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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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: When Demons Walk

Not everything I read is deep and ambitious. In fact, at least since I gave birth and my reading rates dropped drastically (sad but true), most things probably aren’t. But at least some of those lighter books are very entertaining. Like

er-whendemonswalkWhen Demons Walk by Patricia Briggs

Category: Books

What it is:
A 1998 fantasy novel following Shamera, a magician turned thief who is recruited by a controversial leader of the intruders who invaded her country to stop a series of murders in the castle. Secrets, adventures and predictable romance abound.

How I found it:
Patricia Briggs in an author of another fantasy series about Mercy Thompson, a shapeshifter car mechanic, of which I am a fan despite its ridiculous covers (see below). When I came upon her other fantasy work, I was happy to check it out.

Summary judgment:
Well, it’s not a deep philosophical treatise to change one’s life. But as far as (non-)guilty pleasures go, it’s a fine one.

Best things about it:
It’s extremely entertaining. It reads really fast and keeps one very interested in how the story will unfold and, say what you will about lofty goals of literature, keeping the reader’s interest is the basic thing a book has to do. I’ll fight anyone on that.

Worst things about it:
I guess the title is the worst part because it’s pretty embarrassing and only tangentially appropriate for the story anyway.

Other pluses:
Pleasure reading for me lives or dies by its characters who have to be memorable and strongly drawn and Briggs succeeds with aplomb, not only in her portrais of Sham and Kerim but also of some of the side characters. The theory of magic makes sense, more or less, which I always prefer to when it doesn’t (I love Harry Potter but magic there is ridiculous).

Other minuses:
I might have been reading without enough focus (again, I guess) but I’m not sure why the trunk was open all the time and I expected it to become a significant twist. Speaking of twists, I felt that for the last fifth part of the book it was a bit too obvious who the culprit was, even before the characters realized it (but I guess that’s always a risk of mystery stories: either it’s too simple for the reader to figure it all out or so difficult that they have to be surprised at the end).

How it enriched my life:
It’s been a while since I read a book that I’d be really looking forward to continuing just to find out what happens next. It made several train rides to and from work much more pleasant.

Fun fact:
So the way I came upon Patricia Briggs’ work was through the covers of her books: but not because I thought them good. Once upon a time on the other blog we were writing a series of posts about bad book covers – we don’t do this anymore because it was unnecessarily mean but mostly because it took forever to write and document – and Mercy Thompson series was just hard to resist with the sexy lady seductively embracing a car wrench. Nobody was reading our posts back then but this one managed to attract a bit of attention and most of it came from the fans of the series who didn’t so much defend the covers as claimed that the books were good. So I finally read them, always on the lookout for a new fun series. And what do you know, they were right so thanks, fans.

Follow-up:
Apparently there are other Briggs works set in the same world and I am going to read Masques some time when I need this kind of entertainment again.

Recommended for:
Fans of accessible fantasy, strong female leads, magic mysteries and budding buddy romances.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: What We Do in the Shadows

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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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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Joy Luck Club

As the train ride to Berlin takes 6 hours and the return ride takes another 6 hours, it gave me many hours to read a not-too-long book,

er-joyluckclubThe Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Category: Books

What it is:
A 1989 novel about American-born Chinese women and their mothers who left China to come to the US. It tells histories of four women and their four daughters through a series of connected short stories, each showing a different side of the characters and their relations and illuminating partially the other stories as well.

How I found it:
It’s been on my to-read list for a while. I didn’t find it in any particular way, just the summary sounded interesting and I used to really like books about Chinese history (back when I had way less imagination).

Summary judgment:
I quite enjoyed the book, especially its American side as some fragments of the Chinese stories I found a bit too traumatizing.

Best things about it:
It’s well-written and reads well. It also has a lot of empathy for both generations of women and tries to capture the unique mother-daughter relationship in all its beauty and difficulty.

Worst things about it:
It’s embarrassing but I had a hard time keeping track of which story was by which woman and how they followed one another. I think it took me more than a half of the book to remember them properly though I attribute that partly to reading on the train, not the most concentration-inducing environment.

Other pluses:
The structure of the book is unusual and quite well woven together. I got really interested in Waverly’s story ever since her chess-prodigy introduction. It was quite impressive how the mothers are shown through their own words and then their daughers (unjust) views and then the same is done to the daughters. It also makes the reader question their own relations with people they think they know everything about.

Other minuses:
My goodness, that first story about leaving babies on the road was really hard to read. It almost made me give up on the book altogether but its beauty and powerful images made it hard to drop it and switch to a fantasy story I had as an alternative.

How it enriched my life:
It gave me small bits of information about Chinese history that I’m sure to forget soon. It also reminded me not to take for granted my idea about the story of the people important to me. Like my mother.

Fun fact:
Again, not fun, but as I was reading the first story, definitely the most stressful one of all (though there are a few more which are a bit hard to get through), I was sitting across some guy in the train compartment. He had no book nor anything else to kill time on the train and so instead he was staring at me reading and I’m sure my face must have been like a (very boring) movie as I was going through the dramatic developments.

Follow-up:
Actually, now I’m reading that fantasy story for a little emotional reset.

Recommended for:
Mothers and daughters; people interested in Chinese history or the theme of immigration. People with a good memory for names (or a notepad).

