Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Lost in Austen

In this year that unexpectedly seems to happen under the banner of Pride and Prejudice, here’s another thing for (non-orthodox) fans of the book, a miniseries called

er-lostinaustenLost in Austen

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 2008 4-part miniseries about Amanda Price, a lover of Pride in Prejudice, who discovers the door to the Bennets’ house in her own bathroom (yep) and changes places with Elizabeth. While Amanda tries to save the story she loves, she’s doing a perplexingly bad job of it and changes everybody’s fate, including her own. (She marries Darcy, guys – spoiler.)

How I found it:
I don’t remember. I watched it for the first time many years ago, sick in bed, if I recall.

Summary judgment:
I can see why it rubs some Austen fans the wrong way but I enjoy it: it’s modern and cheeky.

Best things about it:
It captures some of the magic of the original, while remaining quite irreverent. It reinterprets all the characters, giving them different motivations and it also looks good. And it’s simply fun to watch.

Worst things about it:
There is actually only one thing that doesn’t work for me in the story: Amanda. For someone who obsessively re-reads Pride and Prejudice she seems inexplicably unaware of the taboos of Regency society (or, really, any pre-modern society) and insists on behaving in a vulgar way. The way she looks doesn’t help: I wish she had slightly more natural hair and didn’t wear make-up when living with the Bennets (how does she even do that?). It’s hard to suspend disbelief and understand how someone who must look like a prostitute to the locals would be received in society.
And you know, I see the attraction of clashing Austenian society with someone who brings with them twentieth-century values, maybe even showing Amanda that her idealization of Elizabeth’s world was excessive… But for all of that to work Amanda would have to be smarter and subtler. It seems like a wasted opportunity.

Other pluses:
Wickham as a decent person, Caroline as a lesbian, Mrs. Bennet as someone much more skilled at the game of husband-hunting… I like all these tweaks. I even like Lizzie as a modern woman.

Other minuses:
✤ While I like most of the ideas for changes in the characters, I can’t get behind this Darcy. Yes, he looks fine, except for the bad wig. He looks even finer in the wet shirt. But what a mess he is! I don’t understand his sudden attraction to the vulgar girl who comes out of nowhere – it’s as if he preferred Lydia to Lizzie in the book. Most of his decisions make no sense and the love affair seems to happen only because it needs to in every proper fan fiction ever, which this show is, after all.
✤ On that note, everything could have been salvaged with another ending: Amanda chooses Wickham or even to return to her world. But this forced “will they, won’t they” culminating in a weird marriage didn’t work for me.

How it enriched my life:
It’s an entertaining piece of entertainment to entertain one and it also makes me think whether I’d do any better in Regency England but I would probably be too horrified at the lack of dental hygiene. Also, I can’t curtsy, let alone ballroom-dance.

Fun fact:
So yes, I didn’t know people used to rub chalk across their teeth to clean them and whatever else Amanda was brought. Though I do know other things people used (or still use), including salt, baking soda and some kinds of tree twigs. History of hygiene is a fascinating subject, actually, and reveals how much stuff we take for granted though we shouldn’t.

Follow-up:
I will probably re-watch this show some time because it’s fun. I would also watch any similar thing though it would likely disappoint me.

Recommended for:
Jane Austen fans who are not too hung up on the original. People who didn’t read the book at all but think it’s a funny concept to transport a modern character into a book.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Speaking of books, I Am Charlotte Simmons

Advertisements
Standard
Rotten Tomatoes

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Penelope

The leaves are no longer green (except some still are) and the days are short. Halloween is over but Christmas is coming. It is Penelope season, guys. This movie gets some bad rep but for me, it’s one of my favorites. Let me tell you why.

er-penelopePenelope

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 2006 fairy tale starring Christina Ricci and James McAvoy (before he was Xavier). Ricci plays Penelope, a girl born with a pig’s snout because of a family curse and only a marriage to a “blueblood” can lift the curse (or so the story goes). McAvoy plays a down-on-his-luck ex-piano player, who falls in love with Penelope, snout and all. However, as in any rom-com worth its salt, both need to do a lot of growing to deserve a happy ending.
Also, let’s get this out of the way: I heard this movie criticized as one that tells girls they have to be pretty to win a guy and that’s their whole job… this movie says just the opposite. Now, I’m not saying it’s deep and complex but this kind of shallow it isn’t.

