Ricki and the Flash Movie Review

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Review:

Meryl Streep’s latest is not her greatest, but she is, as usual, a joy to watch. In Ricki and the Flash, Streep stars as a former housewife who left her husband Pete (Kevin Kline) and children Julie, Josh, and Adam to pursue dreams of rock stardom. Years later, her children are grown, her husband is remarried, and she’s making ends meet by working as a grocery store clerk while singing in bars with her boyfriend Greg (Rick Springfield) and their cover band The Flash. Then Julie (Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer) attempts to commit suicide following a divorce, and Pete calls her home to try and help.

The acting was really top notch throughout. You expect excellence from actors like Streep and Kline, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well Mamie Gummer and Rick Springfield held their own, having expected them to be overshadowed by the famous pair at the top of the billings. The other standout in the cast was Audra McDonald as Maureen, Pete’s new wife and the children’s second mother. She had an outstanding confrontation with Ricki that was probably the single best acted scene in the film.

On the other hand, Sebastian Stan (of the Captain America films) and Nick Westrate (of TURN: Washington’s Spies) were both underutilized as Ricki’s sons Josh and Adam, respectively. I’m admittedly a fan of Sebastian, but I would have liked to see a little more of his character in particular. Of the three kids, he was outwardly the least embittered, but I did not get the impression that Julie was lying when she said he didn’t want Ricki at his wedding, so it might have been interesting to see that tension explored a little more. I couldn’t get a great handle on Josh’s fiancee Emily (Hailey Gates) either. She was clearly intensely uncomfortable with Ricki’s sudden arrival in her life, but I couldn’t tell if some of her behavior at the wedding was supposed to be discomfort or an alarming slide into Bridezilla-ness.

Written by Diablo Cody of Juno fame, there was lots of clever and snappy dialogue (fortunately it was also, for the most part, less precious than Juno‘s) and lots of laugh out loud moments despite the heavy themes the film touches on. I thought it handled the heavy issues regarding regrets, absentee parents, and abandonment issues relatively well for most of the film. Greg had an especially good line: “It doesn’t matter if your kids love you or not. It’s not their job to love you, it’s your job to love them!” However, I thought the ending felt too pat and simplistic. I suppose it was supposed to be some sort of “music brings people together” message, which may be true, but also sits a little uncomfortably in a film about a family literally torn apart by music.

Speaking of music, the soundtrack is a fantastic mix of classic rock and more modern hits, though I have to say I was disappointed when the film cut away from Streep’s rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” about 30 seconds in. (The full version is available on the film’s soundtrack.)

Overall, an enjoyable film, but not as memorable as it should have been, given its cast.

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

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Him Book Review

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Review:

Him, by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy, is a cute and mostly fluffy m/m romance about two long-time friends, one gay and one straight, who meet again four years after an ill-advised drunken hookup nearly destroyed their friendship.

Him has great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, which is what attracted my attention in the first place, but I found it enjoyable but not particularly memorable. Probably I should have guessed as much before buying it. It is a Friends To Lovers story, which I enjoy in both m/m and m/f, but it’s also modern (I generally prefer historicals and sff), plus the main characters are both star hockey players, a sport about which I know even less than most. There was nothing wrong with it, it just wasn’t for me. However, clearly lots of other people adored it (including, I was interested to note, a bunch of people who claimed it was their first m/m ever), so if you like modern and/or sports romances, give it a shot.

Bonus points for it not being a gay-for-you scenario (Jamie does realize he’s bisexual and can be turned on by guys other than Wes) and for switching.

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

Last Will and Testament Book Review

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Review:

My m/m romance phase isn’t out of my system, but with it temporarily being satisfied by the millions upon millions of words of free Stucky slash fic on AO3, I decided to try poking around the New Adult genre a little to see if anything caught my fancy. I mention the Stucky because my decision to read Last Will and Testament was sort of inspired by a cute Stucky modern AU fic called Breadth Requirements with a really fun, snarky dynamic between a college student and a TA. (You don’t need to be familiar with the Captain America films to understand the fic, by the way.)  So I kind of thought of that when I saw that Last Will and Testament also featured a student/TA romance.

