Inside Out Movie Review

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Review:

After 2013’s disappointing Monsters University, it’s great to see Pixar back to form in Inside Out. While I don’t think Inside Out reached the heights of Monsters Inc. or Finding Nemo, it’s smart, creative, charming, and moving, just like all Pixar’s best works.

The film takes place mostly inside the head of an 11 year old girl named Riley. Five emotions – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust – live inside her brain’s control center and help Riley navigate life. Riley’s a lucky little girl with a happy and loving family, and up until this point, Joy has mostly been in charge, but after the family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, Riley struggles with the transition and the emotions start to panic due to the repeated failure of their attempts to keep Riley as happy as they believe she deserves to be. In the ensuing chaos, Joy and Sadness are accidentally sucked out of the control center and into Long-Term Memory, where they’re unable to help Riley cope. Taken over by Fear, Disgust, and Anger, Riley’s happy life starts to fall apart.

There are lots of funny moments in Inside Out (many of my favorites were the brief glimpses into the control centers of other characters, including Riley’s mom and dad, her teacher, and a dog and cat on the street) and it’s ultimately a feel-good film, but it also deals with some weightier issues than most Pixar films, including an attempt to run away from home and a very effective visual metaphor for depression, so I think older children will get more out of it than younger children. In fact, I think it could be really helpful for older children, because it offers a safe framework to talk about feelings (via the personified emotions in the control center) and some valuable lessons about how important “negative” emotions (especially sadness) can be to our physical and emotional health, yet at the same time, how dangerous it is to be controlled exclusively by them. As someone who, like Riley, had a really happy and loving childhood yet struggled with depression beginning around age 11 or 12, I found myself wondering if a movie like this could have helped me understand and express more clearly what was happening to me back then. Maybe it would have helped and maybe not – loving as they are, my family does Emotionally Repressed WASP like champions, and I’m no exception. But I definitely don’t think it would have hurt.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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The Boss Book Review

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Review:

All the fuss about the release of EL James’s latest novel, Grey, which is 50 Shades of Grey from the perspective of Christian Grey, reminded me that months ago I downloaded The Boss, by Abigail Barnette, as a free Kindle ebook.

Abigail Barnette is the pen-name of Jenny Trout, who did a hilarious sporking of 50 Shades of Grey on her website a few years ago, and then decided to write, essentially, the “good” version of 50 Shades, including a realistic portrayal of BDSM and a hero who doesn’t confuse being “Dominant” with being an abusive, controlling stalker.

I have no intention of ever giving EL James a penny of my money if I can help it, but thanks to Grey reminding me yet again of everything I hate about the 50 Shades phenomenon, I decided to finally sit down and read The Boss as a sort of personal protest against that fact that EL James is about to get even richer.

The novel follows Sophie Scaife, an overworked and underappreciated assistant, whose future is left uncertain when the magazine where she works is purchased by billionaire media mogul Neil Elwood. Sophie immediately realizes Neil is the same guy she had a one night stand with six years earlier – a one night stand she still remembers as the best sexual experience of her life – and it’s not long before the two renew their relationship.

I liked the novel okay, I guess. I’m not really sure it’s my kind of book, to be honest, although if you like m/f BDSM romance, you’ll probably love it. I read Dominant and submissive stuff occasionally in slashfic (m/m), but the power dynamics seem to inevitably end up making me a little uncomfortable in m/f romance, even when there’s an attempt, as there is in The Boss, to be feminist about it. Also, the age difference was way bigger than I personally prefer – I’m fine with a certain difference (heck, my own husband is 6 years older than I am, which is probably above average) but in The Boss, Neil literally has a daughter the same age as Sophie. Which grosses me out when man-child Hollywood stars do it, and grossed me out a little in The Boss, too. I also felt that the initial development of the D/s relationship between Neil and Sophie was a little rushed. It was established early on that she liked to be spanked, but aside from that, I thought she went awfully quickly from “sure, I’ll try anything once” to “I have an uncontrollable urge to submit to you sexually.”

What I did like about the book was that it did indeed have a realistic and respectful portrayal of BDSM that put a lot of emphasis on consent, which is (in my admittedly limited understanding) absolutely critical to a healthy BDSM relationship, and gave a balanced presentation of what both parties get out of a BDSM relationship, both sexually and emotionally. Both the book itself and Neil are VERY pro-female pleasure, which makes for a much nicer dynamic than Ana cringing and crying when stuff goes too far.

