Rotten Tomatoes

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: What We Do in the Shadows

Recently we had a discussion with friends about good modern movies and I found myself saying and believing that I pretty much don’t like movies as a thing anymore. They all look like they’re made with the same mold and my attention span is not what it used to be. But, as usually happens, there are a few exceptions. Like

er-whatwedointheshadowsWhat We Do in the Shadows

Category: Movies

What it is:
A dark comedy from New Zealand (2014) made by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi. It’s a mockumentary about a group of vampires who try to fit into the modern world and yet keep up some of their vampiric traditions. It’s really hard to sum up, guys, because the movie is hardly about the story: it’s all about the jokes and the ridiculous ideas and the fun.

How I found it:
I liked the trailer on IMDb. It was one of those trailers that uses up most of the best jokes but it didn’t matter because the movie has so many great jokes anyway.

Summary judgment:
This has immediately become one of my favorite comedies: it’s absurd and hilarious and it has vampires, which always seems to up the enjoyment grade somehow.

Best things about it:
Most movies these days (or any days, really) are the same: they follow the same scheme so that even if you turn them on in the middle you know exactly whether you’re in the mid-movie crisis or the grand finale. In other words, movies are so interchangeable, they often feel to me like a waste of time. It’s so hard to find originality among movies probably because they cost so damn much but this one manages to be a little bloody pearl of original thought.
Also its sense of humor reminded me of things that used to make me laugh so hard when I was a teen, like Black Adder and Monty Python. It’s great to find something that still works this way.

Worst things about it:
I thought hard about this and I don’t really know because whatever you can hold against this movie is also a part of its charm: like the low budget, the crudeness of some jokes, you name it. If it doesn’t work for you, you’ll hate it but if it does, you will excuse everything. For me there is maybe a bit too much callousness in the characters sometimes but then again it makes so much sense I feel silly even writing it.

Other pluses:
It’s simply hilarious, which I might have mentioned already (and so did the poster). There are so many funny moments and it keeps you surprised, which is something comedies should do easily but they just don’t and you always see the jokes a mile off.
The casting is quite great, especially with the main vampires. It keeps the tone light and slightly unprofessional, like a student project maybe, making it all the more enjoyable, actually. There are so many fantastic moments that I won’t even try to list them all but I do like the werewolves and, of course, the dressing-up-without-mirrors joke is so great you would think someone should’ve done it before.

Other minuses:
I don’t have anything, see “Worst things.”

How it enriched my life:
I saw it twice so far and it made me laugh so hard. It also restored my faith in movie-making business: that it can sometimes produce something which is neither run-of-the-mill boring nor just-kill-yourself-already depressing.

Fun fact:
It has become a source of several running jokes in our home, particularly the “Shame!” scene and the red couch joke.

Follow-up:
I’m sure I will rewatch it again and also I’m really looking forward to Thor: Ragnarok that Waititi is directing. No doubt the money-making Marvel machine will keep his sense of humor in check but I hope some of it will manage to seep through. The trailer leaves me hope for that. Of course, there are also other things Waititi worked on and directed and I’m sure I’ll check them out in due time.

Recommended for:
If you watch the trailer and you like it, it’s a movie for you. If you don’t, don’t even try because you’ll hate it. However, I think so far we’ve been quite successful in recommending it to people, which doesn’t happen too often.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Bauhaus in Motion, I think.

 

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Beauty and the Beast

I find classic Disney movies one of those things you don’t really grow out of: like any true work of art you can enjoy it at any age for different reasons. Of course, not everything Disney comes up with fits the definition so join me on my judgment on

er-beautyandthebeastBeauty and the Beast (1991)

Category: Movies

What it is:
One of Disney’s princess movies. An animated story based on the French fairy tale, where a young girl displeased with her provincial life, trades her freedom for her father’s. She gets to live in an enchanted castle with the Beast and his magical reified servants and both she and the Beast learn to love one another for a happily ever after.

How I found it:
It wasn’t the first time I watched it but a podcast I heard recently reminded me of the movie and made me wonder if I would still be so disenchanted with it as I was when I rewatched it a few years ago.

Summary judgment:
No, I wasn’t. In fact, I greatly enjoyed the movie, it might be one of my favorite Disney princess stories (up there with Tangled and Little Mermaid).

Best things about it:
It has a lovely atmosphere. I particularly like the pretend “Frenchness” of it: the beautiful landscapes and how the songs allude to various kinds of French music.

Worst things about it:
The curse makes so little sense, the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. Why did the servants get turned at all? How many were there? Did they get turned based on their job descriptions or last names? What happened to the original brooms and closets? Wasn’t it extremely awkward to eat with live spoons that used to be your table maids? Did they all eat people or just the one turned into a chest? If so, who did they eat???

