Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Loving Vincent

er-lovingvincentLoving Vincent

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A bold animation experiment by a Polish artist Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, it tells the story of an attempt to discover the reasons for the death of Vincent van Gogh, undertaken a year later by his casual acquaintance. The movie uses oil painting combined with more typical animation and regular live acting in a truly impressive way, pushing forward the formal limits of animation. Van Gogh’s paintings come to life, the people he painted begin to inhabit his own story and the viewer follows an investigatory journey into his last days. Or you can think of it as of a painted, animated version of that Don McLean song (whose cover, appropriately, is used during the credits).

How I found it:
I saw some sort of trailer when it was being made and thought it a somewhat interesting idea and then my friend A asked me to go with her to see it.

Summary judgment:
Whether you like van Gogh or not (I’m not a fan) this is a chapeau-bas impressive work of art – and of love, which shows.

Best things about it:
I’m really impressed with the guts and patience it took to undertake the whole endeavor, and no less with the fact that it worked. Not only does the movie look great and employs actual paintings by van Gogh in an intelligent way – the story also keeps you interested. It manages to recreate the atmosphere of the places where van Gogh lived in France and to breathe life into the people he immortalized in his portraits. The colors live on the screen and I loved focusing on the thick texture in some of the backgrounds. This technique works particularly well for the images of nature.

Worst things about it:
I said already, I think, that I don’t like criticizing things that are obviously labors of love because I know what it feels like to become so obsessed with a creative idea that you push through just to see it done and, frankly, we could always use more of those. So I’ll just put some minor stuff in “Minuses” but mostly I’m writing to express my admiration.

Other pluses:
✤ The colors and how they are used to create the mood of the scenes. You can see what the light must have looked like for the characters.
✤ It’s quite a feat of both the screenwriters and the actors that even the minor characters are lively and memorable, particularly those in Auvers. You also become quite involved in the very mystery of what happened.

Other minuses:
✤ You need to get used to the vibration that stop-motion animation brings: sometimes the screen seems to twitch before your eyes.
✤ The style is slightly uneven in that in some scenes the actors seem to push through the paintings’ layer more than in others. But I do realize that with an experimental technique like this one, there are no conventions the viewers are used to so everything, both good and bad, becomes more visible.
✤ Probably the storytelling might be called sentimental. I don’t mind so much but I imagine some people I know that would cringe so hard at that. Basically, if you like “Starry Night” the song, you won’t mind this either because the tone is similar.
✤ I guess the biggest thing for me personally is that most of van Gogh’s paintings don’t speak to me on an emotional or aesthetic level (and so I actually preferred their animated versions to the originals). A movie in which e.g. Corot’s paintings come to life, that I would love to see even more.

How it enriched my life:
It interested and impressed me, both on a narrative and technical level.

Fun fact:
At the end of the movie as people where getting up you could hear muffled sniffling in the theater.

Follow-up:
I will be interested in seeing it again, at least to pay even more attention to how the whole thing is done. It’s also definitely worth seeing some sort of making-of movie about.

Recommended for:
Painting and animation lovers. Anyone fascinated by van Gogh’s legend or even just by the whole “tragic artist” myth.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Stranger Things

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

er-scottpilgrimScott Pilgrim vs. the World

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Based on a comic, this cult adaptation tells a story of a Canadian slacker Scott Pilgrim, who falls in love with mysterious Ramona Flowers and to win her heart has to battle her seven evil exes. The story uses a very characteristic visual language, calling back to arcade games and comics, and the whole thing looks like a love child of a blockbuster and an indie movie.

How I found it:
I sort of knew it existed but heard of it anew on one of the podcasts I follow and when our pop-culture-savvy friend A confirmed it was okay, we tried it.

Summary judgment:
This is a surprising little gem, unlike most things I ever watched.

Best things about it:
The visual choices make the movie quite original – and they both look good and add a whole layer to the humor of the movie. Little things like the pee bar and coins and big things like ingenious scene transitions more than make up for the banality of the story.

Worst things about it:
I have some problems with the representation of women. It’s not tragic but could use tweaking here and there.

