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.

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.

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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Gaming Night

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Regency Love

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a good casual game has no equal in the realm of entertainment.

er-regencyloveRegency Love

Category: Games

What it is:
A casual iPad game about being a marriageable girl in Regency England ready to fall for (and, of course, marry) a charming bachelor. It was made by Tea for Three Studios (who should get down to it and make more games already). You play by making conversation choices (I love me a text game), which unveils the story (or stories) and answering trivia questions. And, of course, you try to marry as well as you may.

How I found it:
Around Christmas I was in an obsessive Pride & Prejudice mode after having watched the 1995 BBC series for the first time and somehow that led me to the game (I’m not sure how exactly I found it buy I’m glad I did).

Summary judgment:
I got really involved in the game and enthusiastically pursued both available paths (you can buy an extra one but I haven’t so far) as well as some additional minor storylines, all of which gave me great pleasure indeed.

Best things about it:
Spoiler, maybe, but I really liked the storyline of Mr. Curtis, one of the available marriageable men (well, barely) that I pursued on my first play. While not necessarily that exciting in real life, a cranky darkly humorous man will often win my heart in a romantic story.

Worst things about it:
How fast it takes to get through the whole game.

Other pluses:
I really enjoyed discovering the stories and the challenges of both of the main storylines, even though Mr. Ashcroft was too typically attractive to be exciting.

Other minuses:
As in many casual games, the art was not that spectacular. On the plus side, it allowed one to read the general nature of the characters, which, I suppose, was the most important thing, but I found it too hurried and careless to be truly impressed. But I feel rather mean writing it because the whole game is so clearly a work of love and I always appreciate those.

How it enriched my life:
I had perfectly lovely time playing the game, got inspired for creating some light-hearted historical stories and learnt about the tastes of ice-cream in the Regency era, which were quite surprising.

Fun fact:
So apparently the popular ice-cream flavors were parmesan, muscadine and asparagus. I love parmesan but wouldn’t be tempted to try those. And you might think anything would taste good in ice-cream form but that only means you have not tried the tomato ice-cream I once thoughtlessly tasted.

Follow-up:
I would play any similar game or another game by the same studio but so far I haven’t found any. Instead, however, I started GMing a Victorian-themed RPG, which is a far jump, on the one hand, but on the other, an almost direct result of playing Regency Love.

Recommended for:
People who love Jane Austen, historical romances and text-based RPG games without any action scenes in them.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Guardians of the Galaxy, the first one

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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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Gaming Night

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Vampire the Masquerade

Don’t get used to it but I have so many ideas for the reviews that I might be posting a few more than I planned at first. I’m sure it will even out in the end. So, today bare your fangs for

er-vampirethemasqueradeVampire the Masquerade

Category: Games

What it is:
Tabletop role-playing game about vampires. In the world of the game vampires live secretly among humans, feeding on them, playing political games, amusing themselves but, above all, maintaining the masquerade or the secrecy of their existence. Vampires are separated into clans with vastly different abilities, goals and role-playing potential. You create your custom character and engage in whatever stories the game master comes up with. The way we play it in our group, the story takes place in London, which our gang of misfits from different clans (incompetently) tries to take over. More or less.

How I found it:
Actually I first found out about tabletop RPGs in college (yep, I’m only mid-level nerd) when my friend A lent me Vampire manual. I was so excited! It looked just like something I would love to try. But A told me women didn’t play RPGs, which I’d found out later, and suspected all along, was a blatant lie. Aaaaaanyways, the joke’s on all of us, I guess, because A is now the venerable game master of our group, which, except for me, also includes his lovely wife, Z. Oh, quite independently of that I also played two parts of the computer game, but live version is better (I still loved that computer game back then).

Summary judgment:
It’s so much fun! So much.

Best things about it:
How much fun it is. You get to play make-believe as a half-respectable adult, to socialize and act silly. You also get to act completely out of your own character and the more the character you play differs from you, the more fun you’re likely to have (or I am, anyway).

Worst things about it:
How hard it is to fit sessions into our schedules, especially that it takes so much work for the game master that he’s not too hasty with the new episodes. In other words, the worst thing is how we don’t get to play enough.

Other pluses:
It’s like a custom-made TV show with the kind of drama you like. We, for instance, are not too big on fighting, so we mostly focus on incompetent intrigues and even more incompetent rescue missions. If I haven’t made it clear enough, we’re not that great players but what we lack in ingenuity we make up in enthusiasm.