I also loved the positive portrayal of friendships and other close relationships between women, which is an area where both 50 Shades and Twilight were deeply, disturbingly lacking. (Note how Jenny began her sporking of 50 Shades with the subtitle “why Ana is the shittiest friend ever?” Yeah. It doesn’t get any less true.)

Finally, I enjoyed the actual plot, which, while it didn’t take up nearly as many pages as the pr0n, was reminiscent of The Devil Wears Prada in that it involved a lot of backstabbing and other shenanigans at a New York fashion magazine. Evidently, I’m a sucker for political intrigue even when it involves no actual politics.

Bonus: as I mentioned, it’s free for Kindle! However, the three sequels – The Girlfriend, The Bride, and The Ex – are $3.99 each.

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

Mad Max: Fury Road Movie Review

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Review:

Note: This review contains spoilers.

Wowie zowie, counting Cinderella and Age of Ultron, I’ve now seen THREE movies in theaters this year, which may be more than I’ve seen in the previous three years combined. It’s tough getting to the theater when you have a toddler and no babysitter! However, now that he’s in daycare three days a week it’s a lot easier, even though I still feel kind of weird going to the movies in the morning.

Cinderella was a treat for my daughter and Age of Ultron went without saying, thanks to my current Marvel obsession, but Mad Max: Fury Road I went to see for political reasons. I’ve never seen the original Mad Max or either of its other sequels and the trailers for the current sequel/reboot looked weird in a way that was off-putting to me, so before its release I really had no intention of seeing it at all, let alone shelling out seven bucks to see it in theaters. But then the film opened, and people started saying stuff like this about it:

I didn’t expect to see the best female character in an action movie I’ve seen in over a decade.

(Source)

the heroic characters in fury road are literally–LITERALLY, I’M NOT IN ANY WAY EXAGGERATING–fifteen women and tom hardy. i can’t believe this is a movie i saw with my eyes in the year of our lord 2015.

(Source)

The most violent death in the movie was the death of the Bechdel Test, which they dragged behind the car the entire time.

(Source)

The whole movie is about a group of women fleeing toxic patriarchy only to realize that the only way to escape is to topple that system.

(Source)

I like to vote with my pocketbook for stuff, and better female representation in film (especially action and sff) is something I feel pretty strongly about, so clearly I needed to re-evaluate my previous stance on seeing the film!

In fact, Hollywood, I’m going to say this explicitly, just to be sure I’m not misunderstood: I decided to spend $7 bucks to see Mad Max: Fury Road in theaters despite originally having almost zero interest in it because you gave us a movie with a badass female lead who was never sexualized or thrust into an unnecessary romance or love triangle, as well as so many supporting female characters that the Bechdel Test became completely irrelevant. Thank you. I honestly didn’t think you had it in you.

Though I wouldn’t describe Mad Max: Fury Road as groundbreakingly feminist, it hit a lot of feminist notes dead-on in a way that threw many other films and TV shows into kind of stark relief for how much worse they are. For example, one of the things that stood out to me, as someone currently trying to decide whether I want to continue watching Game of Thrones or not in light of its tone-deaf treatment of rape as a trope, was the fact that even though the film makes it 100% clear that the “wives” (several – possibly all? – of whom are pregnant by the revolting Immortan Joe) are escaping a life of sexual slavery and rape and will be subjected to more of the same if they return, their abuse is never shown onscreen and thus is never made titillating or voyeuristic in the way violence – especially sexualized violence – against women so often is in Game of Thrones and (to be fair) many, many other films and TV shows.

Moreover, although the women are treated as objects by Immortan Joe and the other male leaders of the Citadel – and they rebel explicitly against this treatment with the repeated line “We are not things” – the film also balances this treatment of its female characters by making it clear that men are also used as objects. Max himself is literally used as a living blood bag for part of the movie, and though the “warboys” might initially seem to have higher status than either Max or the wives, it’s clear that they are, in fact, regarded as nothing but cannon fodder by the higher status men. As The Verge points out, “When [warboy] Nux encounters the “wives,” they’re the ones who end up trying to help him — not because of women’s civilizing influence, but because they already understand how rigged the system is.”

