Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Emma (1996)

In what is becoming a bit of a habit, I watched another Austen-related thing around Christmas (and yes, it was a while ago but these posts have a waiting list):

Emma (1996)

Category: Movies

Find it on:  IMDb

What it is:
An adaptation of Austen’s Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

How I found it:
This was actually my very first introduction to the work of Jane Austen. I watched Emma for the first time not long after it was made, on TV one Christmas at my grandparents’. It delighted me to no end and soon after that I read both Emma and Northanger Abbey.

Summary judgment:
It is one of my all time favorites, even if I find it a little superficial.

Best things about it:
It looks so beautiful. It creates this idyllic atmosphere through gorgeous landscapes that really make you want to walk those parks and meadows. I love the light in this movie.

Worst things about it:
Unlike Paltrow, Jeremy Northam doesn’t sell his characters with complete success. He lacks the gravitas that Mr. Knightley should exude: it feels like he’s trying to keep from lighter, laugh-inducing behavior. In fact, this interpretation of Emma focuses on the comedy (and sometimes grotesque) of the story and many characters (for instance the Eltons) and their portrayals fit right in. However, Knightley should stand out from that.

Other pluses:
✤ Gwyneth Paltrow looks lovely as Emma. She’s so aristocratic, with truly impressive body posture. She manages to sell the character completely, both her charm and all her offputting qualities.
✤ Toni Collette, whom I will always love as Tara from the obscure but wonderful United States of Tara, does a great job as Harriet, despite the superficiality of her character.
✤ The movie carries an important quality from the book: it manages to illustrate the challenges and the tedium of having a limited group of people to spend your life around. Almost no one around Emma seems worth developing a friendship with.

Other minuses:
✤ The actresses sport eyebrows plucked in a truly 90s fashion, which I found distracting in the historical setting.
✤ They should’ve used those painted portraits in the end credits. I don’t understand how they missed it.

How it enriched my life:
I had a good time watching it with my husband.

Follow-up:
I will certainly come back to Emma again.

Recommended for:
People who enjoy their Austen with 1990s flavor.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Fun fact:
No fun and barely a fact but I really hate the new WordPress editor with my whole heart. It’s moronic and doesn’t do anything useful, complicating what used to work well. Ugh.

Next time: Descender comic

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: An Enchantment of Ravens

While I read a lot of what some of you more discerning readers might consider crap, especially if it comes in a fantasy envelope, I rarely enjoy it without question. This time I did.

er-anenchantmentofravensAn Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
A fairy tale for (young) adults. Isobell lives in Whimsy, a land for people selling their work to fairies. She is a gifted portrait painter who has learned to manage the tricks of the fair folk rather well – until she meets a very special fairy.

How I found it:
I don’t remember but I think I expected a different book and mixed them up – luckily.

Summary judgment:
It’s surprisingly lovely.

Best things about it:
I was surprised to be so, ahem, enchanted by the world Rogerson creates: it’s got the charm of a fairy tale in which you just buy the premises of the magic world and enjoy being in it. However, it’s more developed than most fairy tales, with characters more fully drawn and quirkier. The tension between the romantic leads feels real and you believe all the reasons why they can’t be together even though you know eventually they will be.

Worst things about it:
It’s just a simple pleasure reading that you can’t boast about having read but for what it is, it works. I just wish it didn’t try so hard to be a teen book because Isobell didn’t need to be 17 – she felt older.

Other pluses:
✤ I liked all the details about fairies and their world: they made sense.
✤ While you have the general sense of where the book is going, the reveals don’t feel boringly obvious.
✤ The simplicity of the story and the sole focus on Isobell’s point of view work: they make for a clean, controlled narrative.

Other minuses:
Honestly, I’m good.

How it enriched my life:
I read it while nursing and it made the whole thing so much better.

Cover notes:
While the illustration leaves me indifferent because it doesn’t have enough character to be memorable, at least it’s competent. (I do wish they’d found someone who could create an oil portrait style illustration though to go with the story; wasted potential.) I wish they kept the typography simpler because the embellishments don’t work.

Follow-up:
Rogerson has another novel in the works and I might read it if I come across it.

