Saturday, February 6, 2016

Mini movie review: Frozen

I have long been a fan of Disney animated movies but refused to see Frozen in a reaction to everyone's omgitssoawesomeandwonderfulandthebestanimatedmovieelsaissogreat and just generally losing their minds.  Last night I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about and was just a bit underwhelmed, to be honest.  The songs were all forgettable - except for THAT ONE SONG which I admit that I like (although I don't have a little daughter playing it ad nauseum) - and the story was a bit light.  I liked Sven the reindeer the best but was surprised that I enjoyed Olaf the snowman too.  I had assumed that he would be totally annoying, like the Jar-Jar Binks of Frozen, but he wasn't and I actually laughed at a number of his lines.

Elsa, who every little girl dresses up like for Halloween, is an odd character.  Her parents were horrible to her, encouraging her to lock herself up after what was clearly an accident.  And then she finally breaks free and runs away and ... locks herself up again.  She doesn't really do anything (other than making that gorgeous ice palace).  It's Anna who is the hero: she searches for Elsa, battles adverse conditions and makes the ultimate sacrifice to save her sister - but it's Elsa who all the little girls emulate and love.  Anna (yes, annoying at times but she had a crappy, limited childhood) gets shafted, in my opinion.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Mini movie review: Maleficent

Like my mixed feelings about Angelina Jolie, I have mixed feelings about Maleficent.  Jolie is a gifted actress and uses her fame to try to make the world a better place, but I'm still a little icked out by how she and Brad Pitt got together, screwing over Jennifer Aniston in the process.  (To the extent that I think about those people at all, which really isn't that much).  With Maleficient, Disney's live action re-envisioning of the Sleeping Beauty tale, it turns the truly terrifying villain of Sleeping Beauty and turns her into an anti-hero, forced into her villainy by betrayal and brute physical assault, with the removal of Maleficent's faerie wings a clear metaphor for rape.  But the point of the story is not Maleficent's evil but how she was truly good under it all and how Aurora, through her goodness and pureness and a touch of the sapphic, brings a happy, alternate ending to the faerie tale.  The movie just doesn't commit fully to anything, though.  That the handsome prince isn't important is a nice touch, sure, and I loved the dragon - but the real villain is so one dimensional, the rules of magic in this world are conflicting (Maleficent can levitate and toss around soldiers but she can't do it to herself?), and everything is just all that damn CGI.  The best part is Jolie, who commits to the role and who, even under the horns and the prosthetic cheekbones, provides the true heart of this lightweight movie: when she awakens to find her wing-ectomy, the scream she gives is truly terrible and heartrending, and not your typical Disney fare.

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Don't eff with Maleficent

Yes, that's the original Disney Sleeping Beauty dragon,
not the new CGI one.  Still excellent.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Mini movie review: Centurion

I'm a fan of some of Neil Marshall's movies - new(ish) horror classics The Descent and Dog Soldiers - and I like brutal period hack-and-slash movies.  But somehow, Marshall's Centurion just didn't quite work.  I guess there needs to be more than just disembowlings and head-crushings to make a battle/survival flick work.

More's the pity, because Centurion had an above-average cast, including Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones's Davos Seaworth), Imogen Poots and Noel Clark (Mickey Smith, Rose's boyfriend from Doctor Who).  The nutshell story follows a small cohort of Roman soldiers, stranded on the northern frontier of the Empire after bloodthirsty Picts decimate their legion.  It is up to Fassbender's centurion to lead the remaining men through rough country to the safety of the Roman garrison to the south.  The Picts send revenge-obsessed tracker Etain (Kurylenko) after them with a group of warriors and the Romans' safe return is anything but guaranteed.

Marshall has a deft hand with action sequences - that's not in question.  But Centurion's characters are thinly drawn and there's just nothing special about the story unfolding on the screen.  The Descent was also about a group of people in challenging terrain trying to get away from relentless, chasing killers and that is a much, much better movie.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Mini movie review: Ant-Man

Is it utter Marvel blasphemy to admit that I liked Ant-Man better than Avengers:  Age of Ultron?  Because I did.  I enjoyed the smaller focus and the lighter tone.  I liked how funny it was - with John Pena stealing every scene he was in.  I liked checking in with Peggy Carter and the Falcon.  I loved Scott Lang's affection for the ants (Antony!) and the glee he had with what he was able to do.  I liked Evangeline Lily's cranky-pants.  I thought the toy train fight scene was lots of fun.  And I just like Paul Rudd.  My biggest complaint?  You make Rudd work so hard to get that fit and you only have that ONE scene with him shirtless?  FOR SHAME.