Other pluses:
I’m normally not a fan of all the song interruptions in Disney movies but here they really work: I liked at least a half of these songs and the opening scene is quite brilliant. The story is enjoyable and does not meander into unnecessary places. Everything looks pretty great!

Other minuses:
There are some problems with representation, especially when it comes to Le Fou and the asylum doctor: I guess a bit more sensitivity could have been used.

How it enriched my life:
It charmed me and trasnported me to a pleasant place.

Fun fact:
We were watching the movie during our stay in Berlin and all the time we kept thinking: “Wish we were in France now.”

Follow-up:
I will probably rewatch this movie some time in the future. I also plan on watching and rewatching some other Disney movies that somehow slipped through the cracks for me.

Recommended for:
Girls who have dreams greater than marriage (but will settle for marriage, assuming it’s to a rich prince). People who like old-school, 2D animation. People who wish they were spending their holidays in Provence.

Enjoyment:

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: When Demons Walk

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Guardians, Vol. 2

As promised, after the first Guardians review comes the current one. I know this movies has been received with a mild lack of enthusiasm by many critics but, conclusions spoiler, I mostly disagree with the negative opinions. In fact, I had a great time with this colorful, sentimental, unapologetic spectacle.

er-guardiansvol2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Category: Movies

What it is:
A continuation of the Marvel space opera Guardians of the Galaxy, this time focusing mostly on Peter Quill and his daddy issues and repeating over and over again until the dumbest audience members got it, how the Guardians are each others’ family.

How I found it:
How could I not, with the marketing and the trailers all over the internet and my friends waiting for the sequel of the movie they loved.

Summary judgment:
I was surprised by how much I liked it. I left the theater quite happy and my positive impression only grew over the day.
I was the more surprised because I had zero expectations of this movie. Or no positive expectations anyway because I was steeling myself for all the shooting and explosions and sensory overload with no real storytelling and no real character moments and wondering how boring it would be. Well, it wasn’t boring.

Best things about it:
I loved Yondu and his story and I loved the actor’s portrayal.

Worst things about it:
Eh, read my lips: the fight with the planet wasn’t great, even if it was much less obnoxious than I’d expected.

Other pluses:
There are actually so many! The casting worked again and even though I didn’t expect anything good to come from expanding the core cast, it actually didn’t hurt: Mantis was an alright one-note character and some who didn’t work last time, worked a bit better now. Looking at you, Nebula.
The visual side was delightful again, with the animators letting their imagination loose. Especially Ego’s planet looked impressive.

Other minuses:
Some humor wasn’t top notch but I guess you have to cater to all kinds of audiences, not just those with refined tastes like mine. I’ll let it slide because a lot of the jokes were actually funny. I could have lived with a few less “we are your family” speeches but again, all the sentimentality worked at times. At least it was very much not a cynical movie and nobody needs more cynicism in this world. I didn’t love the space pirates, whatever they were called, and did there really have to be so many of them? (Okay, I know they’re called Ravagers.) And speaking of too much: Baby Groot. We get it, it’s great merchandise, I’m sure it would sell just as well with half the screentime. And the music wasn’t exactly my cup of tea: it worked and I like that they made it important but it’s a bit grating to listen to.

How it enriched my life:
It made me quite happy. I also liked the Jay and the Americans song, much as the rest of the music wasn’t my type.

Fun fact:
Fun is probably not the exact right word but the movie totally made me cry! I’m always embarrassed to cry in the theater and try to keep it to minimum (which is usually not that hard). And I almost did during the emotional ending but then that SPOILER Stallone I completely forgot about had to come with his fleet and salute Yondu and suddenly there I was desperately looking for tissues and feeling quite awkward.

Fun fact no. 2 (later edit):
As we went to see the movie once again, it has now become the only film I remember seeing twice in theater. And I still loved it.

Follow-up:
I still have very low expectations of the third movie. In fact, this would make a good franchise finale except it’s barely franchise with two titles. But I will gladly see this one again (edit: and now I have).

Recommended for:
People who like Disney movies and space operas but are not too serious about the quality of their enertainment (Bergman this movie ain’t). People who are not allergic to Hollywood psychoanalytic-friendship moments. People whose expectations were not overly high to begin with.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Mockingbird

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

This comes about 3 years too late but we rewatched the first Guardians before watching Vol. 2 so I decided to share my opinion about both movies in two entries.

er-guardiansofthegalaxyGuardians of the Galaxy (the first movie from 2014)

Category: Movie

What it is:
Marvel’s introduction of space heroes into their cinematic universe. A band of misfits and outlaws comes together for less than respectable reasons and becomes a group of friends whose friendship is the strongest power in the universe. More or less, you probably all know that story anyway.