Recommended for:
People who are not embarrassed to read a good, romantic fairy tale.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Since I’m back from the short hiatus, I’ll try to keep up with the once-a-week schedule. Next Emma, the movie

 

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Longbourn

You might have noticed already that I tend to devour things created around Pride and Prejudice. So, naturally, I also read

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
It’s a book that happens around and between the story of Pride and Prejudice or, to put it simply, it’s Pride and Prejudice from servants’ point of view. So naturally it focuses less on new bonnets and marriage prospects and more on all the scrubbing, soaking, cooking and tons of other physical work these require. The main character, Sarah, is one of the housemaids of the original story and Baker imagines the lifestory of hers and other servants.

How I found it:
I think it might have been a list of things to read for Pride and Prejudice fans? Maybe.

Summary judgment:
I enjoyed the book thoroughly, though I’m not unaware of missed opportunities.

Best things about it:
It reads fast and manages to recreate a lot of the magic of the original, without a slaverish attitude towards it. The world feels vivid and believable, even though I suspect some anarchronisms have crept in (not being a scholar of history of manners, I didn’t mind much but the characters’ outlooks felt maybe a tad too modern). I found the description of the servants’ work and the difficulties they face quite enlightening.

Worst things about it:
While, contrary to what I expected, this book is not just a fan-fiction historical romance, it still feels like a bit of a wasted possibility. The idea is just so grand and theoretically allows for such a multi-faceted examination of social and feminist, literary and moral issues of the time. Obviously, taking up a subject like this is, in a way, bound to fail: I don’t imagine a convincing modern rendition of Austen’s wit and artfulness so, I guess, not even attempting it is one way to go. But I kept wishing for something like Alias Grace on the subject: a more prying attempt to disover the intricacies of the mind of a 19th century servant girl.

Other pluses:
✤ I enjoyed the villification of Mr. Bennet. He’s shown as cowardly, cruel and small-minded and I’m glad other people also notice this about such a bafflingly beloved Austen character.
✤ Perhaps what I’ve already written doesn’t emphasize this enough but this really is a good book that doesn’t mostly give in to the temptation of pleasing fan girls.
✤ Both Elizabeth and Darcy are much less delightful in the novel, which I found refreshing.

Other minuses:
✤ I really hated the James chapters. This is perhaps the best example of the lack of subtlety and it completely breaks down the unity of the novel, giving very little in return. As his secret is very easy to figure out, the same exposition could’ve been achieved within the main narrative and with fewer unnecessary details.

How it enriched my life:
It gave me a bit of the Regency fix I sometimes crave and it made for a fun (while not trashy) reading.

Cover notes:
I like the painting they found to encapsulate the theme of the novel but I’m not crazy about the unimaginative (and, frankly, a bit clumsy) way they combined the picture with typography.

Follow-up:
Nothing right now but I’m sure some Regency reading is in my future.

Recommended for:
Pride and Prejudice fans, of course, who always look for more of the story, even those generally discouraged by most fan fiction productions of the sort.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Parasol Protectorate

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Younger (S5)

And here we go back to Younger to talk about its fifth season.

er-younger5Younger (S5)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
The season starts with further exposition of Liza’s secret and this time it’s Charles who finds out. Most of the season revolves around the ramifications of this discovery and the other characters have something to do, too, but it’s messy and less memorable.

How I found it:
I was glad the show was back.

Summary judgment:
Again, I enjoyed the ride.

Best things about it:
I was glad they didn’t keep turning away from Liza and Charles’s romance, which kept developing from the very beginning and we deserved to finally see where it could go. As I’m usually a shipper unless I hate a party of the ship, I was happy to see them together and interested in how the show chose to present the relationship.

Worst things about it:
This felt less essential than the previous season. I feel that perhaps the premise of the show is slowly winding down and maybe it would even make sense to finish with season 6? Not that I wouldn’t miss my TV bubble gum.

Other pluses:
✤ I’m glad the show manages to keep telling the story even if the original premise is increasingly less relevant. I don’t mind seeing the moment when everyone learns the truth: it’s high time to try that and I hope season 6 goes there.

Other minuses:
✤ I didn’t like Quentin the Magician as Kelsey’s love interest, nor really anything else Kelsey had to do away from Liza.
✤ Many of the characters, most noticeably Lauren, have absolutely nothing to do in the story.
✤ As I already indicated, it wasn’t really a memorable experience. In fact, except for the romance between Liza and Charles, I have trouble coming up with things that happened this season.

How it enriched my life:
It gave me, as always, 20 minutes of respite each week (this time I got to spend it lying down because pregnancy).