Other pluses:
✤ Great cast full of big names playing small roles.
✤ Did I mention the visuals? Because it’s hard to stress them enough. One rarely finds such a consistent, fun, striking vision in a movie. I’m not usually one to prize looks over the story but here I am.
✤ So many quotable lines! I like Short answer: being vegan just makes you better than most people.
✤ I know I’m harping on the story a little bit because it’s so… insignificant, I guess, but it’s still enjoyable.

Other minuses:
If someone told me they found the movie unbearably trite and empty, I would certainly see where they came from. It wasn’t my experience of it though.

How it enriched my life:
Like so few movies do, it restored a bit of my faith in the modern cinematography. Apparently, it can still be fresh, even working within popular, colorful aesthetics.

Fun fact:
So Toronto doesn’t necessarily look all that exciting in this movie (kind of the point, I know) but it’s still very much on my shortlist of places I want to visit some time.

Follow-up:
I’m sure I will re-watch it more than once. I’ve also started reading the comics since then so stay tuned if it’s something you’re interested in.

Recommended for:
Geeks and geek-wannabes (there are those?). Gamers. Neo-punkrockers. Comic readers. People who seek originality in the movie industry.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Lost in Austen

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Rotten Tomatoes

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Penelope

The leaves are no longer green (except some still are) and the days are short. Halloween is over but Christmas is coming. It is Penelope season, guys. This movie gets some bad rep but for me, it’s one of my favorites. Let me tell you why.

er-penelopePenelope

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 2006 fairy tale starring Christina Ricci and James McAvoy (before he was Xavier). Ricci plays Penelope, a girl born with a pig’s snout because of a family curse and only a marriage to a “blueblood” can lift the curse (or so the story goes). McAvoy plays a down-on-his-luck ex-piano player, who falls in love with Penelope, snout and all. However, as in any rom-com worth its salt, both need to do a lot of growing to deserve a happy ending.
Also, let’s get this out of the way: I heard this movie criticized as one that tells girls they have to be pretty to win a guy and that’s their whole job… this movie says just the opposite. Now, I’m not saying it’s deep and complex but this kind of shallow it isn’t.

How I found it:
I don’t even remember but it was quite random. I like re-watching it in fall.

Summary judgment:
You might have already inferred that I’m a big fan of Penelope.

Best things about it:
It’s a charming visual delight. Everything about the world of this movie is thought-out and designed, like in an old Tim Burton movie: take Penelope’s insane house, especially, but not only, her room and most other locations, even such minor ones as the hotel she’s staying in. Penelope’s clothes are another example. Everything is so stylized that it immediately codes the story as a fairy tale. I also like how out of time the whole world feels, with bits of technology from different periods. And if you’re a visual person at all I challenge you not to be seduced by the colors.
On top of how great it looks, the movie manages to tell a fun, optimistic story in a somewhat original way.

Worst things about it:
It’s not a very profound movie, of course, and if you’re a certain kind of person you will see it as simplistic. But personally I don’t mind.

Other pluses:
✤ I’m not that interested in McAvoy but he delights as Max/Johnnie, even despite the hair. But Peter Dinklage and Simon Woods also do a great job.
✤ Let’s talk the beauty thing. Of course, whenever a movie will choose to focus on its female character’s looks, it sets itself up as regressive. But that is still the reality that women are judged for their looks more than for anything else, even if they run for a freaking president, so why not tell a story with this premise? I used to make fun of how little of a problem the snout actually is on Christina Ricci but when you think about it, that’s the whole point. Women obsess over all kinds of little problems in the way they look so it actually makes more sense than if she looked like a real monster. And in the end the movie makes it clear that there was nothing wrong with her appearance in the first place. I wouldn’t even spend so much time writing about it except I saw many negative reviews focused on the very issue.

Other minuses:
Witherspoon’s character is fun but possibly more could be done with her. Other than that, I’m coming up empty.

How it enriched my life:
It gives me a warm feeling and makes me smile every time I watch it. It is also one of too few things that make me look forward to fall.

Follow-up:
See you next fall, Penelope.