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 Image result for paul rudd shirtless as ant-man

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Mini movie review: Inside Out

I finally saw Inside Out last night and while I can understand why everyone is just SO IN LOVE WITH THIS MOVIE, I myself didn't love it.  I'm not being contrary (well, maybe I am being contrary).  I thought the voice actors were particularly well cast, I loved the world-building the filmmakers had done with the control room and the personality islands and long-term storage, I thought it was very, very clever and even informative.  I just prefer more PLOT in my movies.  I'm a plot junky.  The twistier, turnier, more complex a plot a film or show or book has, the better.  Inside Out is just a little light on plot, that's all.  Don't hate.

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Saturday, January 9, 2016

This blog has not been abandoned, believe it or not

Part of the problem here is that I haven't been reading very much.  Over the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve, I've been working through a lot of my lunches.  Since I do the bulk of my reading during work lunches, this has really cut into my page count.  Now that the holidays are over, I should be picking some books back up.

This brings me to another problem: what to read.  I'm sort of in the mood to catch up on all the Neil Gaiman that I haven't read yet.  But I'm also watching Syfy's The Expanse and so now want to go back to that series, rereading the two I've already read (Leviathan Wakes and Caliban's War) and then go on to the rest of them.  And I also want to go back and reread the first two books of the Millenium series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire), go on to The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, and then finish with The Girl in the Spider's Web, by David Lagercrantz, which continues the series and which I received for Christmas.

Watching-wise, I'm enjoying The Expanse, although half the time I'm wracking my brain, trying to remember what happened in the books.  I certainly like it better than Syfy's miniseries Childhood's End, which I found a little disjointed, dropping and picking up characters willynilly.  I am all caught up with Sherlock and have just one episode to go with Master of None, which I have really enjoyed (the episode "Mornings" is an entire, sweet, well-done, intelligent, funny, heartfelt rom-com in and of itself).  I've got just a couple more episodes of S4 of Game of Thrones (that fight between the Mountain and the Viper!) and I'm still loving Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.  And then there's television coming back, and the return of Agent Carter and  Better Call Saul, and OMG the return of The X-Files ...

At least I should be able to consume enough to merit some more regular posting soon.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Just discovered: Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries

Thanks to this npr.org article, I put the Australian import Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries in my Netflix queue and last night I gave it a try.  I was so delighted with S1E1 that, despite it already being past my bedtime, I just had to watch the next episode.  You see, Phryne Fisher (pronounced "Fry-nee" and played with panache by Essie Davis, recently of The Babadook (which I still haven't seen)) is a fantastic character and one unlike almost any on television - Agent Carter comes closest.

In the first episode, Miss Fisher returns to 1920s Melbourne after some unspecified time abroad, and wastes little time setting up shop as an amateur detective, in part because playing cards is "boring."  She apparently grew up poor but as a result of WWI, inherited a title and scads of money.  She is a flapper in her 30s or early 40s (again, unspecified, but one character calls her a "spinster") - she is gorgeous and exquisitely garbed in beaded gowns, high-waisted pants, marabou feather boas and Chinese silk kimonos.  She is very smart, clever, funny, perceptive, loyal and generous, but doesn't suffer fools.  When she is smarter than all the men in the room, she deftly sidesteps their chauvinism and goes on doing what she wants.  She drinks, drives scarily fast, carries a golden gun and thinks nothing of climbing up the outside of buildings.  She loves men and has plenty of casual sex, all on her own terms; she refers to her diaphragm as "family planning."  By the end of the second episode, she has acquired a new maid, sportscar, foster child, mansion, butler, two hired men/drivers and the grudging respect of the handsome detective inspector. 

Her first two cases involved not only murders, but also cocaine trafficking, rape and illegal abortions, gambling and abused orphans - but the show has a soft touch and a light tone.  Phyrne Fisher is simply marvelous and I can't wait to see what else she does. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Bits and pieces

Things do fall off around here when I don't have a regular recapping gig, don't they?  Plus schedules tend to get out of whack around the holidays and everyone is flitting about, hither and thither.  Mr. Mouse and I haven't done too much hither and thither-ing, luckily, and our holiday plans are contentedly at-home.  We just finished watching the second season of Fargo, which is the one of the few scripted shows we watch together (Better Call Saul will be the next, when it returns in February).  If you haven't been watching Fargo (or Better Call Saul, or Justified, for that matter), you really should.  This second season had a much higher body count than the also-excellent S1; it was also funnier and just full to bursting with a talented cast.