How I found it:
I don’t even remember but it was quite random. I like re-watching it in fall.

Summary judgment:
You might have already inferred that I’m a big fan of Penelope.

Best things about it:
It’s a charming visual delight. Everything about the world of this movie is thought-out and designed, like in an old Tim Burton movie: take Penelope’s insane house, especially, but not only, her room and most other locations, even such minor ones as the hotel she’s staying in. Penelope’s clothes are another example. Everything is so stylized that it immediately codes the story as a fairy tale. I also like how out of time the whole world feels, with bits of technology from different periods. And if you’re a visual person at all I challenge you not to be seduced by the colors.
On top of how great it looks, the movie manages to tell a fun, optimistic story in a somewhat original way.

Worst things about it:
It’s not a very profound movie, of course, and if you’re a certain kind of person you will see it as simplistic. But personally I don’t mind.

Other pluses:
✤ I’m not that interested in McAvoy but he delights as Max/Johnnie, even despite the hair. But Peter Dinklage and Simon Woods also do a great job.
✤ Let’s talk the beauty thing. Of course, whenever a movie will choose to focus on its female character’s looks, it sets itself up as regressive. But that is still the reality that women are judged for their looks more than for anything else, even if they run for a freaking president, so why not tell a story with this premise? I used to make fun of how little of a problem the snout actually is on Christina Ricci but when you think about it, that’s the whole point. Women obsess over all kinds of little problems in the way they look so it actually makes more sense than if she looked like a real monster. And in the end the movie makes it clear that there was nothing wrong with her appearance in the first place. I wouldn’t even spend so much time writing about it except I saw many negative reviews focused on the very issue.

Other minuses:
Witherspoon’s character is fun but possibly more could be done with her. Other than that, I’m coming up empty.

How it enriched my life:
It gives me a warm feeling and makes me smile every time I watch it. It is also one of too few things that make me look forward to fall.

Follow-up:
See you next fall, Penelope.

Recommended for:
Fans of romantic comedies with a slight twist, people still in touch with their inner child and those who like to look at pretty moving pictures.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Scott Pilgrim, the movie

Standard
Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Mindy Project

This is an impromptu, unscheduled review (yes, there is a schedule) to celebrate the ending of one of my favorite TV series in the past six years. I will probably re-watch it and talk about all the seasons separately but for now let’s just talk about all of

er-themindyprojectThe Mindy Project

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Hulu

What it is:
A rom-com, sit-com, workplace-com unlike any other I’ve ever seen. It tells a story of Mindy Lahiri, a NY Indian American ob-gyn in search of love and of some fun, too, as she goes through innumerable inappropriate boyfriends and situations to end up with the one we always wanted her to end up with.

How I found it:
I started watching it back when I would watch pretty much anything new because I got interested in the trailer and something about this show immediately spoke to me, even though I’m normally not a sit-com kind of person.

Summary judgment:
I think it’s pretty obvious by now I love Mindy.

Best things about it:
It’s got a unique, light-hearted, unapologetic tone, which is very much like its heroine, Mindy, who pretty much redefines the feminine woman. I was so invested in the central love affair with Danny Castellano because – at least until they make him into a chauvinistic monster for a while – Chris Messina’s Danny sells everything he does as irresistible. And the show is really funny in a surprising way, not like most half-hour comedies in which you see all the jokes coming a mile away.

Worst things about it:
The show does have an inconsistency problem, with dropped storylines, not enough running jokes and disappearing characters.

Other pluses:
Mindy gave us Morgan played by Ike Barinholtz, and he’s comedy gold. Some other supporting actors work wonderfully, too, particularly Adam Pally, but it’s Morgan who’s the heart of the show.
✤ The deadpan way in which the characters react to one another’s quirks creates an atmosphere of universal acceptance. Always makes me feel better.
✤ So. Many. Wonderful one liners.
✤ And so many wonderful guest stars and recurring guest stars. My favorite by far are the Duplass brothers as holistic midwives.