Other minuses:
You need the right group of people for this to work, especially if you’re not extraverted by nature. I can’t imagine myself joining up with a group of strangers and relaxing enough to really enjoy the experience but I’m sure that also works for some people. Peculiar and curious people they must be, but still.

How it enriched my life:
It made it so much more fun. It also made me think about the construction of the story etc., etc. but mostly it’s a great way to spend a night.

Fun fact:
The last session we had I decided my character will open a French techno night club. So A prepared a playlist of French techno and we listened to it all evening long in the background. You know what, it fades back soon enough. It was possibly the most fun session ever, music notwithstanding.

Follow-up:
VtM was our first RPG but now we are venturing into other genres and themes and have started more games already.

Recommended for:
Obviously, vampire lore lovers. People who are not overwhelmingly shy (some shyness is okay), who want to shed the limitations of their personalities in fun space and who have at least two good friends they can do this with. Or people who like to act silly but can still follow and add to a coherent story as they do it.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Ghost in the Shell

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Bookworming, Metarambling

Reviews of Things: North and South

Welcome, my faithful steadfast readers, all three of you. As you can see, I spent almost entire year without blogging and while it’s not been a huge hole in my life, I could use some of the public introspection that blogging provides, particularly as I hate Facebook so I can’t use that most common outlet. But, clearly I just don’t have time for the proper reviews that I meant to be writing here – what with my two jobs, kid and, you know, life. So instead I’m looking for a better formula, one that would allow me to post faster and with more enthusiasm.
Please join me for the test ride of Mildly Enthusiastic Reviews of Things with the first test subject: North and South that I finished lately. I’ll try to post a review every week of something that I found particularly interesting (though in the end if I make it every month that will be still better than my current posting rate; we’ll see though, I aim high).

er-northandsouthNorth and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Category: Books

What it is:
Classic social and romance novel. Tells the story of Margaret Hale: her perfect hair, staunch morality, bleeding heart, many unfortunate experiences and a few instant conquests. It also describes the difference between the life in the South and in the North of England during the Industrial Revolution in an interestingly unflattering way.

How I found it:
I like to read a Victorian novel every spring and once I went through all Bronte sisters and Austen’s novels, I broadened my net, finding Elizabeth Gaskell. She’s way less exciting than those ladies but she has good points, too.

Summary judgment:
It’s not a masterful work: the story is messy, with uneven tempo and almost entirely dropped storylines. But it’s a decent read for all that.

Best things about it:
I liked John Thornton. I didn’t find him realistic at all but I like a romance story to seduce me with the idealized male character. I don’t like idealized females at all but with the man if I’m to find him attractive, he should be a bit over the top. His mother, on the other hand, was a beautiful portrait in its realism.

Worst things about it:
See above for the idealized females. I couldn’t care much less about Margaret with her unsurpassed beauty, queenly conduct and always proper behavior. Also, the second half of the book is such a rollecoaster of misery that it really tired me by the end of it.

Other pluses:
It had an easy tempo for the most part of it and quite memorable depictions of various places. I liked how Gaskell differentiated between London, Helstone and Milton, all locations drawn with their own distinct colors and scenes. She also managed to keep most of the lesser characters very believable.

Other minuses:
The preaching, with the main characters speechifying about their economic beliefs. It felt like a Christian-Marxist essay put into the story – or like a story written around one.

How it enriched my life:
I guess I’m filling gaps in my English literature knowledge. I’m also tempted to use the name Thornton for a character in a Victorian RPG. It’s a good name.

Fun fact:
As I was finishing the book on a train, a guy riding next to me suddenly stopped flipping through his newspaper and asked me what I was reading – and I couldn’t remember Gaskell’s name. Admittedly, he surprised me and also I was taking breaks from Gaskell to read his newspaper over his shoulder and I think it was just his way of suggesting that I stop? Not sure. Still, that was mildly embarrassing.

Follow-up:
I think I’ll try something else by Gaskell but not any time soon. I’ve got a lovely edition of Penguin Cranford, so that one is most likely.

Recommended for:
Patient people with taste for old-fashioned slow-budding romances or anyone interested in fictionalized history of industry.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Tabletop RPGs (maybe)

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Bookworming

Anthropology of a Teenage Introvert

Books: I had a lot of time to kill recently so I finished King John. So not the best Shakespeare. But I’m well halfway through my Shakespeare re-reading.

Music: Some Tom Waits.

