Media in Review: February 2021

Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging (2008)

Just as I have been neglectful of posting my media review of the entire month of February, so was I remiss in January in not including Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging. This is another of the movies in my never-ending slog through the movies that I personally own. It’s not a slog, yeah, true, because I like these movies, but it will take approximately forever. Three months in and I am still in the Bs, and some of the time I was pretty regular about watching them. Not complaining. Saying. Anyhow, I own this movie because I like it, though it has been a really long time since I saw it. I imagine I watched it with my BFF who moved away, as she is really into teen culture and this movie would be something she would have thrown at me some weekend evening. In many ways, It’s based on a couple books (including Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging) by Louise Rennison. They might be worth a read, coming in at Goodreads at like a 3.8. The movie is pretty standard, except that it reaches out to an older audience with the teens. There are some “inaapropriate” scenes (although pretty innocent compared to much of what we see on the screen today), as well-adjusted misfit Georgia navigates the mine fields of parents, first love, major life changes, friends, sexual awakening, etc. It’s funny and interesting and well-acted and it’s great that family and parents don’t take a back-seat to everything else that’s going on in Georgia’s life, so if you like British teen rom-coms, then this will be your jam.

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The Trump Insurrection (CNN special, 2021)

Yeah, I was paying attention as January 6th, 2021 went down, but I read and listen to my news, not watch it, so when this special aired, I was curious to see. It’s pretty short, and there was definitely footage and new information that I hadn’t seen or heard yet, so I’m glad I watched it. It wasn’t life-changing and I don’t think I need to watch it again (just as it wasn’t innovative reporting), though I wouldn’t mind sending someone there to get the facts. (Yes, I know CNN is left-leaning, though their non-opinion pieces are closer to the center. Go ahead and argue. It won’t be very fulfilling when I don’t argue back.) At any rate, if you’ll watch CNN (via HBO), this is a quick watch that catches you up to speed on this recent day in history.

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Emma. (2020)

This movie hit all the right notes for me. Okay—there was one thing, and that was the heroine occasionally addressing the camera with her eyes and maybe it was a bit strange when the nose bleed happened. The looking at a camera is a trend, now, but it was hardly necessary in this movie and added absolutely nothing. Besides that, love it, love it, love it. I already love the story, as I list Emma by Jane Austen as one of my favorite books. The movie is a tad quirky (which we all know I enjoy), romantic, visually saturated, with artistic cinematography, good acting, good chemistry, and great costumes. In other words, this movie is eye candy and, since it’s classic Jane Austen, also a great story. If you want it to be totally traditional, then you might not love this as much as those of us who don’t mind a fresh, modern twist (although not as much of a twist as changing the time period or genders or something). I guess that’s all I have to say about that.

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Best Baker in America (2017-2019)

This is a really standard Food Network show, complete with hosts, judges, and even some contestants who are already familiar to us if we watch the channel much. I like Jason Alexander, so him as a participatory judge was something I enjoyed (that, and Marcella’s clothes and hair). Though, like I said, otherwise just really standard, which is maybe why it didn’t last. Or maybe it was the pandemic. Because it’s usual, I enjoyed it enough. These are not amateur bakers, as in some of the competitions, but professional ones, so seeing what they would come up with and the techniques to get there was a treat for the foodie-amateur chef. If you like competition food shows, this one is worth a watch.

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Superbowl LV (2021)

Usually, we would be at some Superbowl party, often with family, though some years in the past we just stayed at home while others went to parties. So, come to think of it, the Superbowl didn’t change tremendously for us, this year, except that I forgot to shop for it and then had to wing it on the spread of dips and chips and shrimp cocktail and things. (Therefore, there were no actual wings this year.) Then I struggled to find a way to watch it (some secondary CBS app on our Roku) and then plopped down with an art project. Because I don’t really watch the Superbowl. I discovered, after growing up in blue collar Midwest and being on the marching band for four years, that my ADHD and complete lack of interest in spectator sports leaves me with a knowledge of the game that my attention span rarely lets me use. And still, I watch the Superbowl with my two non-sporty kids. For the commercials, of course, and the half time show. This year, I thought we were on point with everything. The commercials, in deference to the pandemic and other social issues, lacked that racy, wow-factor dimension and instead concentrated on humanity (though I realize much of it was affectation), narrative shorts, a ridiculous number of high-level cameos, and nostalgia. (I kept joking that the actors were just happy to get some work, finally.) As for the half-time show, I thought The Weeknd did a great job, even able to incorporate mask-wearing and social distancing into his typical look and message and still entertain and occasionally wow. (NFL has it posted on YouTube, if you missed it.) I was surprised at his choice, but it worked out well. On the other hand, I heard that the game was somewhat flat. Wonder what next year will look like, all around.

