Watched, Read, Loved: October 2017

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My battle cry should be: “What a Month!”. 2017 in particular has felt like a whirlwind. Every month, so busy, so rushed. Work has been mad. Growing career wise is exhausting. There have been a number of unpleasantness in my team – people resigning, a sexual harassment case (super happy to report that my esteem for my company rose with how they handled the matter), and naturally just the normal amount of pettiness, drama, laziness and idiocy I’ve come to expect from working professionals. However, that said, some demented part of me enjoys working in such a difficult environment. It is enormously satisfying when people bend to your will, see your point, praise your efforts and start acting less like two year olds. I’m probably going to go crazy while doing it, but man, what a ride.

Some things are stressing me out still – waiting for my final results to get my degree is one particular one, and my University is as relaxed about releasing results as they usually are. It is so frustrating to be on a cliff, waiting for an answer, so close to the finish line. That and the course was pretty damn hard, so I am STRESSED. One moment I am convinced I passed and the next moment I’m sure I failed. I’m not the most pleasant person to be around right now, of that I can assure you.

I am also planning my oldest sister’s baby shower. She’s married with a baby on the way; I applaud myself when I comb my hair in the morning. These are the paths we take. However, planning an event is something that always stresses me out – I am such a perfectionist and if I don’t feel something is nice, I get really grumpy. With that is all the baby things too – stressing me out, because my ovaries are going to die soon (I might remove that sentence, I might not). Looking at children in the mall and wondering why anyone would put up with that is what I think of the most, yet at the same time there is something to be said about leaving a legacy. But I also like having my entire salary to myself, and let me tell you, pregnancy seems to come with many ailments that makes me want to revise my previous notion that pregnancy isn’t a sickness.

To load more on my plate, I’ve literally started loading things off my plate. That’s right – I’m at the “healthy lifestyle” game again. It’s a pretty pompous term, but I enjoy using it and it is certainly a better one than the word diet. I’m taking it very basic – cutting out most carbs and eating veggies and protein, with lots of water. I don’t drink any sugar carbonated drinks, so that isn’t a problem, but I do consume copious amounts of Coke Light. Working on lessening that too, as my primary objective is living as clean as possible and not consuming pseudo junk. I like to think I’ve become a regular at our local Parkrun, my total tally of walks is now somewhere around ten. I’ve even done one on my own, because I’ve realized that fitness and companionship aren’t always something that can happen at the same time. So far I’ve lost 3kg, which is obviously slower than I’d like, but it is a consistent trend downwards that makes me happy. I am also sleeping better and feeling more alert, which are two things I desperately needed.

So after an entire dialogue about all my problems, here’s what went down entertainment wise this month.

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Thor: Ragnarok (2017): This was one of the big ones I wanted to see. My darling favorite superhero returned to the big screen, and I was ready. Thor has never been my favorite franchise of Marvel, but on a science level it has always worked really well. This time around Waititi joined in to direct (and star), and I actually watched it TWO times in cinema – super super rare for me. The second watch did highlight some issues – some of the pacing is off, especially by Tessa Thompson, but it was still so much fun that I am not willing to alter the 8.5/10 I gave it.

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It was also Halloween month, so I picked up Hocus Pocus for the very first time in my life. It was okay, I’ve definitely seen worse and better, but I did enjoy the drama of the three witches and how excellently they acted it out.

Dis Koue Kos, Skat, was my Afrikaans feature for the month. Think Eat, Pray, Love, with less praying (and travelling). Anna-Mart Van Der Merwe, a South-African film legend, stars in this excellent film as a newly divorced woman settling into her new life. I had  a lot of fun with it.

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Lego: Ninjago movie (2017) – This was October as well?! October WAS a long month! I had a lot more fun with this than I thought I would, which is saying something.

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Star Trek (2009) – it took me nearly ten years to watch this, and I am happy that I finally did. Review coming soon.

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I kept it pretty simple this month with reading, revisiting the Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead. It’s simple reading, perfect for stressful days where you just need a bit of chill and sexy vampires.

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The real reason for the little amount of movie watching that went down can be pinned to Spartacus. I finally started the series. It’s pretty good despite awful dialogue, though just not one of the shows to watch with your parents / child. EVER.

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What have you been up to this month?

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Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

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Plot: Imprisoned, the mighty Thor finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization.