Our heroine, 18 year old college sophomore Lizzie Brandt, was a valedictorian back in high school, but hasn’t adjusted well to college life and has allowed her grades and attendance to slip while she parties and hooks up with the wrong guys. Then her life is turned upside-down when her parents are killed in a car accident and she becomes the sole guardian of her 13 and 7 year old brothers. She has to get her life back on track, fast, and begins to rely increasingly on the help of her Byzantine History TA, Connor Lawson.

Despite the grief and hardship Lizzie undergoes on her way to turning her life back around, this is a pretty light and enjoyable read, with a sweet (and yes, often snarky) romance. Despite some kind of annoying (for Lizzie and the reader) mixed messages early on due to his misgivings about starting a relationship with a student, Connor is a fundamentally good guy and it’s nice to see a nerd get the girl. It took me a little longer to warm up to Lizzie (knowingly hooking up with another girl’s boyfriend – even if the girl is a psychotic bitch – is a major turn-off for me), but she really did try hard to step up for her brothers, despite some bumps along the way.

Bonus points for representation: Lizzie is biracial (half-Filipino) and her friend Frankie seems to identify as pansexual. Speaking of Frankie, I also liked that Lizzie had two really close and supportive female friends, which helped offset the overly stereotypical subplot about Lizzie’s hook-up partner’s psychotic bitch of a girlfriend.

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

Ant-Man Movie Review

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Review:

This review contains minor spoilers.

Marvel’s latest film, Ant-man, is formulaic and predictable (even down to some of the lines of dialogue), but entertaining. Like many Marvel films, it is at its best during its humorous moments and action sequences. I especially enjoyed the final fight between Ant-man and Yellowjacket, which made clever use of a child’s train set. The use of the actual ants was also pretty cool.

Some of the other scenes were too talky (sadly, Peggy Carter’s brief appearance was among these) and the occasional attempts at emotional depth were fails all around. Frankly, I never felt attached enough to any of the characters to care about the emotional pain they felt over their dead/imperiled/estranged wives and daughters. Yawn.

The romance, such as it was, was tacked on to a degree that was actually ridiculous. Coming so fast on the heels of the disastrous Bruce/Natasha in Age of Ultron, I’m tempted to say that Marvel should just give up on romance entirely – its best films, including Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Avengers, are notable for having little or no romance at all. Though I am fond of Tony/Pepper and Steve/Peggy, nearly all of Marvel’s most interesting and best-written relationships are canonically platonic friendships (i.e. Steve & Bucky, Clint & Natasha, Tony & Rhodey) or family relationships (i.e. Thor & Loki), not romances. Most of the romances are bland at best. Ant-man‘s romance didn’t even manage to qualify as bland: it was so minor and added so little to the film that it would have been better to leave it out entirely.

However eye-rolling it was, the romance was so minor it doesn’t really deserve to have the longest paragraph in this review. My bigger beef with the film was that it sidelined Hope (and almost completely erased Jan), who was experienced and competent, in favor of (essentially) a random guy off the streets. This is not exactly an uncommon trope, but it felt especially irritating in light of the continuing failure of Marvel to make a Black Widow movie, or any movie with a female protagonist, until Captain Marvel, which isn’t projected to be released until 2018.

Overall, I’d put Ant-man about on par with Thor as an intro solo film (though lacking the benefit of a virtuoso performance comparable to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki) – enjoyable, but not something I’m likely to rewatch over and over.