Aside from the refreshingly feminist themes of the film (bonus points for the subtler environmentalist messages as well), the action scenes were also fucking incredible. The movie is essentially an extended car chase and it reaches new and impressive heights in the art of controlled chaos. As Unfogged points out (I recommend the whole post, which also includes a funny smackdown of the MRA boycott of the film):

The new Mad Max movie may be the most guy movie ever made. The plot is literally Tom Hardy (Mad Max) and Charlize Theron (Furiosa) rescue scantily-clad supermodels. If you asked me when I was 15 to list movie ideas, the list would have gone something like: scantily-clad supermodels, 18 wheelers, guys getting shot, guys getting blown up, fist-fights on top of an 18 wheeler, guys with chainsaws, guys getting run over by 18 wheelers, guys with guitars that shoot fire, and cars crashing into 18 wheelers and blowing up. This list is basically the script for Mad Max: Fury Road. The only thing missing is a helicoper piloted by velociraptors crashing into an 18 wheeler. But there’s always the chance of a sequel.

Though probably not to the degree of a 15 year old guy, as a woman with a weakness for the Rule of Cool, this is the sort of movie that makes me really wish I had design skills – any design skills – because my god, does it look like the design team had fun. Kudos on the awesomely spiky demon cars in particular, though the flame throwing guitar should not be overlooked. The cinematography was also stunningly beautiful, especially the scene as they’re racing towards the dust storm.

On the less pleasant side of things, there was some pretty gross body horror stuff, which is largely what originally turned me off the film after seeing the trailer. I don’t handle body horror very well at all, and there were a couple scenes that made me cringe and hide behind my hands.

Other than that, my only complaint about the film was that there were some poor music choices. Mad Max: Fury Road has relatively little dialogue and a couple of the few scenes with anything approaching a monologue had rather melodramatic music that made the lines seem way more on-the-nose than they would have with something a little subtler and more understated.

The lack of dialogue does, however, give lots of opportunities for some pretty impressive acting with body language and eyes, something I’ve become more attuned to since being bowled over by Sebastian Stan’s work in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Both Hardy and Theron are equally impressive here.

Overall, one of the best action films I’ve seen.

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My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

More commentary I’ve enjoyed:

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Avengers: Age of Ultron Movie Review

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Review:

Note: This review contains spoilers.

Avengers: Age of Ultron continues the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s string of really watchable and entertaining superhero films, but had more serious problems than its predecessor, The Avengers.

Age of Ultron picks up about a year after Captain America: The Winter Soldier, with the Avengers attacking a HYDRA base where Baron Strucker has been hiding Loki’s magical scepter from the first Avengers film, as well as practicing human experimentation in an attempt to create more “Enhanced” humans with special powers. The Avengers successfully recapture the scepter, but Tony Stark gets whammied by Scarlet Witch, one of Strucker’s Enhanced, and decides to use it to create an artificial intelligence to protect the world from alien attacks like that on New York in the first Avengers movie. Precisely how he manages to convince Dr. Banner that this is a good idea remains somewhat unclear to me, but needless to say, it all goes to hell when the artificial intelligence – Ultron – gets online and promptly decides that the only way to really bring peace to Earth is to get rid of the Avengers and most of humanity.

Not a great plan, Tony.

Not surprisingly, given that we are talking about a Marvel film written by Joss Whedon, the highlights of the film were the impressive action sequences and the snappy dialogue. The opening attack against Strucker’s base in Sokovia had blatantly obvious CGI and green screen shots and was a little disappointing, but most of the others were outstanding. I particularly enjoyed the battle between Hulk and the Hulk Buster “Veronica,” which had a lot of funny remarks by Tony, and the final battle, which was full of spectacular visuals, especially the circular shot as the Avengers defended the core.

Whee!

Joss being Joss, there were also lots of laugh out loud lines throughout. He’s a master of snark and I love snark.

My biggest problem with the film was that, unlike the first Avengers film, it seemed like a placeholder rather than a natural progression. The Avengers tied together the various threads of the solo movies from Phase 1 and brought everyone together into the Avengers Initiative; Age of Ultron just seemed like it was filling in while we wait for Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. It kind of rehashed Cap’s character development in The Winter Soldier (and not as well or as subtly), and Tony Stark’s in Iron Man 3 as well. Any development Tony went through in the course of Age of Ultron itself was more or less negated because he made his biggest mistake while whammied by Scarlet Witch and was then vindicated by Thor when he tried to repeat the same fucking thing that got them an Ultron problem in the first place. (How he got Banner to go along with the same terrible idea TWICE is even more of a mystery to me.)

