Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Emma (1996)

In what is becoming a bit of a habit, I watched another Austen-related thing around Christmas (and yes, it was a while ago but these posts have a waiting list):

Emma (1996)

Category: Movies

Find it on:  IMDb

What it is:
An adaptation of Austen’s Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

How I found it:
This was actually my very first introduction to the work of Jane Austen. I watched Emma for the first time not long after it was made, on TV one Christmas at my grandparents’. It delighted me to no end and soon after that I read both Emma and Northanger Abbey.

Summary judgment:
It is one of my all time favorites, even if I find it a little superficial.

Best things about it:
It looks so beautiful. It creates this idyllic atmosphere through gorgeous landscapes that really make you want to walk those parks and meadows. I love the light in this movie.

Worst things about it:
Unlike Paltrow, Jeremy Northam doesn’t sell his characters with complete success. He lacks the gravitas that Mr. Knightley should exude: it feels like he’s trying to keep from lighter, laugh-inducing behavior. In fact, this interpretation of Emma focuses on the comedy (and sometimes grotesque) of the story and many characters (for instance the Eltons) and their portrayals fit right in. However, Knightley should stand out from that.

Other pluses:
✤ Gwyneth Paltrow looks lovely as Emma. She’s so aristocratic, with truly impressive body posture. She manages to sell the character completely, both her charm and all her offputting qualities.
✤ Toni Collette, whom I will always love as Tara from the obscure but wonderful United States of Tara, does a great job as Harriet, despite the superficiality of her character.
✤ The movie carries an important quality from the book: it manages to illustrate the challenges and the tedium of having a limited group of people to spend your life around. Almost no one around Emma seems worth developing a friendship with.

Other minuses:
✤ The actresses sport eyebrows plucked in a truly 90s fashion, which I found distracting in the historical setting.
✤ They should’ve used those painted portraits in the end credits. I don’t understand how they missed it.

How it enriched my life:
I had a good time watching it with my husband.

Follow-up:
I will certainly come back to Emma again.

Recommended for:
People who enjoy their Austen with 1990s flavor.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Fun fact:
No fun and barely a fact but I really hate the new WordPress editor with my whole heart. It’s moronic and doesn’t do anything useful, complicating what used to work well. Ugh.

Next time: Descender comic

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Personalness

Best of 2018

Obviously, I’m the kind of person who loves end of year summaries. Have you even met me? Here we go.
Sidenote: I’m only counting the things I read and saw for the first time this year.

Favorite books

5. An Enchantment of Ravensby Margaret Rogerson
A truly charming attempt at a fairly tale for adults (even if young ones).

4. The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason
A thoughtful play on the original Odyssey, and, I feel, more palatable to a modern reader. Reviewed here.

3. Faith beyond Belief: Spirituality for Our Times by David Steindl-Rast and Anselm Grün
Not the kind of book I usually discuss here but this is a book on spirituality I would recommend even to those who feel allergic to the very idea (or maybe expecially to them). I’ve been a fan of brother David for a while now.

2. Among Others by Jo Walton
A perfectly original, delightful book, combining a few of my favorite things: magic, geek girls and a boarding school. Reviewed here.

1. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
I know you’ll excuse the obvious pun but this classic that I never knew before has absolutely captured my heart.

Favorite movies

5. Avengers: Infinity War
Mainly for being better than I expected it to be. It certainly didn’t shake my world. Reviewed here.

4. Love, Simon
A cute, little movie, but with a progressive edge. Reviewed here.

3. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
While not nearly as progressive, this movie gave me so much simple joy.

2. Whiplash
Tense, exciting and somewhat relatable, an intellectual treat. Reviewed here.

1. Song of the Sea
An absolute beauty. Reviewed here.

Favorite TV shows

5. The Tick (S1)
Superheroes done differently. Also, Lint. Reviewed here.

4. Nashville (S6)
It was so bad but I still want to mention it. Reviewed here.

3. Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (S2)
A lot of fun and looks lovely but maybe loses some of season one’s edge.

2. The Americans (S6)
Such a smart, emotional show. One of the best I’ve ever seen. Reviewed here.

1. The Magicians (S2 & S3)
The most fun I’ve had with TV in a while. Reviewed here.

Favorite songs

(Or: new additions to my Spotify playlist of discoveries, not necessarily the songs I listened to the most this year.)