How I found it:
The trailer won me over even though I hadn’t known anything about those particular superheroes and it really felt like Marvel scraping the bottom of the barrel. However, the tone of the trailer suggested that they might still have something good down there.

Summary judgment:
The people I went to the theater with were really excited when we were leaving, convinced that it was the best movie in ages. Me… not so much though I mostly liked it, too. In fact, I liked everything up to the big fight in the decadent, messy planet (sorry, I really don’t know those names) and only bits and pieces afterwards.

Best things about it:
The fresh breath of air in the superhero genre, with the lighthearted tone, the colors and the new, relatively unknown characters. Also, the banter.

Worst things about it:
You know I’m going to say it and I’m not going to pretend otherwise: the big fights. Look, these reviews are personal and the big fights are always going to be the worst part for me because they are soooo boring. Particularly the grand finale exhausted me. And Ronan is another repeatable, unexciting, plot-device kind of villain.

Other pluses:
I liked most of the jokes, the relationships within the group and casting. Various places we got to see in space had their unique visual flavor, with the utopian Xandar (see, I remember something) and the prison being most memorable (to me anyway). I liked Chris Pratt, aka Andy Dwyer In Space, and some secondary characters, particularly Yondu (I’m glad the second part proved the creators also liked him).

Other minuses:
Some of the characters didn’t get enough time and attention, to the point of being (unlikable) caricatures – looking at you, Nebula.

How it enriched my life:
Actually, it convinced me that the space part of the Marvel universe is not as bad as the old X-Men animated series made me believe.

Fun fact:
That mix tape that Star-Lord listens to? In high school for a too-long time I used to listen to a German “Grössten Oldies” radio when studying, until I knew all those songs by their first chords. So I guess the soundtrack wasn’t such a discovery for me as it was for some people.

Follow-up:
Obviously, I was willing to watch Vol. 2 but without any great expectations. I mostly prepared myself for even more explosions and “epic” battles. Oh, also when Guardians appeared in All New X-Men‘s Battle of the Atom I knew who they were.

Recommended for:
Fans of MCU, space opera, bands-of-misfits movies and people who like their movies loud, colorful and explosive.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Vol. 2

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Ghost in the Shell

er-ghostintheshellGhost in the Shell (2017)

Category: Movie

What it is:
The 2017 adaptation of the Japanese story that was already comics, an anime show and an animated movie. Now, I will be a slightly incompetent recapper because I only know the movie but it tells a story of a near(?)-future Japan, where experiments are made to transfer human consciousness into extremely high-tech robot bodies. Major is the first success (more or less) and works for a security agency, slowly developing doubts about her past and present. Told you it would be imperfect.

How I found it:
It was on all the billboards, of course. But mostly R really wanted to see it and so we left the son with my mom and went for a morning screening.

Summary judgment:
It was better than I’d expected.

Best things about it:
I liked the image of the city: its colors, noise, messiness and how it would give you true sensory overload. It was quite believable and yet very tastefully fabricated.

Worst things about it:
No, not the whitewashing – I don’t feel competent to discuss that. Actually, I disliked the action elements: shootings and explosions and the grand finale in the temple completely lost me.

Other pluses:
I liked the cast, even Scarlett Johansson, who’s normally not my favorite (I know you disagree, please don’t try to convince me, it’s useless). I was impressed with how she was not shown in an overly sexual way (plus, I really liked her hair). I also liked the visual side of the story: how everything was consistent and yet split into different visual landscapes – city streets, business offices, people’s homes, all had their distinct flavors.

Other minuses:
Did I mention the shooting and the explosions? Yep, that. But also I felt there were maybe too many characters and so some didn’t get anything at all to do and some didn’t get enough time for their stories to develop. Also, I’m so over corporations as villains, it’s such an obvious solution.

How it enriched my life:
I add the city from the movie to my list of inspiring portrayals of cities in science-fiction. But also, it was great fun to go out in the morning, have popcorn in the theater and then coffee, all before getting down to daily duties.

Fun fact:
So that animated movie I mentioned? I saw it once but I barely grasped what it was about and I think I was falling asleep as I was watching. So now that you know, you may disagree with me with even more vehemence, if you feel so inclined.

Follow-up:
I don’t really feel encouraged to learn more about the franchise so I think for now this is where it stops.

