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

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Younger, Again

After my interest in Darren Star’s upbeat show Younger grew over the first three seasons of, at first half-hearted, watching, I watched season four already quite invested in Liza. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here‘s the first review for Younger with details on the show.)

er-younger4Younger (season 4)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Liza’s story as a likeable fraud continues. She manages to stay in her publishing job and even mend her relationship with Kelsey, who learned of Liza’s secret last season – so that more attention can be given to her romantic entanglements. And I fully approve.

Summary judgment:
Except for a disappointing finale this might be the best season yet.

Best things about it:
The show is slowly moving past its one-note premise, which was the most problematic part of the first seasons. Instead of focusing on the increasingly unlikely mystery of Liza’s age it is now showing characters’ development and allowing them to have emotions.
Also, Charles.

Worst things about it:
The finale didn’t capitalize on any of the emotional build-up the show managed to create throughout the season. Instead, the crew went to Ireland. It felt like a denouement with the climax missing. I guess they’re trying to carry on this emotional load into the next season but it didn’t feel like playing fair with the audience.

Other pluses:
After dealing with Kelsey’s feelings of betrayal – which was done quickly enough, luckily, because I prefer the two women as friends – the season focused on Liza’s developing relationship with Charles and, as you might remember, I’m all for this story and I enjoyed it immensely, particularly his passionate outbursts. Hey, it’s this kind of show, deal with it.
Diana finally got a worthy storyline which gave her more depth. She has successfully progressed from a near-caricature to an interesting character and maybe even had the most emotionally satisfying transformation of the season.

Other minuses:
Kelsey doesn’t have much to do these days and her relationship with the rival editor didn’t quite work but maybe it will be more exciting once they focus more on the rival part next season.
I didn’t really warm up to Claire, even when we were supposed (I think?) to like her.

How it enriched my life:
Actually, it always gave me 20 minutes of respite, regardless of what else was happening that week.

Fun fact:
I usually watched the show when R was putting our son to sleep. Ours is this kind of progressive household (for which I’m so grateful).

Follow-up:
Season 5, of course. Bring it on.

Recommended for:
People who liked the previous seasons, particularly the portrayal of friendship. Not Liza and Josh shippers.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Back to Orphan Black

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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

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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

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Old Friends and New Fancies

Yes, this seems to be the year when I grow a bit obsessed with Jane Austen. Well, not truly, because I still don’t remember anything that happened in Mansfield Park (I seriously need to re-read it and see if it’s as bad as I remember) but here’s another thing inspired by the great Jane and written by someone much more obsessed than me:

er-oldfriendsandnewfanciesOld Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton

Category: Books

Find it on: Amazon if you want it in a pretty book format. Or you can download a free copy from Project Gutenberg.

What it is:
The first published Austen fan fiction! In 1913 Ms. Brinton wrote a story in which characters from Austen’s novels interact and continue to fall in love and be talked down to by lady Catherine de Bourgh. It focuses particularly on three couplings and the obstacles they face (mostly obstacles of unsuccessful communication): Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mary Crawford, Georgiana Darcy and William Price and Kitty Bennet and James Morland.

How I found it:
This one was less random than my usual book finds: I found it on two different lists of books recommended for people who like Jane Austen.

Summary judgment:
It is exactly what it claims to be: a work of overflowing love for the originals. It’s not written with as much talent as the six novels (which I never expected it to be) but it’s entertaining enough.

Best things about it:
It is skillful enough at recreating the characters and the atmosphere of the originals. The story keeps you mildly interested and some of the characters get more space than they did in the original books.

Worst things about it:
I guess it’s not exactly exciting reading? It didn’t bore me but I can see it being difficult for some people. Then again, you can say the same about Jane Austen.

Other pluses:
I liked the appearance of some of my favorites, like Elizabeth and Darcy and Mr. Knightley. Nature and places play an important part and are well recreated.