5. “Don’t Know How” by honeyhoney
A bit of an earworm, but enjoyable.

4. “Tougher than the Rest” by Camera Obscura
Silly but sweet.

3. “The Way It Goes” by Gillian Welch
This one has a kick to it.

2. “My Antonia” by Emmylou Harris
Melancholic and charming.

1. “Iowa” by Dar Williams
This has a hold one me. Discussed here.

Have a great new year, everyone, full of books, movies, shows, songs (and anything else you enjoy) that gladden your hearts!

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Love, Simon

Who said romantic comedies have to be about straight people?

er-lovesimonLove, Simon

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Younger, yet again

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Wonder Woman

Here’s another movie I’m watching a bit after the raving has finished.

er-wonderwomanWonder Woman

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
DC’s attempt (somewhat successful, even if not from my point of view) at catching up to MCU. It shows the origin of Diana, aka Wonder Woman, a lasso-wielding, short-dressed Amazon who comes to regular, non-mythic Earth to help solve WW1.

How I found it:
For a while it was all the rage, remember?

Summary judgment:
I expected to dislike this film but for different reasons (or fewer reasons) than I eventually did.

Best things about it:
We watched it during a long train ride and it lasted about 6 hours like the ride itself so we had something to occupy the time without feeling like we’re wasting a good movie on that.

Worst things about it:
I don’t like war movies and that’s why it took me a while to watch this one, even though everyone was raving about the feminism of this film, which should’ve been enough to pick my interest. Well, the war part wasn’t the worst part. In fact, what I disliked most was the predictability of the plot, as if the script was written by a complete beginner. I knew the “twist” from the first line the actual Ares spoke (if it sounds like bragging, you have no idea how transparent that “twist” is) and the “mystery” of Diana’s origin is equally easy to figure out from a thing she says super early on. Additionally, the movie bored the hell out of me: once she gets to the front line there’s absolutely no reason to keep watching.

Other pluses:
✤ Kid Diana was adorable.
✤ Diana’s arrival to London and her meeting with the new team were the least awful parts of the movie – which the producers fully knew because they filled most of the trailer with these scenes.

Other minuses:
✤ Where’s the feminism? I’m glad they let a woman direct a superhero movie but that’s not enough. There was nothing in this story that wouldn’t work with Captain America in Diana’s place: he would also opt to save the village and feel sorry for the children and probably even didn’t like the way people treated women.
✤ I’m sure Gadot is a lovely person and what not but I found nothing charismatic or convincing about her performance. She still mostly functioned as eye candy and the creators of the movie didn’t make any interesting choices about her character (like at least updating her costume). What’s revolutionary about her ability to kick ass? Literally every other well-known female superhero can do that.
✤ A mandatory action scene complaint: this time I hated how prolonged and full of pathos they were. Seriously, with the slow motion. Apparently it’s something characteristic of DC? I don’t like it.
✤ I wish they came up with a more interesting visual language for the mythical island. Look at what Black Panther did: they also didn’t have a very interesting story to tell (they didn’t) but the visual style with which they told it! Wonder Woman just has a lot of obvious choices and wasted potential.

How it enriched my life:
It helped us pass a train ride. And it re-convinced me I’ve got nothing to look for in the DC movie universe.

Follow-up:
For now I’m not interested in anything else from this franchise but I’ll probably be misled again in the future.

Recommended for:
Personally, I don’t know, but judging by the enthusiastic reviews this movie got, I’m sure there are many people who enjoyed and will enjoy this. Good for them.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: Fun Home

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Avengers 3

Frankly, I didn’t plan on seeing this movie in a theater: instead I read all the spoilers online. But in the end, and in need of undemanding entertainment, we went to see

er-avengers3Avengers: Infinity War

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
The next installment of the MCU, it’s like the first part of a two-parter season finale. Thanos is carrying out his stupid plan and all the heroes (except for Ant Man) have to cameo to stop him.

How I found it:
You couldn’t miss it if you tried.

Summary judgment:
I enjoyed it more than I’d ever expected to.

