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: 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
Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Fantastic Beasts

I like most things Harry Potter and so, even though I wasn’t really waiting for it impatiently, I was quite ready to enjoy Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. And while it was pleasant enough to watch, I must say I expected more.

er-fantasticbeastsFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A Harry Potter movie spin-off from 2016, written by J.K. Rowling herself and directed by David Yates. Newt Scamander, the author of the fictional textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, arrives to New York with a suitcase full of fantastical animals. He plans to go to Arizona to release one of his beasts into his natural habitat but he gets sidetracked by local politics, the beasts’ escape and his own budding love – and somehow saves NY magic community, too. Ah, and it’s the 1930s so we get some allusions to the original HP series but no real players make appearances.

How I found it:
The usual way, IMDb trailers – plus all the buzz online and posters in the streets. You know, millions-worth marketing.

Summary judgment:
It looks so good but the story leaves much to desire.

Best things about it:
The visuals work great, particularly the presentation of New York: it’s very pretty in its sepia colors inspired by old photographs. I liked the look of the streets and of people (even if some of the streets looked a bit sleepy for such a huge city). The beasts didn’t excite me quite as much but that’s my personal indifference, they are probably very competently CGI-ed.

Worst things about it:
It feels like an adaptation of a book you didn’t read. But there is no book! However, the movie is created as if there is a story behind that you don’t quite follow. In other words, for a while there I wasn’t sure what – or why – was happening.

Other pluses:
Casting was partly great: Jacob and particularly Tina’s sister (I had to google her: Queenie) worked for me and I’d prefer them as focal points.
I liked glimpses of the stories that could’ve been fascinating were they in any way available to us. I feel like there is an untapped potential in the story.
I liked how real the actress who played Tina looked, much as I found her character bloodless and forced.

Other minuses:
I don’t quite get the idea behind this story. It feels like a patchwork of  different elements desperately sawn together. There’s no great reason for Newt to be the hero of the main events (other than the metro scene where the frightened boy is pictured like a wild animal?) – pretty much anyone else would have a better reason to get involved and his expertise is almost useless for the main plot, until he suddenly and unexplainably knows who the main villain really is. (I guess his knowledge of clichés told him?) All the escaped animals feel like a filler and distraction without any real bearing on the story. Many of the developments thus appear incidental and unmotivated.
And I had a real trouble understanding Eddie Redmayne’s speech, which tired me and made it impossible to relate to his character. Not the greatest character choice.

How it enriched my life:
I spent some relaxing moments watching it with R just enjoying the movie night(s) but that’s just about it.

Fun fact:
While I’ve read Harry Potter series many times (and some books in a few languages just for practice) and I even suffered through Cursed Child, so far I’ve drawn the line at Fantastic Beasts and Quidditch Through the Ages. Restraint.

Follow-up:
Even if they tap into the potential I sense here, I don’t really expect to be watching the second instalment. It would have to get some soaring reviews, I think. However, I feel another HP re-read coming on.

Recommended for:
Die-hard fans of Harry Potter (but you might be disappointed). People who like period pieces mostly for their pretty looks.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Musée Jacquemart-André

Standard
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

Standard
Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

It’s time for an exploration of another Disney classic (or should-be classic?),

er-thehunchbackofnotredameThe Hunchback of Notre Dame

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 1996 Disney animation loosely based on Victor Hugo’s romantic, fatalistic, huge novel Notre Dame de Paris.

How I found it:
I was broadly aware of its existence but never actually watched the movie as a child. This was the first time.

Summary judgment:
Except for a few slightly hiccuppy moments, it’s a good movie and I enjoyed it. Whether I’d watch it with a child is a different matter – I’m not sure.

Best things about it:
It’s actually a good movie: strong, fairly focused, dramatic and socially involved. The characters are instantly likeable or hateable and you feel the atmosphere of the cathedral.

Worst things about it:
I feel this movie is not quite sure who it wants to be for. If it’s for an older audience (dare I say: young adults), there might be too much childish humor personified by the gargoyles. If it’s for kids, maybe there should be a little less sexual obsession and straightforward murder. However, to be quite honest, I might fall into this gray area because I felt I was a representative of the right audience, except I doubt that’s what Disney executives had in mind.