Recommended for:
Fans of romantic comedies with a slight twist, people still in touch with their inner child and those who like to look at pretty moving pictures.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Scott Pilgrim, the movie

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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: Avengers Age of Ultron

We went to see the second Avengers for the first time in the theater with our friends, Z&A. Z is the one person among us who doesn’t get excited about superheroes, to say the least. And by the time the final battle in Sokovia was raging and roaring on the screen, I really felt her pain. This was the first time I re-watched the movie since then and, knowing what to expect, I certainly enjoyed it more.

er-avengersageofultron Avengers: Age of Ultron

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 2015 sequel to The Avengers, still with Whedon at the helm. Iron Man is still the crux of the action, as he designs an AI named Ultron, whose job is to defend the Earth. But Ultron turns out to be the embodiment of all Stark’s worst features with a vengeance and decides to destroy the world instead, as Marvel villains tend to decide. So now it’s up to the Avengers to mop up their own mess. Marvel also got the rights to use two X-Men characters, Maximoff twins, and they debut here (and, spoiler, one of them ends here, as well).

How I found it:
After the trailers I was quite excited for the Scarlett Witch, particularly as she’s one of the characters I always liked.

Summary judgment:
When it’s good, it’s good. Other moments you can probably fast forward, unless you’re into that stuff.

Best things about it:
It manages to create quite nuanced character moments and even ask a few (obvious) philosophical questions about the nature of protection. The party scene early in the movie shows the great potential that these movies have and might be one of the best scenes in all the Avengers movies so far.

Worst things about it:
I wish they didn’t interrupt the great character scenes with fight scenes that need to happen every five minutes or so. Don’t get me wrong, some of them work to build the story, but some are just action fillers (and pretty much all of them are too long).
And they really dialled up the copy-paste villains to eleven. It’s almost literal with the Ultrons at the end. And one Ultron is way more than enough, as he is an obnoxious, irritating villain, with boring agenda and terrible jokes. If villains tell jokes, they must be funny. It’s a rule. And while the stakes in the final battle are well-drawn and the obligation to save the civilians understandable, the fight itself is soooo repetitive.

Other pluses:
✤ Scarlett Witch! I wasn’t at all disappointed with Elizabeth Olsen’s portrayal (and, as I said, my expectations were high). She shows beautiful vulnerability and her accent rocks. Pietro was okay, too, I guess – they could’ve done something better with him than kill him to save Hawkeye.
✤ I like the whole story with Thor’s hammer, particularly how they use it to characterize Vision. It’s a very well-paced beat.
✤ Some banter is very good, as expected. Stark, Banner, Fury and particularly Thor all have their moments.

Other minuses:
✤ The bogus Hawkeye storyline irritates me so much. All the movie long they pretty much tell you he will be killed and then he isn’t. I don’t mind that, as he’s better in this part than he was previously (in Civil War I straight-up like him) but this overdrawn foreshadowing is unnecessary and a waste of time.
✤ I take offence at the moment when Black Widow calls herself a monster because she can’t have children. I know what they tried to do but the result is tastelessly awkward.

How it enriched my life:
I learned about Ultron but I’m sure I could live without this knowledge. But when not watched in the theater, where the action sequences are simply too loud for a pleasant experience, it’s a pleasant enough way to spend an evening.

Fun fact:
Speaking of loud action moments, this is the only movie I saw in a theater when pregnant and J kept kicking during the fights. (Or it was just a coincidence, I guess. I don’t know much about pregnancies.)

Follow-up:
Now I’m ready to see the third Thor movie!

Recommended for:
People who liked the first Avengers but wished the villains blabbered more. People who want to see more character development and don’t mind fight scenes. People who want to see more fight scenes and don’t mind character development.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Finally back to Orphan Black?

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Avengers

My preparations for the new Thor continue, this time with the third watch of

er-avengersThe Avengers

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
The first movie with the Avengers, created in 2012 with Joss Whedon. Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow and the Hulk come together to save the world from Loki and his insectoid army under the suspicious guidance of Nick Fury and the S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s a grand-scale spectacle that tries to keep all its balls in the air and often succeeds, and these are so many balls… Oh, Hawkeye is also there.