Best things about it:
It’s much less hysterical than I expected it to be. It spares us (mostly) the scenes in which all the heroes fight en masse with copy-paste alien enemies: in fact, most fight scenes have a limited number of participants.
Many people disliked the appearance of the Guardians but I appreciated how it lightened up the tone and kept it from becoming unbearable. In fact, theirs and Thor’s storylines are closest to what I come to the MCU for: humor, not grandiosity.

Worst things about it:
Obviously, that Wakanda part was exactly the kind of fighting I feared for this movie but at least it was only at the end.
What I found more irritating was the stupidity of Thanos’s plan and how not a single character remarked that it didn’t make any sense: instead they acted like it was a valid solution and only unacceptable because of the cost. The problem is not overpopulation! It’s distribution! Damn it, get it straight, Thanos.

Other pluses:
✤ Despite the required number of characters, they managed not to make the movie chaotic: everyone had an agenda and a job to do.
✤ If you know me somewhat, you also know that I will always take a TV show over any movie. And the MCU has truly embraced its status as the biggest, most expensive show, which I applaud.

Other minuses:
✤ It didn’t have a distinctive visual style like some recent MCU productions did. I missed that.
✤ The whole Order of Thanos or whatever his goonies were called consisted of indistinguishable characters. A waste.
✤ Since Wanda is one of my favorite characters I was a bit disappointed with her story. I found it predictable and she didn’t have much to do.

How it enriched my life:
I spent a pleasant afternoon in the theater, which I don’t do often, and I thoroughly enjoyed that.

Follow-up:
The second part of this movie that comes out next year and probably Captain Marvel before that because I really like Brie Larson (even though I only saw her in United States of Tara and not anything else that people know her from).

Recommended for:
All the fans of the MCU who want to know how the story develops.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Hide Me Among the Graves

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Rotten Tomatoes

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Song of the Sea

Some things are made of pure beauty.

er-songoftheseaSong of the Sea

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A traditionally animated tale of Irish folklore come to life. Ben’s mother dies, giving birth to his sister, Saoirse, who can’t speak even at the age of six. But magical things are happening around the girl: as if all the tales Ben’s mother used to tell him weren’t just tales.

How I found it:
I saw The Secret of Kells by the same creators and while I didn’t entirely love it, I admired it. So the trailer of Song of the Sea made me excited to watch it (and it usually takes me four years or so to watch a movie I’m excited about, apparently).

Summary judgment:
It’s a delightful work of art.

Best things about it:
Many things work great in this little jewel but my personal preference is for the art. You can just stare at those lovely painted backgrounds and the details of animation and forget about the story altogether.
It wouldn’t be a wise move, though, because the story enchants – even more, I think, on the human, personal level than on the purely mythical one. I loved the way Ben has to embrace Saoirse and get over his initial hurt.
The mythical part is solid, too.

Worst things about it:
I suppose I would’ve gained even more from the movie if I knew more about Irish folklore but that’s on me.

Other pluses:
✤ I liked the contrast between the more mythical countryside and seaside and the city with its different look.
✤ As often, I appreciate the lack of any actual villains. The antagonists work according to their own sense of justice and manage to change. The hero struggles against his own limitations instead.
✤ It bears repeating: the gorgeousness of the texture of the whole movie. How poetic it is and how much it proves that on the purely visual level traditional animation will always have an advantage over 3D. Feel free to disagree but know that you’ll be wrong.

Other minuses:
Maybe I wished a little bit for the mother to stay with them. I’m just sappy like that. It’s probably a right decision from the narrative point of view that she didn’t.

How it enriched my life:
I learned to pronounce Saoirse (came in useful around Lady Bird). I gathered bits and pieces of Irish folklore. I admired the visuals so much you can hardly admire anything more.

Fun fact:
The first few scenes of the movie is the first animation our son ever watched (we keep him away from screens because we want to bring up a wild child) and he loved Saoirse swimming with seals.
Also, it’s super hard to keep a two-year-old away from screens when all you do all day is stare at them. Our son has already learned typing in Notepad (sort of).

Follow-up:
I’m interested in anything else the creators come up with.

Recommended for:
People who can appreciate beauty and tenderness in any form.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Guilty Pleasures (it’s a title)

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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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