In a minor preview of Civil War, Tony and Cap fight when Cap catches Tony trying to create the SECOND artificial intelligence, but as soon as Thor steps in in support of Tony, they’re all buddy-buddy again despite the fact that Tony went behind the team’s back not once but TWICE and in the process created something that literally tried to extinguish humanity. Like, what? It could have been a perfect set up for Civil War and instead we got Cap joking about whether an elevator could lift Mjolnir (which, yeah, funny, but still) and telling Tony he’ll miss him.

The only real progression identifiable at this point is the apparent resurrection of S.H.I.E.L.D (which, after the events of The Winter Soldier, Cap goes along with why, exactly?) and the creation of Cap and Black Widow’s New Avengers, but both of these take place at the very end, and aren’t really tied in with the rest of the movie much at all, unlike in The Avengers, where the creation of the original Avengers team was the entire point of the film.

Other notes:

  • Wow, I really, really hated the Bruce/Natasha. Egad. I went in determined to be open-minded about it, because despite being a Clint/Natasha shipper, I am also a multishipper and am rarely truly OTP about my OTPs (I love me some Steve/Bucky/Natasha, for one) but man. It was written horribly, from their actual dialogue together to the blatant lampshading by Cap and Laura, and it dragged down every scene it was in.
  • Bruce and Natasha’s characterization in general was a total mess. Bruce himself (as opposed to Hulk, who did have that great fight with Veronica) existed only as Tony’s doormat and Natasha’s love interest in this film. Natasha had more evidence of personality than that, at least, and despite Scarlet Johansson’s pregnancy during filming, she also had several great action scenes, most notably the one where she saved the whole world by stealing Vision’s body from Ultron. So at least we got that much. But far too much of her screentime was taken up by her pursuit of Bruce, which might have been okay if it had been better written, but instead landed her with several lines that made me actually groan out loud with how awful they were. So that sucked, because Bruce and Natasha are two of my favorite characters and I thought Joss wrote them both pretty well in The Avengers, so I really wasn’t expecting them to be so awful in Age of Ultron.
  • It was especially ironic given that Joss’s stated reasoning for not doing Clint/Natasha (as Marvel apparently originally planned) was because he wanted to show that men and women could have platonic friendships. But Natasha already has a well written and close platonic friendship with a man in the MCU. With Cap. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier it’s pretty obvious there’s some attraction between the two of them, at least on his part (the bikini line, his reaction to the kiss on the escalator, etc.) and she essentially offers herself to him in the car with her line about “Who do you want me to be?” But when he says “How about a friend?” they make a mutual decision to be friends, and personally, I thought it worked wonderfully for both characters. Far better than the blatant and totally unsubtle “Oh, and by the way this is Clint Barton, my BEST FRIEND” business in Age of Ultron.
  • I don’t even know what was going on with Thor. His storyline seemed like it got A LOT cut out of it and was kind of confusing and disjointed as a result. However, I did love his interactions with Cap in particular – adorable! And they had some really cool moves together with the shield and the hammer.
  • It was nice to see Clint get so much more to do, given that he spent most of The Avengers brainwashed. He had some great lines and I liked how he kind of took the twins under his wing.
  • Laura was a pretty bland and generic Supportive Wife, but she wasn’t actively offensive like the Bruce/Natasha, so I was okay with it, although all the stuff at Clint’s farm seemed a little unnecessary and more like (yet another) blatant statement that CLINT AND NATASHA ARE NOT TOGETHER, OKAY? rather than anything actually relevant or useful to either plot or characterization. I’m baffled why Joss Whedon fought to keep the farm scenes in the film, since they really didn’t add anything to the story that couldn’t have been accomplished in other ways, especially since it came at the cost of cutting out so much of Thor’s subplot that what was left made little sense.
  • Also, Pepper Potts on a farm? Really, Tony? Are you even listening to the words coming out of your mouth?
  • For that matter, I don’t 100% understand why Cap and Tony were so crazy about the farm at all, given that they’re from Brooklyn and Manhattan respectively. On the other hand, it did give us the spectacle of Cap chopping wood in a tight t-shirt (and ripping a log in half with his bare hands) so I ain’t complaining too much.