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There’s been a lot of talk lately about Wandavision, yet another Marvel Comics spin-off. This one is a TV show (streaming on Disney+) and this might be just the first season. I am tired of the Marvel and DC Comics glut and its relentless insider feel, but everyone in the family was curious about this one, so we watched the episodes on family take-out night until the season wrapped (in March, actually). At first, it felt a lot like The Good Place to me, though I was told I was just plain wrong. It famously begins with several strange, retro episodes that keep your finger on the power button but, at the same time, keep you from pushing it. It feels unrelated to where we must be headed with this show—just a 1950s sitcom and then a 1960s sitcom and then… you get it… all starry the Scarlet Witch and Vision and with a very light foreboding and a few scenes of life on the outside. Despite this totally funky take on the typical comic book hero show, it does eventually become much more like you’re watching just another Marvel movie, and in the meantime, if you aren’t already immersed in the universe, you can get a little lost and need a husband to point out what you’re missing in the plot. It’s worth watching as a family show (especially with teens), though, and I wonder if it will have another season.

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New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears (2021)

I don’t know what it was, but when I saw an ad for this episode/special of New York Times Presents, I fast-tracked it to my screen. I have always been interested in the real life behind fame, but I was never a Britney Spears fan. It was fairly well done, and if this subject matter—Britney Spears as a child star whose life was destroyed by a combination between the paparazzi, unstable mental health, and a voyeuristic father (or was it?) and whose lack of charge of her own career and fortune well into her adulthood has prompted a cultural phenomenon of supporters—then you should go ahead and stream it. It does end with a giant question mark (partly because we are just now in the middle of another country battle for Britney’s “freedom”), portraying Spears as the best-kept secret of pop America—or just America. But that title: I can’t help but think it’s meant to be a double entendre. Sure, we understand we are getting a portrait of the artist and her tumultuous relationship with the media, therefore “framing” her like a picture, but it seems obvious that the Times is also saying she was “framed,” and therefore the innocent (somewhat) in the ongoing fiasco. She was framed by the paparazzi, the news media, even the American people. But that’s stronger in the title than in the actual story. I guess. It’s very nuanced for reportage and leaves us with a lot of questions and a developing story.

Beaches (1988)

Moving along in the B’s of my movie collection. This is one of my oldest favorite movies, meaning I have enjoyed watching it since I was a kid. Besides The Sound of Music, my childhood movies tended to have a bleak streak, which I think comes from experiencing death first-hand as a child. Anyhow, this is a movie classic, was wildly popular at the time, launched a very popular song (“Wind Beneath My Wings”), and starred the popular Bette Midler, even though it is a bittersweet tragedy. The story of two girls from opposite sides of the country and the tracks, they meet as children under the boardwalk (and another popular song was born). The story follows their individual lives (mostly from Bette’s perspective) and their friendship as they grow up and begin to grow older. There are ups and down, comedy and tragedy and of course, love, as Bette croons her way through a singing career, giving us what is not a musical but feels like it. Eventually, there’s a daughter and an illness and the bittersweet tragedy comes in to play. It’s a solid movie with a compelling though mellow story, great acting and singing, and a great nostalgic feel.

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The Village (2004)

M. Night Shyamalan made some really exciting and popular movies. Unfortunately, as each one released over the years, they were more and more unpopular, and most would argue worse and worse. All the notoriety started with The Sixth Sense. This newest film centered its focus on a small village in colonial America, where the villages are never allowed to leave for fear of the beasts that lurk in the woods. Amidst relationship snaggles and small-town intrigue, someone ends up sick and needing medicine from “The City,” but no one’s allowed to go to The City… The Village is a period thriller, well sorta, but I don’t want to give anything away, because that’s Shyamalan’s m.o.: supernatural suspense with a twist ending. I was super-pumped to see The Village back in the day, and I wasn’t as hard on it as others. Since my kids like Stranger Things and The Quiet Place, when we saw this on streaming one evening, we watched it as a family. While I still think it’s well-done, with great acting, suspenseful and unique story, and visual beauty and eeriness, I didn’t remember the one reason I really didn’t end up like this one: it’s so sad. The twist comes in a one-two punch, this time, and while the two-punch really works on the page, the character it involves didn’t play creepy enough for us and we’re way too sympathetic. It breaks our heart. And both my kids said, “Mom, that was too sad.” Yeah, for me too. For my much more cinema-jaded husband, it was a fine one-time watch for the Shyamalan fan and would be a good Halloween movie for us non-slasher horror people.