How I found it:
I couldn’t wait for it! It was Marvel and Joss Whedon and I was sure this would be the best thing ever.

Summary judgment:
It’s not the best thing ever. I was pretty disappointed the first time I watched it but this time I enjoyed it for what it is and focused on the good parts.

Best things about it:
It actually manages to include a lot of Whedonian banter and to build relations between the characters through it. Most characters are strongly drawn within their limited alotted time and there are clear lines of conflict between them. And, let’s not fail to emphasize it, the banter is really funny.

Worst things about it:
I wish they didn’t spend so much time on the fighting and exploding and just used it for more banter. And before you yell at me: I know that’s not what superhero movies are for but hey, why not exactly? The battle of New York is so boring I barely watched it at all this time.

Other pluses:
✤ This time I appreciated more the proportions between action and character moments. I might have been a bit too tired with the copy-paste aliens when I left the theater to realize that there’s a lot of good stuff in this script.
✤ Tony Stark steals the whole movie: it’s pretty much another Iron Man with the rest of the Avengers guest-starring. But Thor, Banner and Rogers have their good moments too.

Other minuses:
I’m still not convinced about Loki. But at least he has a semblance of motivation, I guess.

How it enriched my life:
Like so many people I learned about Hawkeye from this movie (not that it’s a colossal gain). And I enjoyed a lot of it, too.

Fun fact:
Probably my first experience with the movie was tainted by viewing it in 3D. I really dislike 3D movies, they give me headaches.

Follow-up:
The second Thor and the second Avengers.

Recommended for:
I guess everyone who already is a fan of superhero movies or wants to see if this is a genre for them: this is a pretty good test to measure your superhero tolerance.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Another Marvel week starts with Thor No. 2

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Thor

In anticipation of Thor: Ragnarok we’ve embarked upon a task of re-watching previous Thor movies. And what a task it is. Let’s start with the first one:

er-thorThor

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
It’s the fourth MCU movie, introducing the Norse god of thunder, Thor, as he’s kicked out of Asgard flat onto New Mexico desert. There he meets a physicist Jane Something (in the stupidest meet-cute ever) and their redundant love story begins. But simultaneously in Asgard Loki, Thor’s (adoptive) brother is playing his games of lies. Thor is played by Chris Hemsworth, who brings a pretty good comedic timing and a whole lot of muscle to this enterprise. Oh, and Kenneth Branagh directs.

How I found it:
I watched it a while after it first premiered. The MCU was already a thing then but by no means did everyone talk about it like we do now.

Summary judgment:
It’s actually a pretty bland movie. It’s enjoyable enough but nothing special.

Best things about it:
We get glimpses of goofy Thor, which is really the best kind of Thor.
And I imagine people stand divided about this aspect, but I kind of like the visuals of Asgard: it’s memorable and mythic enough, much more interesting than the whole Earth part.

Worst things about it:
You figured it out: the Earth part, particularly the romance, which comes from nowhere and fails to explain itself. I know Thor had to forge connections with Earth for the sake of future stories but this was really half-assed.

Other pluses:
Some of the characters were quite good, including Sif, Frigga and Erik Selvig. I have very little opinion about Loki: I didn’t mind the performance but apparently everyone is in love with him and this I just don’t get. Of course, it’s where Agent Coulson’s brilliance starts and he really is charming.

Other minuses:
While I like the general impression of Asgard, some things I like less. These include the Bifrost and the Frost Giants’ world.

How it enriched my life:
It didn’t particularly, except for the usual pleasure of a spectacle.

Fun fact:
This is not related at all, but when we were first planning on watching Thor, I wanted to buy (barely alcoholic) beer for it and the lady asked to see my ID. I seriously thought she was joking and she thought I was being obstinate. Good story, huh.

Follow-up:
Unfortunately, Thor: The Dark World and Avengers, probably, all leading up to the new Thor movie.

Recommended for:
Fans of Norse mythology and (or: in) Marvel comics. People who like looking at ridiculously huge muscles or at silly horned helmets or at a desert. And I guess all those Tom Hiddleston fans.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Avengers

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