  • I was pretty meh about Vision on the whole, but the hammer reveal was well done and got gasps in my theater, including from me, despite being spoiled in advance.
  • I ended up liking the Maximoff twins quite a lot and hope we’ll see more of both of them.
  • I also liked Ultron quite a bit. He was much funnier than I expected.
  • I’m glad the hammer wobbled for Cap. I think he probably could pick it up if he really wanted to.
  • I heard about the running “language” gag before seeing the film and was deeply confused, because Cap was in the fucking Army, you can’t tell me he doesn’t swear. Joss has tended to write Cap in the past as if he has a really big stick up his ass – a stick nowhere in evidence in his solo films (I think he may actually be the character who’s sworn most onscreen in the entire MCU) – so I thought it might be more of the same but it worked better onscreen than I expected because Tony’s reaction (and Cap’s embarrassed response to his teasing) implied that he was surprised Cap said it because Cap actually swears all the fucking time. Which is much more in line with my headcanon! (There’s a funny ficlet offering one plausible explanation for why Cap said it in the first place.)
  • Also, did Whedon imply Cap is a Yankees fan? Are you kidding me? I don’t even follow baseball, but even I know a Brooklynite from the 30’s would cut out his own tongue and eat it for dinner before saying anything complimentary about the Yankees.
  • Overall, though, I thought Cap was better written than he was in The Avengers, although the lack of Bucky was glaring at a couple points. It was never really explained why Cap was taking down HYDRA with the Avengers while Falcon was off looking for Bucky, given that it was the exact opposite of Cap’s stated priorities at the end of The Winter Soldier. It also seemed odd to me that his vision from Scarlet Witch was focused on his PTSD and inability to leave the war behind, neither of which is really much of a revelation for anyone who watched The Avengers or The Winter Soldier. Or for him, either, I don’t think. (Though maybe that’s why he had so much less of a reaction to his vision than the others did to theirs?) Given that the visions seemed to focus on fears and regrets, I would have liked to see some reference to the fact that he just recently discovered his best friend in the world spent 70 years being tortured, brainwashed, and used as a killing machine, even if they couldn’t get Sebastian Stan for any new footage.
  • Also re: Cap’s vision, it was a little weird to me that the vision suggested that Peggy thought either one of them would ever be capable of leaving the war – she certainly didn’t leave it, as we saw in Agent Carter and with her founding of S.H.I.E.L.D. However, I’m not gonna lie, that beautiful, happy smile Cap gave her as they started to dance made my heart melt.
  • I was so happy to see the Jewish tech guy from The Winter Soldier who wouldn’t send up the helicarriers that I squeaked loudly enough to get a funny look from my neighbor.
  • The Winter Soldier was essentially a political thriller with superheroes and I didn’t really go into Age of Ultron expecting it to be as politically astute as that, but dammit, I expected more than we got! Tony’s desire for “a suit of armor around the world” has so many implications given the current debates (both in the real world and in the MCU) about freedom vs security, the military-industrial complex (I’m old enough that I immediately thought “Strategic Defense Initiative,” and Tony and Bruce are BOTH older than I am, so did that expensive clusterfuck just not happen in the Marvel universe?), and American hegemony, yet the implications were barely explored. Cap had one good line about the futility of pre-emptive war and that was about it.
  • I liked that the Avengers repeatedly made efforts to evacuate civilians to safety. It seemed like a deliberate thumbing of the nose at DC’s Man of Steel, and it definitely made them more sympathetic by comparison.
  • It’s pretty cool that the New Avengers are two black men, two women, an artificial intelligence, and Cap. Much more balanced than the original lineup. 🙂

Overall, a highly entertaining film, but it lacked some of the depth and heart of previous outings in the Marvel universe.

And now the wait for Captain America: Civil War begins!

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Additional Reading:

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

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The Cutting Edge Movie Review

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Review:

Toepick!

Geez, I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed this one yet. The Cutting Edge has been one of my favorite movies for pretty much as long as I can remember. Like, to the point that I can remember being very confused about what the fiance’s “foreplay” line meant, because for whatever reason, my normally strict parents let us watch this movie in elementary school despite the sexual references. (It was rated before the PG/PG-13 split, so it’s rated PG but should really be PG-13.)