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Beauty and the Beast

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Socializing

Mildly (Un)Enthusiastic Review: Typo Berlin 2017

I returned recently from Berlin where R and I took part in Typo Berlin, an annual design conference, and I have opinions.

er-typoberlin17Typo Berlin 2017

Category: Events

What it is:
As I said, an annual international design conference with lectures by really well-known and lesser-known speakers from around the world (but mostly from Berlin, London and the USA).

How I found it:
Ah, back when I was a design student, Typo Berlin was a fetish some of our professors talked about in dreamy voices and I was sure it must be this transcendental (design) experience that would improve my skills and understanding tenfold and make me buddies with my design heroes. However, the conference has always been quite expensive, absolutely beyond what I could have afforded as a student, and I still wouldn’t have wanted to go at full price even now, except I used a special price for school workers.

Summary judgment:
How could anything live up to the expectations above? Of course it couldn’t nor did I expect it to, really. But even with my considerably lowered expectations it still managed to disappoint me in a few minor ways.

Best things about it:
It was good to get it out of our system, most of all – see it for ourselves and for what it was.
But I also enjoyed some lectures, particularly Oliver Jeffers’, whose books I always liked and who turned out to be quite an entertaining performer, speaking with a lot of Irish swagger and humor.

Worst things about it:
The worst thing to me was how most of the speakers were already over design and all they wanted to talk about was, well, anything else. A lot of the talks ran like this: “You know me from this and that, cool, but instead I want to talk about this hobby I’ve been really getting into recently.” And then instead of typography they would discuss potato salad arrangements. And I really wanted to hear them talk about the stuff I admire them for, interesting as their side culinary explorations might be.

Other pluses:
Luckily not all the speakers were like that. Some just talked about the recent work they’d been doing and it was interesting enough. A few of them even delivered what you could call design stand-up and that was pretty fun. The conference is also held in a building in Tiergarten, a huge, forest-like park and we enjoyed exploring that during boring points of the program, especially with wild rabbits roaming the place.

Other minuses:
All those minor things I mentioned. It was absolutely impossible to get into the workshop we wanted as it only admitted about ten people or so. Many lectures were overly self-indulgent. Sometimes we felt like people who only came there to provide the audience and financing for a group of strangers to allow them to tell each other how they like one another – and watching people pat each others’ backs is a pretty boring spectator sport.
It wasn’t also the greatest weekend for sightseeing in Berlin, with some sort of churches’ day and soccer finale: it was crowded, the train station was out of lockers and, worst of all, they closed off a large section of the park.

How it enriched my life:
Now I know I wasn’t missing all that much all those times I couldn’t afford to go to the conference. I enjoyed seeing some of the speakers live and also comparing their different styles of public speaking. Also, see below.

Fun fact:
After a couple of years of fangirling over a Canadian designer Marian Bantjes I finally learned how to pronounce her name. I still would’ve preferred to hear her speak rather than hear her mentioned by someone else but I enjoyed that anyway because I love her work and I discovered she’s terribly nice once she answered my email with my PhD thesis questions.

Follow-up:
I’m starting to think I would only consider coming back to another Typo Berlin for an extremely select lineup of speakers that would definitely have to include Marian Bantjes.

Recommended for:
Fans of graphic design who don’t necessarily want to hear anything specific or technical. People who love Berlin.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: The Joy Luck Club

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Mockingbird

I’ve been away for a few days but now that I’m back to my schedule:

er-mockingbirdMockingbird by Chelsea Cain

Category: Comics

What it is:
A Marvel comic, all 8 issues long, about Bobbie Morse, Mockingbird, who takes on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s corrupt medical system and zombies and ghost pirates… Nope, I’m not up to summarizing this one, just read it for yourselves.

How I found it:
Actually, through this podcast. I’m a fan and I will often read things they plan to talk about so that I’m up to date.

Summary judgment:
It’s an original work of art, quite fast and enjoyable to consume. It’s also funny.

Best things about it:
Humor and the visual clues that you may look for or not in the background of the main story. It’s quite entertaining and ever since I liked the first three seasons of Family Guy I’m a sucker for a cutaway joke – and this comic has so many! The rescue tally might be one of my favorites.

Worst things about it:
I guess the overall arc once we got to explanations was a bit too unreal and, if you will, Marvel-like for my taste. I wouldn’t mind something a little bit down-to-earth (and coherent) – but maybe I just didn’t pay enough attention, distracted by all the details and shirtless Hunter.

Other pluses:
Mockingbird is a cool enough character: I like her competence and her devil-may-care attitude. I’m also a fan of Hunter since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (back when I watched it, that is). It reads really fast and you have to admire the puzzle box structure (even though I don’t think it’s as complex as the comic makes it out to be).

Other minuses:
I know it’s standard but I don’t like when art changes during a comic’s run so guest art was not my thing.

How it enriched my life:
I spent a pleasant evening and morning reading the whole run and was reminded that Marvel comics don’t have to be so standard and predictable as they sometimes appear to be.

“Fun” fact:
It’s not fun at all but apparently the author was harassed and threatened online by crappy readers who didn’t like the feminist overtones of the comic. Ugh, shouldn’t nerds be more open-minded, having been probably bullied or at least misunderstood themselves? (Not how it works, I know.)

Follow-up:
The comic was cancelled after 8 issues so I don’t expect to really follow up on it but I might be interested in other work by Ms. Cain.

Recommended for:
Open-minded fans of Marvel (or superheroes) who like twists in their superhero fare. People who like visual riddles. Feminists, maybe, or just people who like to see extremely competent female heroes.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Typo Berlin 2017

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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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