Follow-up:
Season 6 and probably onwards.

Recommended for:
Fans of the previous seasons, particularly those invested in Liza and Charles.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: The Wicked + The Divine

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Love, Simon

Who said romantic comedies have to be about straight people?

er-lovesimonLove, Simon

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A warm romantic slash family story about Simon, whose life seems perfect but who has a secret (he’s gay, obvsly).

How I found it:
I was aware of this movie because it had so much hype (and was also promoted on Riverdale) and I planned to watch it sometime though it didn’t seem particularly urgent.

Summary judgment:
I was surprised by how much I liked it.

Best things about it:
It’s such a warm, heartfelt movie. It shows that feel-good stories can also talk about gay teenagers and the theme doesn’t need to mean a caricature or a tragedy. I loved Nick Robinson as Simon: he was remarkably human and managed to make me believe both in his dilemmas and in his relationships with other people.

Worst things about it:
After 13 Reasons I really couldn’t with Katherine Langford. It’s not her fault but I cringed every time she appeared onscreen. This is so minor though.

Other pluses:
✤ I liked the sometimes-a-villain Martin and how he wasn’t entirely one-dimensional.
✤ The identity of Blue wasn’t obvious (nor, arguably, the most important thing in the story), which I found refreshing (particularly after the “mysteries” of Wonder Woman).
✤ Simon’s town looks delightful. Where is it? I should move there.

Other minuses:
✤ An argument can be made about the privilege of the story, which pushes it into the realm of unrealistic. And I hear this argument and see its validity. But, on the other hand, I’m glad that the movie means diversification in the field of a romantic fairy tale. Who said we can only watch unrealistic fantasies for women dreaming of a Mr. Darcy?
✤ Not a fan of Jennifer Garner. I’ve got nothing specific against her performance here, I just don’t particularly like her. The father was great though.

How it enriched my life:
I thoroughly enjoyed it and watched it with my husband who, perhaps a bit surprisingly for romantic comedies are so not his thing, enjoyed it too.

Follow-up:
The next teen rom-com, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, sometime.

Recommended for:
People who like romantic comedies, teen dramas and family dramas which look good and make you feel warm’n’fuzzy.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Younger, yet again

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Nashville

Another show I watched regularly ended quite recently so let me share with you a few reflections on the whole of

er-nashvilleNashville (S1–6)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A TV show about the country music industry in Nashville, focusing, at least at first, on two divas: Rayna James played by Connie Britton and Juliette Barnes played by Hayden Panettiere. The show had six seasons, two of which happened on another TV station after the first one cancelled it, and most of the initial premise didn’t last past season one but it also sometimes dealt with local politics and a lot of family drama and always provided a lot of sudsy entertainment, even at its worst.

How I found it:
Six years ago when the show debuted I was quite up to date on all the new TV happening (not so much since) so I was immediately interested in it from the preview. And the first season really grabbed my interest.

Summary judgment:
It never lived up to the initial promise but I still enjoyed the bumpy ride.

Best things about it:
Season one and what the show tried to do then promised a quality story about an interesting corner of the world and it did deliver a part of it. I didn’t care so much about the diva rivalry and I didn’t mind when they dropped it but, unfortunately, together they also gave up on more mature aspects of the original story and replaced them with a whole bunch of random guest stars and increasingly ridiculous plotlines.

Worst things about it:
As hinted above, the fact that the show didn’t manage to remain what it set out to be, instead becoming a true soap opera with many caricatures instead of characters and many ridiculously contrived stories. It gradually gave up on treating Nashville as an interesting place worth showing, replacing the local color with generic settings. And after season one the music got worse, too.

Other pluses:
✤ Still, some of the music was pretty good. True, most of it veered toward bland pop (which I think is true of most popular country today?) but every now and then they offered a song that stood out, particularly those sang by the marvelous (and fan-hated, for some reason) Clare Bowen.
✤ Clare Bowen deserves a separate bullet point because while her character, Scarlett, rarely got a worthy storyline and was mostly manipulated into boring would-be romances, she always managed to deliver a heartfelt performance and she sings beautifully.
✤ Special mention to other actors I enjoyed on the show: Charles Esten, Jonathan Jackson, Aubrey Peeples and Oliver Hudson (another hated couple) and, unsurprisingly, Connie Britton. Also, the Stella sisters, sometimes. In general, many of the actors and the relations they build between the characters lift the show above a soap, even when writing doesn’t, and make the stories more human and believable.