The story focuses on Doug, a star hockey player who has to give up his career after an injury and turns to pairs figure skating instead, in the process getting paired with rich, spoiled Kate, who is determined to add Olympic gold to her collection of medals after a disastrous first Olympics with another partner.

Due to the aforementioned parental strictness, this was one of the first romantic comedies I ever saw (possibly even THE first), and I think I must have imprinted on it hard, because Doug and Kate are one of the ur-bickering couples in my mind and I adore a good bickering couple to this day. The script is great, the chemistry is great, and although I’m not a huge fan of sports movies in general, I loved this one because it was about figure skating. Most of the actual skating for the film was done by Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler, a Canadian pairs team known for their spectacular stunts, which the film takes full advantage of.

A classic.

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

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What’s Your Number? Movie Review

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Review:

So, one of the side effects of falling into a new fandom is that I start hunting down previous works from the actors and creators in question and since I skipped the wading pool and dove straight into the deep end with Marvel (thanks, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), that left me with some interesting dilemmas. I didn’t feel ready to brave Sebastian Stan’s filmography quite yet (Kings is on my to watch list, but most of the rest is borderline terrifying), so that inclined me more towards starting with Chris Evans. His best is supposed to be Snowpiercer, which is also on my to watch list, but I wasn’t really in the mood for something so dystopian today, so instead I settled on What’s Your Number? as a starting point for several logical and carefully considered reasons. In no particular order:

  • I thought the trailer looked kind of cute despite the movie’s 23% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
  • It checks off back catalogue boxes for several other Marvel actors in addition to Evans, including Anthony Mackie (Falcon) and Chris Pratt (Peter Quill), plus it has Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, Sherlock, Love Actually, etc.), Zachary Quinto (Spock in the Star Trek reboot), and Blythe Danner (Meet the Parents).
  • I’ve heard good things about Anna Faris but had never seen her in anything before. (Actually not 100% accurate – apparently she was in Brokeback Mountain? But I can’t for the life of me remember who “Lashawn Malone” was.)
  • It has Chris Evans in nothing but a towelchris-evans-shirtless
  • And Chris Evans taking a bath large
  • And Chris Evans playing the guitar in his boxers
  • And also Chris Evans playing strip basketball (and losing) 

(Looking at those gifs, it occurs to me that I’m having a hard time remembering the last movie I saw that had this many female gaze moments, though not exclusively so, as Anna Faris spends quite a bit of the movie in various states of undress as well.)

Anyway…

For any of you who have managed to progress past the gifs and want to know what I thought about the film, I was actually pleasantly surprised. Given the aforementioned 23% rating, I expected it to be a lot dumber than it was. I mean, yeah, it was predictable, but I’m not sure I can name a romantic comedy that isn’t. It’s not a genre that you go see to get blown away by the innovative storytelling, you know? You go see romantic comedies to laugh and smile and be entertained, and What’s Your Number? did just fine on that front.

The story follows a young woman named Ally Darling (Faris) who gets dumped by her boyfriend and fired from her job shortly before bumping into a previous boyfriend (Pratt) who’s turned his life around completely and gotten engaged to a gorgeous engineer. She enlists the help of Colin Shea (Evans), her womanizing neighbor and a rare male example of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (apparently now genderbent to Hot Whore-ish Dream Guy?), to track down more of her previous boyfriends and reconnect in the hope that one of them might be “the one” after all.

Faris was as charming as I’ve heard she was and the charisma and chemistry that she and Evans both exude as actors really carried the film. They had lots of really adorable moments together and for the most part, I thought the film did a pretty good job of staying solidly on the cuter side of the cute-crude line. There were some exceptions and also some physical humor that seemed a bit out of place, but not to the point of being offensively bad.

I also liked the subplot about Ally’s family and specifically her relationship with her sister Daisy, who’s getting married and understandably stressed out about their divorced and dysfunctional parents. Their mom is a classic narcissist and their dad is Twitter-obsessed and married to a woman who looks younger than his own daughters – I kind of wanted to give both Ally and Daisy hugs and send them off to /r/raisedbynarcissists for some therapy!

But really, let’s be honest here, what can I possibly say about this film that will persuade you to watch it better than this?

 

Enjoy, ladies.