Recommended for:
People tangentially interested in (any of) the originals, people who like their action movies with one or two thoughts on the side or people who are fascinated by the idea of living in a robot body. But especially Johansson’s fans, which was pretty obvious, I suppose.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Regency Love

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Rotten Tomatoes

The Heart Is a Lonely Fighter: Bogowie

Every now and then I let a trailer or a word of mouth for a Polish movie fool me into going to the cinema. Every time I leave telling myself: “nevermore.” Nevermore shall I be so naïve as to fall for hype only to leave disgusted (and slightly glad that  my firm belief in the suckiness of Polish cinema still holds true because we like our beliefs to turn out right, don’t we).

Well, the day to eat my words, and gladly, finally came. Bogowie (Gods) interested me with its trailer but I still expected to be heavily disappointed. Then I heard enthusiastic reviews and I thought “ugh, people are always so easy to please.” And then I saw the film.

Bogowie is the story of Zbigniew Religa, a legendary heart surgeon who carried out the first successful heart transplant in Poland when everybody considered it an unnecessary and unethical risk. I’m simplifying, Google it or watch the movie if you’re interested in the history. But even if you’re not, watch the movie because it’s damn brilliant where it has no right to be, proving me wrong. I hate medical dramas, their predictability, sentimentality and how genuinely scary they are but this film kept me engrossed and not grossed out (despite the very realistic – or at least bloody, I’m not a heart surgeon, as I’m sure you’re aware – depiction of operations on hearts). I think I ate a half of my scarf out of sheer suspense.

And here go even more reasons to watch the movie:

Actors. A wonderful lead in the person of Tomasz Kot with strong supporting cast. They create characters which are both realistic and likeable.

Tone. Despite the fact that the subject matter seems to invite sentimentality, pathos and gloom, the movie avoids all of this almost entirely (well, it retains the necessary amount, I guess). It’s dynamic, sometimes humorous and quite exciting. It is also, all in all, a very positive story which manages not to become hagiographic.

Interiors. The drab interiors of Polish apartments and public places of the 80s come to life. The movie is, in fact, a very good period drama.

It makes me really happy that Bogowie managed to revive my faith in Polish cinematography and I can try to look at the awfulness and cheerlessness of an average Polish movie as merely a failure and not a given.

 

 

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Girl out of Water: Fish Tank

er-fishtankYesterday, rather uncharacteristically I watched a movie without superheroes. Every now and then I will watch a gritty social drama about growing up in a worse district of a generally nice place, ever since Fucking Åmål enchanted me many years ago. My newest addition to this collection is British Fish Tank about Mia, a dancer wannabe from a more or less pathological family and the relationship she develops with her mother’s boyfriend. Of course, to make matters sufficiently gritty, Mia is fifteen and the boyfriend’s approach degenerates from paternal to decisively different.

The movie excels in the acting department. Michael Fassbender as the boyfriend manages to be both repulsive and intriguing. Obviously, he’s got the charisma (and, let’s face it, the looks) to make a viewer sympathetic where another actor would only come off as a predatory creep. I’m still not sure if that’s all Connor was or if he started as well-meaning and lost control later on. (Side note: never ever do I accept the explanation that sex is something that just happens and so dirty particulars can be excused; my uncertainty is about how much his actions were premeditated, not whether they were innocent because they obviously weren’t.)

Katie Jarvis as Mia also deserves praise for how she mixes strength with vulnerability. You can’t exactly like her but you can’t help wanting her to find luck in the end. She’s also wonderfully real, with her unflattering hairdo and far-from-perfect dance moves. Finally, the supporting actors are pretty great: the mother suffering from arrested development and male-dependency (not to mention other dependencies) and the little sister, already fated to repeat the same mistakes. Even though written more or less as clichés, they manage to appear human.

While actors work overtime to make this movie memorable, writing proves a little weaker. The movie is terribly predictable. From the array of characters you know the outline of what will happen. There are points in the story where it could take a different route but it simply doesn’t. The only thing that surprised me, and this gives the movie at least a star more in my assessment, was restraint when it came to violence. For instance, I was groaning internally – spoiler alert – expecting the little girl to drown, especially after the movie made sure we knew Mia couldn’t swim. What happened next was the only surprise of the movie and I really liked it.

Subtlety is also sorely missing when it comes to symbolism: what with the dead horse, and the fish eaten by the dog and especially the escaping balloon at the end… But I’ve come to expect that from Bildungs…films, I guess. It was still not nearly as bad as in a certain Polish film where a boy made carton angel wings for the girl he liked. Well, that’s not what teenagers did centuries ago when I was one.

All in all, Fish Tank might not make it to the top of my favorite movies but for a two-hour-long film without any spandex in it, it proved interesting and thought-provoking and made me appreciate Fassbender’s skills yet a little more.

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