Other minuses:
✤ From season three the shows gets a bit boring. In fact, when I was trying to rewatch all of it, I only got so far as the beginning of season three and gave up. I did enjoy revisiting the first one, though.
✤ Most of the later storylines are so random, centering on new characters that’s just been dropped on us and giving them up later without proper resolution. It often feels like the creators weren’t sure what they wanted to do with the characters in the long run.
✤ I know she was a fan-favorite but I almost never liked Juliette or missed her when she disappeared from the show for episodes at a time. There’s just something about Hayden Panettiere in this role that grates on my nerves.

How it enriched my life:
While it was never the most exciting watch of the week for me, it almost always delivered an hour of pleasure. And even though the show grew weaker and weaker as the seasons went by, I was still sorry to see it go.

Fun fact:
I’m not saying I did buy I’m not saying I didn’t listen to some of the soundtrack albums, particularly for the first two seasons.

Follow-up:
Ah, I wish there was one but so far I have found nothing to fill this hole in my heart that is reserved for a show about mostly acoustic music and the drama it causes among those who sacrifice their life to it. Granted, it’s a very specific hole.

Recommended for:
People looking for a slightly better soap for whom its saturation with country music is a good thing not a deterrent.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Tropic of Cancer

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Sex and the City (movie)

Once I finished the six seasons of Sex and the City proper, I figured I’d re-watch the first movie that followed in 2008 because I had a (wrong) impression that it completed the characters’ stories.

er-sexandthecitymovieSex and the City (the movie)

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A continuation of the show made in 2008 to the great excitement (and then disappointment) of fans, it tells the further story of the four friends but mostly of Carrie’s failed attempt at marrying Big. However, it mostly serves as a thinly-veiled vehicle for product placement.

How I found it:
I watched this movie soon after it came out and while I didn’t love it, I didn’t pay attention to how bad it actually was.

Summary judgment:
Wow. I don’t so much mind the flat story and the bad jokes but the world view I found downright offensive.

Best things about it:
The clothes have gotten so extravagant as to become a form of art and I like the visual part of the whole thing (except for Parker’s general look).

Worst things about it:
I guess to me the worst part, and the most surprising one, was the body shaming the women subject one another to. They criticize one another over weight-gain and body hair, not the kind of supportive friendship the show sold us on, and not the kind of message I’m comfortable with from a franchise masquarading as “feminist.”
On a more general level, the writing fails hard. Everything drags as if they needed to fill the space between advertisements (for Starbucks, for Mercedes-Benz, for all the fashion brands) and didn’t quite know how. Carrie’s marriage drama feels so contrived you just want to tell her to get a hold of herself: throughout the entire movie when we’re supposed to feel sorry for her I kept wanting to shake her because yes, the whole thing was her fault and didn’t merit all the hysterics.

Other pluses:
✤ Carrie’s potential apartment is pretty, I guess, and the library where her wedding doesn’t happen looks great, too.
✤ Charlotte’s mutts. Yes, scraping the bottom here.

Other minuses:
✤ I always found it surprising how Miranda is one-sidedly villified over her anger with Steve, who cheated on her. I feel she has every right to be angry and the film never acknowledges that. In what world is Big’s transgression worse?
✤ Ugh, the terrible jokes. It’s like somebody belatedly remembered the “comedy” part in the romantic comedy and added the funniest thing of all, diarrhea.
✤ Yes, Samantha’s sex object of a neighbor looks good but this kind of reversed-male gaze (I’m not sure if it’s called female gaze in a case like this, when it’s objectifying a man) made me really uncomfortable.

How it enriched my life:
It didn’t. The whole thing should’ve ended with the show. This is such a clear, unneccessary money grab.

Fun fact:
Apparently even Cynthia Nixon doesn’t like the “happy ending” of the movie? It’s an internet fact though so don’t hold me to it.

Follow-up:
I’m never watching it again. Also, guys, I did see the second movie back when it came out but it was so abysmal that even this movie seems okay by comparison so I’m not re-watching or reviewing it.

Recommended for:
Completionist fans of the show who don’t mind having their good opinion sullied. Also, people who don’t know the show but like really empty, mediocre romantic comedies without much humor or romance.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: The Dud Avocado

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