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My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

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Agent Carter Series Review

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Review:

I absolutely loved the character of Peggy Carter in the Captain America films, and was delighted to hear that she was getting her own show. It took me awhile to finally sit down and watch it (the fact that ABC offered only episodes 4-8 on their streaming website didn’t help matters, thanks for nothing ABC), but I finally finished the series yesterday.

I thought the show’s greatest strength was its characters. Like I said, I love Peggy Carter and it was great to get to spend so much time with her. Dum Dum Dugan’s guest spot in episode 5 was a treat as well. (I’ve always wished Captain America: The First Avenger had more Howling Commandos and less Red Skull.) I also loved Jarvis, Angie, Sousa, and even Dottie, and while I can’t say I liked Thompson, I found his character pretty interesting and one of the most complex in the show.

The plot didn’t wow me as much. Peggy’s efforts to clear Howard Stark’s name, the stuff about Leviathan and the Battle of Finow, the info about the early days of the Black Widow program – all were interesting but suffered a bit from lack of emotional engagement. For example, we know Howard’s name will be cleared because he and Peggy are going to found SHIELD together, so there’s no real urgency there. I was also annoyed in several episodes by smart people making inexplicably stupid mistakes just to advance the plot. (I’m looking at you, Howard Stark. Although not only at you.)

Despite the lack of emotional engagement for much of the series, they did successfully turn it on full blast for the finale, which made me tear up not once but twice, watching both Howard and Peggy have to come to terms with losing Steve Rogers and move on without him.

Despite its weaknesses, Agent Carter was a fun and entertaining show to watch, and a bunch of the action sequences were good. There’s a post (several, actually, but that’s the most detailed) going around Tumblr that points out that Peggy’s fighting style is pretty similar to Steve’s, to the point that it’s likely she taught him how to fight, which is a nice new bit of headcanon.

I hope it gets renewed for a second season.

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

PS – If you like fanfiction, I have some good Peggy fics listed on my Steve/Bucky recs page, including Steve/Peggy, Steve/Bucky/Peggy, and gen.

The Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet Review

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Review:

I enjoy the Brother Cadfael mystery series, by Ellis Peters, so I was excited to discover the Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet, which was written by the same author under her real name, Edith Pargeter, especially since it is about Llewelyn ap Griffith and his brother David, who are also two of the main protagonists in Sharon Kay Penman’s Welsh Princes trilogy. I thought it would be interesting to read another author’s version of the same story and I wasn’t disappointed.

Pargeter’s version is narrated by a fictional servant of Llewelyn named Samson, and is more romanticized than Penman’s. It’s deliberately written in an old-fashioned and poetic style, to mimic the style of medieval chroniclers, and I actually started underlining some passages because they were so beautifully written I wanted to be able to find them again. Despite Pargeter’s beautiful writing style, I do prefer Penman’s series overall, as her characters seem more human. However, I definitely recommend the Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet if you enjoy historical fiction.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Cinderella (2015) Movie Review

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Review:

It’s spring break, so I decided to take my daughter out for a mother-daughter date and see Disney’s new live-action Cinderella movie. I’m not even a big fan of the Cinderella story, but I spent most of the film with a big sappy grin plastered across my face, so clearly it did something right.

It’s refreshingly old-fashioned, feel good filmmaking that sticks pretty close to the story as laid out in the classic 1950 animated film, but smartly borrows from Ever After (the best Cinderella adaptation, imho) to have Cinderella (Downton Abbey‘s Lily James) and the Prince (Richard Madden of Game of Thrones) meet before the ball. This allows the Prince (here called Kit) to demonstrate a personality – something he totally lacked in the animated film – and Cinderella to make an emotional rather than purely physical connection with him, both of which give the love story much more emotional resonance than the animated version.

The live-action Cinderella also spent more time establishing Cinderella’s family and happy childhood than the old animated film, which I also liked because the emotional speech by Cinderella’s dying mother (Hayley Atwell, aka Marvel‘s Agent Carter) as she urges her daughter to “have courage and be kind” gives the film a more active and meaningful message than “a dream is a wish your heart makes.”