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

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)

The Musicals Album Review

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Review:

My devotion to Michael Ball is long-lasting and rather infamous among my friends. “Michael Ball sings it better” is something you hear a lot from me. Michael Ball sings everything better. (Well, almost everything.) Like my favorite operatic tenor, Placido Domingo, he’s a natural baritone with the vocal range of a tenor, which gives his voice a richness and depth that most pure tenors don’t have without sacrificing the ability to hit those high notes. And hold them, and hold them…

Amazingly, he’s had no formal vocal training, but his incredible voice has made him one of the leading musical theater stars of London’s West End since he created the role of Marius in Les Miserables in the mid-80’s. With The Musicals, he gets back to his roots with an enjoyable collection of songs from some of Broadway and the West End’s greatest hits.

Surprisingly, however, the album isn’t as good as it ought to be. There are several strange song choices and arrangements. Several of the songs are written for female characters, and despite switching the pronouns, they don’t quite work for a man. “I Dreamed a Dream” in particular jars me, because no 19th century man is going to have his life ruined by being seduced and abandoned to the extent of Fantine, so complaining about “this hell I’m living” comes off a bit rich. Maybe if I didn’t know her story so well, it wouldn’t bother me so much, but it does. “The Last Night of the World” and “All I Ask of You,” which are duets in Miss Saigon and The Phantom of the Opera, also sound kind of strange as solo songs.

Despite my misgivings about some of the song choices, Ball’s voice is incredible throughout. His rendition of “Anthem” (from Chess) is especially inspiring.

“Let man’s petty nations tear themselves apart/My land’s only borders lie around my heart!”

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5), but “Anthem” is 5 Stars (5 / 5)

Game of Thrones Review

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Game of Thrones Review:

Seeing as A Song of Ice and Fire is one of my favorite fantasy series, I was super excited when I heard back in 2007 that HBO would be making a tv series out of it. I think they’re probably the only channel that could do the books justice. Unfortunately, with four full seasons already aired, I have to admit my feelings about the actual execution are more mixed than I had hoped they would be.

I love watching Westeros and Essos come to life on screen and the production quality of the show has been astounding. The amount of care and attention to every detail is reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings movies. For example, just check out these close ups of some of the costume embroidery created for the show.

The casting has also been almost universally perfect. There are a few roles that have gone to people that I don’t think are great actors, but the vast majority are not only good actors but embody their roles better than I ever dreamed. I want to give special kudos in this regard to Maisie Williams (Arya) and Sophie Turner (Sansa), who were both total unknowns before being cast in Game of Thrones and have knocked their respective roles completely out of the park, and to Jack Gleeson (Joffrey), who by all accounts is as nice a guy as they come yet who portrays a monster so convincingly he’ll probably be fending off people who want to punch him in the face for the rest of his life.

However, some of the plot changes have inordinately annoyed me. I’m not a purist – there have been plenty I liked. For example, I spend most of Ygritte’s scenes in the book wanting to punch her in the face (that is how annoying “You know nothing, Jon Snow” gets after awhile), but in the show they toned her down a bit and made her actually likable. I also loved the expansion of Bronn and Gendry’s roles, the greater insight we’re given into Margaery’s character and motivations, and the clever choice to have Arya be Tywin’s cup-bearer, which didn’t happen in the books at all. Some of the others, like swapping out the non-entity Jeyne Westerling for Talisa, I’ve been indifferent to, and still others I’m waiting to decide about – the changes to Tyrion and Jaime’s final scene together in A Storm of Swords/season 4, for example.