I also recently watched Jessica Jones which I absolutely loved.  I had thought to say something profound about it, but sites like the A.V. Club and The Mary Sue are full of well-written recaps and articles; just google it and you'll find oceans of discussion.  It isn't easy to watch with its discussion of sexual, emotional and psychological abuse, but it is an important discussion.  Krysten Ritter is phenomenal in the title role, ably portraying the complex, damaged Jessica.  If the only thing you've seen David Tennant in is Doctor Who, you're in for a shock:  he is charming, yes, but also terrifying as the sociopathic, abusive victim.  The rest of the cast is really good too and it's refreshing to have most of the major players be women.

In stark (pun intended) contrast to Marvel's strong, grounded Netflix offerings is Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron.  I watched it last night and, as much as I love Joss Whedon's work, this one left me underwhelmed.  And exhausted, frankly, from all the CGI battles.  After watching the more realistic fights and stuntwork in both Jessica Jones and Daredevil, the AoU CGI just left me cold.  I appreciated the small character moments and humor - Natasha and Bruce; Hawkeye getting some actual lines; everyone giving Captain America a hard time for being an old fogy - but it all just seemed overstuffed and a bit frantic.  I will say that James Spader knocked it out of the park with his Ultron voice work.

What's next around here?  I'm watching S2 of Sherlock and also the Tenth Doctor on Doctor Who, and next up in my DVD queue is the remainder of S4 of Game of Thrones (so far behind!).  I just finished S2 of Penny Dreadful which I ADORE and am anxious to continue on with S3.  There's always something - and I'm always up for suggestions.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Mini book review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

The Museum of Extraordinary Things, by Alice Hoffman, is historical fiction taking place in New York City in the early 1900s.  It is told from a couple points of view: Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant making his living as a photographer in Brooklyn; and Coralie Sardie, who performs as the Mermaid in her father's "museum" / freak show, which competes with the other, larger attractions in Coney Island.  When Eddie, a witness to the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, is hired to find out what happened to a lost young woman who had escaped the fire, his life becomes intertwined with Coralie's, as she tries to extricate from her father's clutches.

I actually found the romance between Coralie and Eddie to be the least interesting part of this book, instead finding the details of the two terrible fires - the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and the Dreamland Fire - much more compelling.  I had never heard of either of these two disasters before this book.  The Triangle fire was particularly sad, the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of New York City, in which 146 immigrant garment workers died, either burned to death, because their bosses locked them in the work rooms, or killed when they jumped from the building's eighth, ninth and tenth floors to escape the flames.  The Dreamland fire happened just months later, when exploding light bulbs at the amusement park ignited tar that was being used to patch a roof leak.  Over sixty exhibition animals died and the once-elegant park was destroyed, never to be rebuilt.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Mini book review The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

I think the most important question is: how has it taken me this long to read The Golden Compass, the first book in His Dark Materials, a beloved YA fantasy series by Philip Pullman.  I suppose it's because it came out in 1995 and I was just a few years out of college at that point, not spending much of my time reading YA fantasy.  But now that I am much, much older, I am happy to have discovered the series.

The Golden Compass follows young Lyra Belacqua and her shape-shifting daemon Pantalaimon as they discover that the world is much bigger and more complicated than they were led to believe.  At first ensconced among the aged academics at Jordan College, Lyra has run wild for the first twelve years of her life.  But children have started disappearing in the town and strange deals are being struck behind the College's closed doors, and Lyra soon finds herself at the center of it.

There is a lot of world-building on which to come up to speed quickly here, daemons (an animal familiar, bonded to every person at birth, which can shapeshift until its human partner reaches puberty at which point the daemon settles into its truest form) and armored polar bears and canal-dwelling gypsies and hot air balloons and treacherous relatives and dead children and the Northern Lights.  I got sucked in quickly, my interest only fading slightly towards the very end when it was apparent that things were winding towards the next book in the series.  Lyra is an interesting, imperfect protagonist - I am looking forward to seeing what she gets up to next.