*Contains minor spoilers*

How is it possible that it has been 5 years since The Avengers? It seems like only yesterday. At the time it was one of the coolest and most interesting action hero films I’ve ever seen, and created an avalanche of Marvel-watching for yours truly. And it was great for its’ time – Joss Whedon did a fantastic job, even though it was a large CGI feast and if you hadn’t watched previous MCU films, well, sorry for you because that story would have made no sense at all. Since then we’ve been exposed to the good and the bad of superheroes, often with directors resigning in protest against MCU’s heavy handed control. There has been unfortunate mishaps (in particular, The Dark World was really just crap), and Marvel started to have a tired, repetitive tone to all their films. It was all good to look at, but man, it was all the same. Marvel Studios and DC Comics recognized superhero fatigue was quickly starting to rear head, and Marvel took some preventive actions while DC realized they needed to make proper films. Dr. Strange of 2016 was a visual stimulation we had not yet beheld, Deadpool went R-rated with its graphical violence and strong language, Wonder Woman finally proved that female superheroes could work and that DC miraculously still had a smidgen of sense, and Guardians of the Galaxy was original, quirky and fun as hell.

Ragnarok is the best film in the Thor franchise, which up until now has been the seemingly poorer relative of the MCU. Directed by the uniquely talented and marvelously hilarious Taika Waititi, prepare yourself for Marvel as you’ve never seen it before. You now by the multiple reports on this director that he’s the director behind What We Do in The Shadows and Hunt For The Wilderpeople. The man himself is an eccentric gem, and his humor is as evident off-screen as it is on. His distinct directorial style reverberates throughout Ragnarok. He didn’t write the material for the film but the nature of the humor is a clear indication that he’s all over it. Ragnarok is hilarious – I have never laughed quite so hard at a superhero film before. I laughed and snorted and spit out some of my drink – nothing is too sacred or serious for Waititi to omit. Dangerous portals are “the devil’s anus” and weapons are called “melt sticks” in such a deadpan way that you simply expect Waititi to walk out and wave at you. He is there, and you will have to listen only to know, but I won’t give away his character – I laughed too much at him and would like people to find him on their own. He is also able to bring out the best in Hemsworth and in the character of Thor – Chris Hemsworth is at his finest while playing Thor as a big, lumbering hero who can be quite the meathead but also has a heart of gold. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) returns as the “is he or isn’t he?”baddie, and to be honest I sometimes detect a weariness in Loki’s eyes – he’s so clearly intellectually superior to Thor that his brother’s antics must get exhausting. Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) makes a momentary appearance with his mindboggling magic tricks, and learn both brothers lessons in manners. It works, because unlike Civil War, this isn’t Avengers 2.1 – the entire MCU doesn’t pitch to join in on the fight. It is also more unique, less CGI extravaganza and a complete Thor movie, not a derivative movie that depends on the success of previously established MCU successes (Looking at you, Homecoming).

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The scramble for Marvel to include women, brought on by their rival DC’s wonderful Wonder Woman, brings us two females of note – the villain Hela (fantastically devious performance from Cate Blanchett) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). They are even on the poster. It is a positive turn of events, and I’ve seen complaints regarding Hela being one-sided, but I really thought her great and so refreshingly devious – like just mean and no worries about being so. Two times Oscar winner Cate Blanchett brings all her powers, and if one thing I wish they’d given her more time – she’s devious and crazy and cruel, and for the first female villain from Marvel, she’s absolutely wonderful. I’m all for conflicted villains, and Karl Urban’s Skurge certainly has inner conflict, but a pure, evil villain can be such fun, and watching Hela prove that Odin isn’t as squeaky clean as suggested was one glorious ride.  Valkyrie is a potential love interest, as Natalie Portman gets discarded with one single line (another flaw). I am quite pro a love interest that fights on her own and isn’t a damsel, so we will see how this goes.

The Revengers are endless amounts of fun. The movie reaches its conclusion without filler nonsense, the end is quite dramatic and heroic and Chris Hemsworth is as utterly gorgeous as always. Some of the humor is smart, some of it is blatant, and some excellently inappropriate. There is a buddy comedy vibe between Thor and The Hulk, which is endearing and hilarious. Be ready to adore Thor, The Hulk and even Loki – they are clearly having the time of their lives. The post credits scene is interesting and suggests something I thought would happen, and it can only mean great things.