Other minuses:
That time when Chris Messina wanted to do other stuff and so they made his character terrible and then that time when he went to do something else and his character wasn’t on the show at all.

How it enriched my life:
It made me so happy. It also made me laugh a lot and smile even more and gave me a few lines that I still use every now and then.

Fun fact:
When I was watching the first season for a while I used to immediately re-watch an episode right after I watched it for the first time.

Follow-up:
I sense many big re-watches in the future and probably reviewing every single season, too.

Recommended for:
Hm, this is a bit hard. People looking for intelligent comedy that’s not afraid to be quirky but also very feminine? I’d say at least some fans of Sex and the City though it’s by no means the same kind of thing.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Jonathan Strange, it’s scheduled

Standard
Sounds of Music

Songbook: Famous Blue Raincoat

For the commemoration of the first anniversary of Cohen’s death I have chosen one of my (many) favorites of his.

“Famous Blue Raincoat” by Leonard Cohen

Album: Songs of Love and Hate

Year: 1971

Category: All-time favorites

Why it rocks:
It’s love poetry made into music. It’s a complicated song with characters that seem to melt into one another but it has a characteristic Cohenian fatalism. And it has this gentle, swaying melody and crooning vocals that make you forget about the harshness of some of the lyrics.

Favorite lyrics:
“And you treated my woman to a flake of your life / And when she came back she was nobody’s wife / Well, I see you there with the rose in your teeth / One more thin gypsy thief.”
But also an epistolary song is an original idea by itself.

Favorite moment:
Perhaps the Lili Marlene verse.

Best for: Reflecting on relationships.

Standard
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

Standard
Show Case

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

Standard
Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Man Up

How do you feel about romantic comedies? Me, I’m conflicted. I’m bored and often discouraged by their by-the-numbers plots and usually won’t even get through the whole movie. But then, their natural lightheartedness and optimism appeal – or should appeal – to me. And so for a while now I’ve been on a quest for an original, good romantic comedy which has recently led me to

er-manupMan Up

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 2015 British rom-com directed by Ben Palmer. It stars Lake Bell and Simon Pegg (I didn’t know either of them before) as a couple who mistakenly go on a blind date together (it’s contrived but not excessively by the standards of the genre) and – who didn’t see that coming – find out they’re perfect for each other.

How I found it:
Heh, I found it on a list of recommended romantic comedies somewhere. I liked the trailer, particularly as it included a diss on Dan Brown.

Summary judgment:
I didn’t have any expectations but this movie surprised me: first with the d-word joke which unexpectedly made me laugh and then with how invested I became in the characters. It might not be reinventing the wheel (or the genre) but it’s fun to watch.

Best things about it:
It’s actually funny quite a few times and I really enjoyed watching it.
Characters look more or less like real people not like Hollywood actors who spend their entire days working out and undergoing cosmetic procedures and, I guess, the older I get, the more I appreciate this kind of variety on-screen.
It’s very well acted, particularly by Bell, who’s relatable and outlandish at the same time.

Worst things about it:
It doesn’t even try to reinvent the genre. I wish it was at least a little bit more original.

Other pluses:
I like most of the characters; even those who by the conventions of the genre should be ridiculous – like Jessica – turn out full of heart.
I enjoyed the relations between the members of Nancy’s family: the cool parents and the supportive sister – very inspiring.
The scenes taking place in the streets of London made me nostalgic for holidays.
In some places music fits the scene perfectly.
I appreciate the little jokes, like the triathlon Nancy comes up with.
The emotional range is quite wide.

Other minuses:
I except Sean from my admiration for the characters: he is way too much though it remains true to the nature of the movie that even he gets some good will in the end (and the pudding scene was kinda funny?).
A few jokes went over the top for me, but mostly because they felt overdrawn.

How it enriched my life:
It made me laugh – and so few movies do.

Fun fact:
So about the quest? In case you’re curious what gems it has brought so far, it’s Penelope and (500) Days of Summer. The search continues.

Follow-up:
I’ve got a few things on the rom-com list but I’ll be honest: they don’t look too promising. I think My Big Fat Greek Wedding will be next.

Recommended for:
Fans of romantic comedies with predictable happy endings (spoiler?) and not discouraged by raunchy humor.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Harry Potter Lego board game

Standard