses a surprising amount of charm, most of it owed to Ledger’s performance. He radiates warmth (to such an extent that he doesn’t really sell the badass he’s supposed to be at the beginning) like a playful, hunky puppy. What.

Worst things about it:
It includes quite a few cringeworthy scenes (though, to be honest, so does the original), two of which bother me immensely, for completely different reasons. The lightweight is Heath Ledger singing on the sports field. I know you need to swallow some saccharine and cheese when watching a high school romantic comedy but this exceeded my tolerance. But I have a real problem with the party sequence and the drunk girl Patrick just passes on to the next guy, which is played for laughs. I guess we should be glad the cultural sensitivity moved on and we may now recognize it for what it is? Namely, not a joke.

Other pluses:
The contrived story manages to make some degree of sense and, arguably, more so than the original? With the father being an obstetrician and Kat rejecting high school culture, their motivations make sense.
At first I was worried they would be dropping Shakespeare-like sentences left and right but they showed uncharacteristic restraint and only did it half a dozen times or so.
I liked some of the music (and all of it places the movie in a very specific moment of history).

Other minuses:
Other cringe-inducing things include many failed attempts at humor and general cutesy-ness (see the detention scene. And others. So many.).

How it enriched my life:
It made my sick day more fun. I also felt obliged to reread the plot of The Taming of the Shrew and I’m sure one day I will remember the names of all the characters of this play.

Fun fact:
Apparently the cast had a lot of fun working on the movie and all became best friends (it’s an IMDb kind of fun fact, sorry). You can tell some of it because the whole movie has a very lighthearted atmosphere, which often feels unforced (though sometimes it really, really doesn’t).
Another thing: The Taming of the Shrew is awful, right? I know you can justify anything that’s old enough, especially written by a venerable author, but it’s plain awful.

Follow-up:
I can tell you what similar thing I’ll be reviewing next (some time next) because I’ve already watched it: Cruel Intentions. But I can’t think of more movies of the kind to watch.

Recommended for:
This is unsurprising: fans of lighthearted romantic high school comedies and/or Heath Ledger. Not necessarily for Shakespeare buffs.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Continuing the theme, High School Drama

Standard