(I’m struggling to keep up with reading this month, so I watched less movies.)

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A Star is Born (2018)

I remember a couple years ago people talking and talking about this movie. It was a must-see movie from back in the days when people were still going to movie theaters, pre-pandemic. The feature song played on repeat on the pop radio stations and then it got stuck in your head. (It is a great song, it just ends too early.) And Lady Gaga! Who knew she could act as well as sing? Then everyone was talking about a supposed (not true) relationship between the main leads, their chemistry “on and off the screen,” and then the awards ceremonies came and… Well, this Valentines, for the first time ever, my husband and I didn’t go out. We got take-out and sat down to pick a movie and when we saw this we were like, “Oh yeah, we meant to see that years ago. ‘Bout time.” And we tucked into our Thai food. Too much prelude, I know, but I don’t have too much to say about this movie. For someone who watched the frenzy and praise without having seen it myself, it was underwhelming. The story—about an “ugly” girl who becomes suddenly famous and her already-famous, alcoholic boyfriend—is super-standard. (This is also the second remake of this movie, so I guess that might be why. It is a recycled story, and it’s one we’ve heard before. The real fireworks, I guess, is in the music performances and the acting, which is pretty good. I don’t want to be all down on this movie: it’s well-made. But don’t going looking for something to blow your socks off, and maybe it will.

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L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (2017)

After all the hubbub about the controversial Anne with an E (see how much I hated that show HERE), this simple remake of most of Anne of Green Gables as one movie barely made a blip on the figurative screen. It is better, however, in that it is much truer to not only the actual storyline (it is pared down a bit too much, for my taste) but also the spirit of the thing. I actually like the portrayal better than the Megan Fellows version many fans adore. (I don’t really adore that version, either.) Matthew, on the other hand, was not at all like the Matthew of the books and Gilbert got way too little play. If I was going to recommend a movie for fans, in other words, it would be this one, even though it lacks sweeping vistas and lurking romance and—oh boy—the edgy cinematography of Anne with an E. Like I said, straight-forward, and it will give you a feel for the time and place, the fashion and the architecture, etc, though imperfectly. It makes sense to stretch Anne’s uncertainty that she will stay with the Cuthberts, out over the whole year in order to give the story a singular theme, but note that it is inaccurate to the classic, there and in other places. I am once again left bewildered that screen writers and directors just can’t seem to leave one of the most beloved stories of all time well-enough alone. I wonder what would happen if they did.

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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)

My daughter asked me the other day if I had seen many Bollywood movies and it struck me that I have not. The reason she asked me is because I listen to Bollywood music, have been to India, and we were watching yet another Indian/British-Indian movies that I own (Bend It Like Beckham). I do have a thing, however, for Indian movies that come out of American and England (from Monsoon Wedding (okay, that one actually is Bollywood) to Slumdog Millionaire). Perhaps I should try some Bollywood. As of today, however, I have a half-dozen Indian-themed movies on my shelf and one of them is Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I remember wanting to really like this movie, but liked it just enough (partly because of setting) to end up purchasing it. What didn’t I like about it? Just some of the subplots—one in particular—that placed too much weight on sex and then another subplot that devalued commitment. Yeah, I have more traditional beliefs about love and marriage, and this movie does not, so I couldn’t find those two storylines as compelling as others might. But otherwise, you have the color and noise of India, some Indian culture themes, but both sort of in the background behind the real story: aging and death. With a star-studded cast and with bittersweet moments and emotional awakenings throughout, Marigold is not the story of a family hotel struggling to survive its young owner; it’s the story of six (one a couple) English pensioners who find their distinct ways to a retirement home in India. We get to find out what brought each of them here and what they’re going to do with their latter days as well as how they are going to take their limitations. I appreciate a good movie or book about aging, and this is one of the better I have seen. Strong acting, nice sense of place, and lots of things to think about, this gets pretty solid reviews across the board. (Be prepared for a character that is overtly racist, played very strongly by Dame Maggie Smith. There are few frills put on life in this film.)

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