Mood: As evidenced by February’s empty archives, February was a tiresome month that left me not a drop of energy to write. Things are happening but I’m mostly rather tired for now.

er-anrhtopologyofanamericanI read Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann for the first time in December two years ago and immediately decided to read it again, which practically never happens. But this book moved me; so even though I got back to it after a year rather than immediately, this review is born of two readings. It’s a controversial book if you look at Amazon reviews: people either love it or hate it and had I seen the reviews before I started the book, I wouldn’t have picked it up. It sounds like nothing I’d enjoy: little plot, depressing and rambling? No thanks. Except, while you might argue for these things, the book is so much more.

It is a story of a girl, Eveline Auerbach, finishing high school on the threshold of the 80s, falling in love and suffering traumas. Now, I have no 80s nostalgia and the iconic literature of that time to which Anthropology is often compared – all the American Psychos and Bright Lights, Big Cities – is on my shortlist of the scourges of the world, together with head lice. But Hamann, while I suppose true to the spirit of the times, manages to make the 80s universal. She does that through a minute, obsessive vivisection of Eveline, the first-person narrator, who’s extremely introspective and prone to noting every little observation. She’s a visual artist but, as so often happens in novels, a visual artist is just a stand-in for a writer: Eveline seems more interested in words, the subtlety of their meaning, than in images. (To be precise, she’s often shown creating art but it’s the interest in language that colors her narrative.) Her observations, while based on banal everyday occurrences, are poignant and aphoristic. Every chapter holds a few phrasing gems.

The main reason why this book delighted me so is how I related to the heroine – not because I’d ever been a knock-out anorexic beauty to turn all the heads in a room but because of her attempts to put the world into words and to define it with precision. That’s how I used to imagine writing when I was a teenager harboring writerly ambitions: as always looking for striking ways to describe small things. So, while it’s not something I say often (or ever), the poesy of Hamann’s writing is what makes the book such a find.

And one more thing that Hamann captures amazingly is a teenage immature love – not the reality of it (I’m sure such romances never happen) but the concept. Eveline falls for Harrison Rourke, a substitute teacher, actor and boxer. Virile, trustworthy, protective and pretty much flawless, Rourke is not so much a character as an archetype of a man. From my point of view today I see their relationship as peculiar in its complete lack of communication: they learn crucial things about each other exclusively from other people, which often fuels the story’s drama. However, I still remember that when I was a teenager directing steamy dramas in my head, that’s exactly what they based on: the fact that their characters never properly talked to each other, which would have led to too speedy conclusions.

The first part of the love affair, with Evie in high school, admiring Rourke from afar also rang very true: the kind of imaginary relationship in which every look, every exchange grows to mean the whole world. Hamann manages to be both subtle and sexy in those descriptions of first encounters: they have an almost oniric quality. Nothing really happens (yet) but the tension is palpable.

The second half of the novel shows Evie past Rourke and past high school, entangled in a self-destructive, self-punitive relationship with devilish Mark, a true child of Ellis and McInerney. This part is more socially conscious, with the descriptions of the glamorous, empty throng that Evie and Mark hang out with. More happens here but in a way this period of Evie’s life is more of a waiting game than high school, when nothing substantial really happened.

Mark is an evil reflection of Rourke: a man without honor, manipulating the girl with money and position, sexually perverse. There’s also a third friend, Rob, who’s the de-sexualized male companion, taking on the role of a reliable friend (and also a small-time crook involved with Jersey mob). Possibly, it’s not an accident that their names can be combined to form Ro-ark because they embody certain qualities – good or bad – that Rourke lacks. Of course, I might be reading too much into it; this book invites speculation. I should also add that the super-positive image of Rourke is a direct result of the first person narration. We only see him through Evie’s eyes, and to her he’s an enigmatic perfection. I can easily imagine a negative, feminist analysis of Rourke – but I don’t really want to because Evie’s vision seduced me sufficiently to enjoy this specimen of perfect literary manhood.

There’s also a whole – important but not that convincing to me – issue of Evie’s first boyfriend; of her perplexing relationship with her parents; of friendship and betrayal, suicide, drugs, sexual abuse, pregnancy, Reagan’s politics, not to mention boxing: so it’s not a book where nothing happens at all. But the real strength of the novel lies in the subtle texture of its language and in the unapologetic introspection of the main character, which reminded me of what it felt like to be seventeen. Few books about teenage girls manage to be so true to their subject matter.

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