Other pluses:
It’s a very interesting, swiftly moving movie that touches upon extremely ambitious, unusual subject matters: xenophobia, fanaticism, alienation, all those things you normally only find in animations as metaphors.
Quasimodo’s character, as well as Esmeralda’s, are quite complex and relatable.
Animation is lovely, especially the cathedral looks great. It is so central to the narrative that is becomes another character and I always like when any place can be presented in such a lovely way, let alone a place so dear to my heart.

Other minuses:
I’ve got just one huge problem, which might even be “the worst thing.” Quasimodo is very marginalized in the story! It’s taken for granted that he could never get the girl, just because he’s not handsome. And yes, I know it’s loosely inspired by Hugo but the ending is different anyway, so couldn’t we make it a bit more progressive? Phoebus is great, I know, and they make a good couple with Esmeralda but Quasimodo is shown as having a huge crush on the girl only to have to learn that she is way out of his league. And it might even be a realistic lesson we all learn at one point in life but with the way he and Phoebus are presented, I’m afraid what children take out of this is “pretty goes with pretty.” Again, it might be true but not a message by whose reinforcement I stand.

How it enriched my life:
It’s always fun to look at the Notre Dame cathedral, which is one of my favorite places in the entire world, no kidding. Also, I always wonder what’s up there on those upper balconies where tourists are not allowed to go and the movie is taking place there so I enjoyed that.
It is also very interesting to see this different tone in a classic Disney animation. I think it might be the most underappreciated one out there.

Fun fact:
Esmeralda is not a part of the official Disney Princesses franchise and there is really no good reason for this omission. She’s one of the most kickass princesses (well, “princesses,” but so is Mulan), brave, talented and not afraid of her sexuality. Shame, Disney.

Follow-up:
In due time I will continue to explore those Disney classics that I somehow missed in childhood. And I will probably rewatch this one some time.

Recommended for:
Fans of Disney animation who are already capable of making their own judgments and not excessively afraid of hellfire or of depictions of fanaticism.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Marvels

Standard
Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Zootopia

I may not follow most of modern cinematography but I’m reasonably up to date with animations (except for Minions; can’t stomach those) and recently I caught up on

er-zootopiaZootopia

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 2016 animation about a city of anthropomorphic animals which have left behind their days of hunting and being hunted and instead live together in a civilized state – at least, until some of the predators start to go wild again. An ambitious rabbit police officer is determined to solve the case with the help of a fox con man (con fox?). In other words, it’s an animated action movie for kids, with a thinly veiled social message of tolerance.

How I found it:
I think the usual way, a trailer on IMDb. We also have friends whose child is just the right age to follow up current animated movies so they update us on what is good.

Summary judgment:
The story and animation are okay but the metaphor doesn’t really sit with me.

Best things about it:
The animation is pretty good, especially the attention paid to creating all the different environments in which different animals live – not just the more or less natural environments but the more creative ones, like the small district and the rural bunny area.

Worst things about it:
Okay, I know the message about tolerance and not stereotyping people is extremely important and current but it really took away from my pleasure of watching the movie. Not only was it extremely unsubtle but I couldn’t help feeling it didn’t exactly work. The more you get into the metaphor, the more unconvincing it becomes.

Other pluses:
The characters are pretty likeable, particularly the fox. I’m also glad a strong, determined female character continues to be favored by Disney and girls get new role models (even if to me personally Judy felt extremely on-the-nose). The message that if you try hard enough you can achieve anything is worth repeating and maybe it will become true one day.
I suppose the allusions to classic action dramas are exciting for people who actually watched them?

Other minuses:
So, this metaphor… I feel the more you scratch at it, the more it doesn’t work because the animals can’t really change who they are, can they? So some of them are born with tendencies to prey on the others? And Judy and Nick can’t really be together, can they? All sorts of problematic.
And I do know metaphors are never complete analogies (sidenote, I did read Metaphors We Live By and I do find it insightful) but this one just doesn’t convince me. It might be my problem, I’ll admit.

How it enriched my life:
I always like spending some time watching animation and it’s a pretty, fast-paced, generally pleasant movie with a positive message if you don’t overthink it.

Fun fact:
We love foxes in all shapes and forms so a fox as the main character will always be a plus. And little Nick was almost too cute.

Follow-up:
I’m not at all excited for Zootopia 2. Also, I wish they didn’t make series of all the movies because the next ones are almost never good.

Recommended for:
Mostly children. And for people who like both action movies and children’s animations.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales

Standard