On the other hand, while Cinderella takes initiative into her own hands on several occasions in her attempts to fulfill her promise to her mother, the film did make a baffling and annoying slide back into passivity at the end, when she is locked in the attic and the narrator informs us that she neither knew nor cared who the men in the courtyard below were and basically was prepared to live the rest of her life on her happy memories of the ball. Even the 50’s Cinderella was crying and trying to help the animals release her, but this one just stands at the closed (but unlocked!) window and sings sadly, and it’s the MICE who think to open it and let her voice be heard. Like, really?

Despite that brief moment of feminist cringe, I enjoyed this adaptation more than most. For the most part, it was smart enough to keep the good and change the bad aspects of the original story. I was also impressed by the sumptuous visuals. As far as acting, the standout was Cate Blanchett as the wicked stepmother, naturally, but I thought everyone did fine with their roles. Holliday Grainger of The Borgias and Sophie McShera of Downton Abbey looked like they had a lot of fun as the step-sisters, and I was surprised to find that Derek Jacobi had a role as the King. He was much less buffoonish than his animated predecessor and had an especially touching scene with Kit after the ball.

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

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Criminal Minds Series Review

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Review:

I started watching Criminal Minds on the recommendation of a friend. Despite the fact that I love mysteries and crime dramas, it took a little bit of persuading, because Criminal Minds follows the  FBI’s (real but fictionalized) Behavioral Analysis Unit – profilers – a group that deals frequently with criminals who are the sickest of the sick: serial killers, serial rapists, pedophiles, etc. Quite frankly, I was afraid the show would give me nightmares, and this turned out to be a totally legitimate fear, because it has given me nightmares on multiple occasions and to this day there are certain episodes I can’t rewatch because they’re just too horrible.

Despite this, I ended up really enjoying the show and watched it until partway through the 6th season. I broke up with it rather reluctantly and still sometimes think about going back and picking it up again, but so far have not. I stopped watching because I thought there was a noticeable decline in the quality of the cases starting in season 5 and there started to be too many arcs I didn’t like (spoilers, click to view): fridging Hotch’s wife, for example, and the whole thing with Prentiss.

I remember the show as a whole pretty fondly, however. Most of the cases were interesting and well-written, but what really made the show great was the team dynamics. Though I was never a huge fan of Gideon, I adored the rest of the team. Penelope Garcia, the team’s hacker, is probably my favorite, because she is adorable, but it’s such a tough call, because Prentiss! Morgan! JJ! Reid! Hotch! I love them all so much, and they work so well together as a team that it’s hard to separate them in my head.

One of the things that helped persuade me to give the show a shot despite my apprehension about how well I’d be able to handle the nature of the cases was several excellent meta posts by fans and I wanted to quote a bit from a post by Synecdochic for you, because it’s totally true and also part of what makes even the most nightmarish episodes in this show bearable, at least one time:

For a show that’s about the horrible things that human beings can do to each other, it reinforces — over and over and — that even victims (especially victims) still have agency. The victims who fight are the victims who win. The victims who give up and lie down to die are the ones who don’t make it. One of the most awesome statements that keeps running through the whole show is that even when there are things you can’t control, even when horrible things are being done to you, you do still have power — even if you might have to squint to see it — because the person who’s doing it needs something from his or her victim, and that gives the victim power. Part of what the show is trying to do, I think, is trying to show the watchers that when you only have a little bit of power in a situation, you can still use it. No matter how bad the situation is.

This is an incredibly powerful message, and not just if you happen to get snagged off the street by a serial killer.

A couple other meta posts I recommend were written by the SFF writer Elizabeth Bear, who’s also a fan of the show. This one discusses thematic elements in the show, and this one discusses some of the very interesting things the show did with gender expectations in the early seasons, including its tendency to cast male characters in traditionally “feminine” roles and female characters in traditionally “masculine” ones and then play against type even then. For example:

Mom and Dad. Because if the team is a family (and they are, complete with sibling spats and looking out for little brother) then Mom and Dad are the two senior supervisory agents in charge of the zoo. And again, they are totally cast against type. Because Hotch [Thomas Gibson] is a three-piece-suit and wingtips, marksman-qualified, stern, unsmiling, ambitious piece of work. And Gideon [Mandy Patinkin] is soft-spoken, manipulative, casually dressed in soft colors, with a cluttered office full of pictures of the children he’s helped save.

Gideon is Dad and Hotch is Mom.

Anyway, all three meta posts are thoughtful and interesting and I hope they’ll inspire you to check the show out as much as they did me, because when it was good, it was really good.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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