Other minuses:
Some characters were hard to bear. I don’t really remember the original Mary Crawford but for a positive heroine I found her obnoxious. Kitty didn’t get her due either: Austen tell us in Pride and Prejudice that Kitty got more serious and respectable after Lydia’s removal but Brinton chooses to ignore that. Oh, and poor Emma.
But most of all, as is, sadly, too common in romances, male characters are rather bland and unexciting.

How it enriched my life:
I liked how it put more life into Georgiana than she ever had. It also reminded me that I need to re-read at least three of Austen books.

Fun fact:
Brinton really dislikes Emma. She only seems to see the Emma from the first half of the novel, who tries to matchmake people with little thought or concern for anything. But you know, I never found Emma as annoying as most people do, maybe because my first contact with her was through Gwyneth Paltrow’s version and I quite liked her.

Follow-up:
This: Longbourn (another fan fiction, sort of). Mansfield Park. Persuasion. Sense and Sensibility. And then some other things from that list of recommendations. But it will take a while because I like to mix up my reading and not spend a few months in Regency England.

Recommended for:
If anything I wrote in the “What It Is” section sounds interesting, go for it. But it’s for pretty hardcore Austen fans or people who really like this mostly carefree, slow atmosphere.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Zootopia

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Waitress

I’m not a fan of chores (well, who is) but the one I do passionately is ironing. Seriously, the more, the better. And whenever I iron, I watch stuff. Usually I watch TV shows but every now and then it is a movie and a few of my last sessions I spent with

er-waitressWaitress (2007)

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A sort-of feel good story of Jenna, a – duh – waitress and pie maker who lives in the south of the US with a terrible husband and hates her life. She gets pregnant and starts an affair with her OB/GYN, who has just arrived to the town and is nothing she could’ve expected. Side note: it’s such a weird idea to have an affair with your OB/GYN. Seriously.

How I found it:
Ok, so I don’t really believe in the concept of guilty pleasures that much – if you like it, it’s just a pleasure – but sometimes you like things for reasons you’re not too proud of. And there is this one bad podcast I listen to because of all the wrong reasons where I heard about the movie and it picked my interest.

Summary judgment:
Maybe that’s because I didn’t, luckily, identify with Jenna’s plight but I found myself completely indifferent towards the movie. I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t really care.

Best things about it:
I like some of the visual clarity it has, little details that are over the top but create a fairy-like atmosphere of the movie and keep it from being a gritty social drama with an unlikely ending. I liked Dawn’s glasses and the colors in the final sequence, for instance.

Worst things about it:
Well, the movie mostly failed to move me. I’m not a huge fan of Keri Russell – I’m sure she’s a talented actress but her brand of distanced, wide-eyed sensitivity leaves me cold and I find it hard to care much about the characters she plays (and I saw her both in The Americans and Felicity – and Austenland but that barely counts).

Other pluses:
I liked the music, it even included Langhorn Slim. The song Russell sings also sounds great.
Some of the actors were very good, particularly men. And I like Nathan Fillion, even when he plays a pretty reprehensible character like the doctor in this story (honestly, what was his deal?). The other waitresses were fun and I liked how they took care of one another. I also liked their, for the lack of a better term, sass – sassy Jenna actually worked for me.
And always I’m a sucker for a Southern accent. Sue me.

Other minuses:
I disliked the way the husband was written as the Worst Person in the World (TM). He was pretty much like a Marvel villain, with no redeeming qualities and no personality, just with a lot of evulz. That explained why Jenna was so shell-shocked but didn’t make for a particularly interesting character study.

How it enriched my life:
It didn’t. Honestly,  I could’ve been watching more of Younger for my ironing fun.

Fun fact:
I sometimes have troubles with coming up with those, have you noticed? But here goes: I don’t think I have ever in my life baked a pie. I could do this, I’m sure, because baking comes fairly easily to me (unlike most other things in the kitchen), I just never had a chance or reason to do so.

Follow-up:
This is a typical one-and-done thing for me.

Recommended for:
Women in unhappy marriages, maybe? People who like anything smacking of romantic semi-comedy. Keri Russell’s fans. People who like an element of food porn in their movies.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: Lizzie Bennet Diaries

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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

Find it on: Amazon

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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