Have you seen Ragnarok? Let me know your thoughts!

Rating: 8.5/10    

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Movies 2016: Worst to Best

The year 2016 will be known for a number of things – an inordinate amount of celebrity deaths and an equally inordinate amount of lackluster movies. Are these two correlated? I’m not convinced its’ not. Anyway, here is my list of movies I watched this year that was released in 2016. It’s not been a good one.

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Number 19: Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice 6/10

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Number 18: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them 6/10

Number 17: Before You 6/10

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Number 16: The Choice 6.5/10

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Number 15: How to be single 6.5/10

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Number 14: The 5th Wave 7/10

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Number 13: SUICIDE SQUAD 7/10

Number 12: Rogue One: 7/10

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Number 11: The Huntsman: Winter’s War 7/10

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Number 10: Legend of Tarzan 7.5/10

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Number 9: Finding Dory 7.5/10

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Number 8: Captain America: Civil War: 7.5/10

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Number 7: Zootopia 8/10

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Number 6: The Jungle Book 8/10

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Number 5: 10 Cloverfield lane 8/10

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Number 4: Dr. Strange 8/10

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Number 3: Deadpool (8/10)

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Number 2: Bridget Jones’ Baby: 8.5/10

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Number 1: Pride and Prejudice vs. Zombies 8.5/10

Movie Review: Zootopia (2016)

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Plot: In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a rookie bunny cop and a cynical con artist fox must work together to uncover a conspiracy.

Rating: 8/10

I was coerced into watching Disney’s powerhouse film, and I really loved it. It seems that animation is everywhere these days, and you know how I feel about that. I’ve already seen Hotel Transylvania 2 this year and Finding Dory, which exceeds my limit of one movie.

Anyway, Zootopia is actually really damn cute.  It has quite a clear message, they weren’t trying to give you any subliminal messaging here. I think that this film would appeal to very small children, because even though a movie like Inside Out appeals to grownups, it is generally over the younger audience’s head.

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is an inspiring little bunny, no doubt about that. She is determined to be a cop, even though the other animals in her field are much larger and imposing. Her family, even though they really love her, believes it is a dangerous choice and that she won’t succeed, but that only makes her more determined.  Her wheeling, dealing and investigating with Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) is funny and serves to provide some more lessons on how to just not be a silly racist and judge people by their stereotypes.

What else did I enjoy? You must be quite blind not to catch the Godfather reference – it was a scream and it was one of my favorite parts of the film. There is apparently a Breaking Bad reference in the film (I sadly haven’t watched the series yet), and I also really liked Gazelle, the very feisty springbok singer. Idris Elba as Chief Bogo was also hilarious – I loved how they made him exactly what you’d expect him to be.

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ZOOTOPIA – Pictured (L-R): Judy, Bonnie, and Stu Hopps. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

There went a lot of detail into this film – make sure to check the cups and wall paintings everywhere – it is so well thought out. So much to mention, I won’t even be able to mention it in one post. The sloths annoyed me a bit – gosh I really loathe slow things and they were sloooww. That is basically the only thing that went awry in this film, and the ending was just a bit drawn out and lost the plot somewhat.

I had a great time with Zootopia. Be sure to remember though that it is a very basic animation (even though the visuals are incredible) – this is actually just a lovely story for the kids, and the adults who have the patience to sit through it.

Movie Review: Rock n Rolla (2008)

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Plot: Lenny Cole, a London mob boss, puts the bite on all local real estate transactions. For substantial fees, he’s helping Uri Omovich, a Russian developer. As a sign of good faith, Omovich loans Cole a valuable painting, promptly stolen off Cole’s wall. While Cole’s men, led by the dependable Archie, look for the canvas, three local petty criminals, the Wild Bunch, steal money from the Russian using inside information from his accountant, the lovely Stella. Meanwhile, a local drug-addled rocker, Johnny Quid, is reported drowned, and his connection to Cole is the key to unraveling the deceits and double crosses of life in the underworld.