Unfortunately, there have also been too many that I’ve actively loathed. The worst include:

  • the changes to Danaerys and Khal Drogo’s wedding night
  • making Littlefinger, who is so close-mouthed in the books that you know almost nothing about him or his plans until the end of book three, into a talker, and not only that, but the kind of talker who would spill his deepest secrets to a pair of prostitutes(!)
  • the amount of totally gratuitous naked boobs in general
  • the changes to Jaime and Cersei’s scene in the sept

What’s bothered me even more than the changes themselves are how tone-deaf the writers (and in the case of the Jaime/Cersei scene, the director) have been in how the changes affected the ongoing plot and character development. For example, switching Dany and Drogo’s wedding night from consensual sex in the book to rape in the show means she falls in love with her rapist instead of a man who went out of his way to obtain her consent. (Given what a charming and reasonable fellow her brother is, the scene in the book may in fact have been the first time in her life that anybody gave Dany the power to declare what she wanted.) The changes made to the Jaime/Cersei scene were even worse – neither writers nor director seemed to realize that they’d just derailed Jaime’s redemption arc in the eyes of many viewers.

Overall, I enjoy the show, but I don’t love it as much as I expected and hoped to.

Season 1Season 2


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Season 3Season 4


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My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

The Magpie Lord Book Review

Review:

I enjoyed Think of England so much I went right back to Amazon and bought The Magpie Lord, the first in KJ Charles’s Charm of Magpies series. The Magpie Lord is m/m fantasy romance, set in an AU Victorianish England where witches and warlocks are real (though some prefer to be called “practitioners.”) I enjoyed the novel, but not as much as Think of England.

The story involves a wealthy British earl – Lucien Vaudrey, Lord Crane – who was shipped off to China by his horrendous father and older brother as a teenager, where he fell in with smugglers and traders and generally lived an extremely un-lord-like existence. Reluctantly returning to England with his loyal manservant after his father and older brother’s deaths, he nearly becomes the victim of magical murder, and hires a scruffy practitioner named Stephen Day to help him stay alive and find out who’s trying to kill him, and why.

The worldbuilding was pretty interesting, the creepy old manor house was near-palpable and a character in its own right, and there was plenty of tension, action, and mystery in the plotting to keep me turning the pages. I think I read the whole thing in under three hours. I also thought Lucien and Stephen themselves  were well-drawn.

However, the romance seemed almost perfunctory by comparison, and lacked emotional depth. It felt more like, “Oh, here we are, two gay guys thrown together by circumstances. Are we physically attracted to each other? Yes? Great! Let’s fuck.” Which is a perfectly plausible and legitimate progression, but not what I was looking for. Whereas Think of England made a scene as simple as asking for a spare collar stud incredibly sexy and dripping with UST, in The Magpie Lord our more experienced Lucien seems to think that foreplay consists of repeatedly telling the object of one’s lust that you’re going to fuck them. This might have worked well if the relationship were more dom-sub in other regards, but it really wasn’t, and the object of lust in question kept trying to squirm out if it so he could do his job, which didn’t exactly create the same sort of anticipation or UST.

All in all, I would recommend this book more for fans of historical fantasy than m/m romance.

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron Movie Review

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Review:

My kids both love Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, an adventure story about a Kiger mustang stallion in the Wild West, but my feelings are a bit more mixed. Speaking as a bleeding heart liberal tree hugger whose sympathies align almost entirely with the Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and other tribes of the Great Plains in histories of the Plains Indian Wars of the 19th century, this film is way too overbearing with its Indians=good, white people=bad message. No subtlety or nuance whatsoever.  It also suffers from rather overwrought narration that strays too often from the sentimental to the sappy and maudlin.

That said, it’s an enjoyable adventure story, especially for young horse lovers like my kids, and the animation is absolutely gorgeous. I consider it worth watching for the beautiful landscape art alone.

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

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The Hundred-Foot Journey Movie Review

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Review:

This film doesn’t have a lot of depth or originality, but it’s a charming, feel-good story about an Indian family who opens a restaurant in rural France and it’s helped substantially by good performances, particularly by Helen Mirren, in a role reminiscent of her Oscar-nominated performance as Mrs. Wilson in Gosford Park, and veteran Indian actor Om Puri. The cinematography is also top-notch, with many beautiful shots of the French countryside and mouth-watering shots of various dishes and ingredients, French and Indian alike. Don’t watch this movie if you’re hungry!

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

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