Rating: 7/10

I enjoyed this film. A Guy Ritchie film remains a Guy Ritchie film and he generally brings the goods to the table. Rock n Rolla has a specific tailored feel that I spotted in Ritchie’s recent The Man from U.N.C.L.E as well. The dynamic between One Two (Gerard Butler), Tom Hardy (Handsome Rob) and Mumbles (Idris Elba) is great, and when Handsome Rob’s sexuality is revealed, things get really hilarious. Thandie Newton manages to be a cold hearted bitch and still work it throughout. She was amazing to watch. I also love some Mark Strong anywhere. He was so much fun. The plot was a bit vague to me – the painting is definitely at the center of everyone’s problems and the drama its’ disappearance causes. It is a good film, rather lighthearted and if you prefer some class and sass in one film, give it a go. I much prefer The Man from U.N.C.L.E to this, but RnR was a pretty decent watch.

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Movie Review: The Jungle Book (2016)

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Plot: The man-cub Mowgli flees the jungle after a threat from the tiger Shere Khan. Guided by Bagheera the panther and the bear Baloo, Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery, though he also meets creatures who don’t have his best interests at heart.

Rating: 8/10

This is firstly the most reluctant 8/10 I’ve ever given. I wanted to go watch Captain America, but that really couldn’t happen as my mom just isn’t a superhero kind of girl and the whole point of the outing was treating her. So I sulked a little bit about not seeing the Cap – I also have the worst flu in existence and that is definitely contributing, but it all worked out well in the end. – and as you all know I’ve since seen Captain America: Civil War and reviewed it here.

2016 had a slow start to movies, but it is making progress in becoming a good here. The Jungle Book is another favourable entrance, and Jon Favreau truly did a phenomenal job. The Jungle Book looks so good – the forest is beautiful, the descriptions and storytelling is enthralling. It is obviously a great job by Disney – their new releases of old stories are gorgeous so far. It must have been a risky undertaking having a novice child as your only human presence on screen, but it paid off in the end. Despite having a few scenes where the child isn’t all that convincing, he did a great job and he certainly looks like Mowgli.

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I can’t say too much about the film – the plot is no secret and remains close to the original material. As was done with the less impressive Cinderella last year, The Jungle Book is the exact same as its animation. In this case it works very well. The CGI is mind blowing, the voice casting is great (Scarlett Johannson is perhaps the best as Kaa) and the songs are as addictive as when they first came out. The Jungle Book is a feast on the eyes and is worth the ticket – and definitely the 3D!

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Marvellous Mondays: Thor (2011)

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Happy Monday, fair friends and readers. I’m reviewing Thor today. I reviewed it before here, back in the dark ages when I was still very new to blogging. I have some mighty months behind me now, where I’ve hopefully improved significantly from those early moments. I also included him in my Top Ten Movie Crushes for Zoë, which you can check out here.

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Plot synopsis: The powerful but arrogant god Thor is cast out of Asgard to live amongst humans in Midgard (Earth), where he soon becomes one of their finest defenders. via IMDb

Thinking back, Thor was probably the first movie of the new Marvel stuff I watched. I was hooked immediately, but it may have been due to the fact that the leading start is so attractive and not really about the storyline. Don’t misunderstand, folks, the story-line isn’t the worst ever, but I’ve since seen tons of movies that do it much better. The Iron Man arm of the franchise is much better than the Thor one, and this movie seems to have been produced solely to prepare the world for the Avengers-storm that was looming.

The impressive array of actors and actresses really helped move this movie along. There is the eternally impressive Anthony Hopkins, the darling of the nerd-world Natalie Portman, the ridiculously charming and mysterious Idris Elba, and the surprising (then) new-comer Tom Hiddleston who some might argue was better suited for his role as Loki than Chris Hemsworth was for Thor.

Chris Hemsworth really looks like what I’ve always thought the Norse god would look like. He was probably doing the best with the material given, and his acting isn’t bad, it is just a bit floppy in places. He has improved through the development of the franchise and he has some roles in other movies that he is really good in. I DO find it laughable that they considered his brother Liam for a few seconds for this role, because that wouldn’t have worked at all.

There is decent enough character development in here: Thor had to learn to not let his hot head dominate over his good heart (that is derived from JK Rowling’s description of Harry) and Loki went from the insecure younger brother to the mad villain.

I enjoyed the graphics, something Marvel has never skimped on. Asgard manages to be both other worldly and beautiful, realistic enough to not make me hate the sci-fi part of it (yeah, I just said that). I loved the Bifrost Bridge, one of the prettiest things I’ve seen in a while.

I would rate this movie a 6.5/10, which is slightly less than my original rating.

PS: You can check the list out here for available movies and drop me a line at natashastander@gmail.com to let me know if you would like to review some!