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Spinning Out (2020)
Entertaining as hell
I have binged this series twice now and can honestly say that I have rarely been entertained like this.
Is Spinning Out cheesy, overly dramatic and all kinds of unrealistic? Heck, yes! The characters are having secrets and affairs left and right, and to top it off the whole plot revolves around the ultra competitive world of figure skating, with injuries, feuds and mental breakdowns en masse.
Most of the time Spinning Out is an elaborate soap opera, but I found that it handled some serious issues surprisingly well. I especially liked the relationship between Kat, her sister and her mother and how mental illness played a huge role in their life as a family.
As for the authenticity of the figure skating on the show, I don't know enough about the sport to judge. You can definitely see where they used doubles, but this was done quite well. I highly doubt that it's easy to find competent stunt doubles for this sport and they definitely delivered. The skating scenes are the most exciting ones in the whole show. And I freaking loved Johnny Weir's performance in this, an actual figure skating champion. Give me more of him!
If you are looking for a diverting, entertaining show with lots of drama, go for it. It's better than most other high end soap operas and I sincerely hope for a second season.
An earnest, charming fairytale
This is what this film feels like: sitting around a fire and being engrossed in a story that someone remembers from long ago. Is the plot very original? Maybe not, but it is well paced and has some surprises along the way that make Klaus special.
Here, we have a sincere, funny and engaging film, that doesn't rely on ironic jokes to tie in the adults, or on the integration of modern technology to hold the kids' interest. It just tells a story.
The story is about a spoiled young man who is sent into the little backwater village of Smeerensburg to take over the post office. Jesper has to deliver 6000 letters by the end of a year or he'll be cut off by his wealthy father. After he meets the reclusive toymaker Klaus, Jesper starts to plot his way out of Smeerensburg by roping in the kids of the village. Along the way he makes some friends, changes some lives and, well, grows up.
This is, in a way, Jesper's coming of age story, even though he is a fully grown man to begin with. But this is also Klaus' growing old story. I found this apect very touching - the old and widowed hermit finds a new purpose in his life and gets to be happy for a few years yet. You do not see that sort of plotline in animated movies very often. The subplot of the warring clans of Smeerensburg was hilarious and reminded me a little of Asterix and Obelix.
Apart from the old school, but very well executed plot, it is worthwhile to talk about Klaus' technical realization. Firstly, the animation is gorgeous. The lighting is magnificent. The look is excellent. This film looks exactly as lovingly detailed as a Christmas movie should. The handdrawn animation is very effective - it gives the film a very soft and almost canvas-like feeling, while still making good use of the smooth and fast execution that CGI affords.
Klaus isn't dunked in polished, on-the-nose effects, but is, you might say, warmly covered in a carefully crafted blanket of twinkling forest lights and harsh mountain snows and accompanied by a little, gruff town of crooked and funny looking houses and crooked and funny-looking people. In Klaus, we do not encounter a string of slightly altered clones, that all have the same body type and facial features (looking at you Disney) but a jumbled ensemble of big and round, tall and bent, young and middle aged and old characters, who all look and act differently from each other.
The only criticism I can honestly think of is that Klaus lacks a little on female representation. Its central female characters, Ava and Márgu, felt a little sidelined to me, especially given the fact that theirs could have been the better story, if told accordingly. But given the fact that I still loved it, I can't really hold this against Klaus.
So, just in time for Christmas, Klaus is a thoroughly enjoyable treat of a movie that I will probably recommend excessively over the next few weeks.
Sierra Burgess Is a Loser (2018)
This is a troublesome little film.
There are some things I enjoyed while watching it, which I'll address first.
The main character Sierra is an intelligent but unpopular girl, a bit chubby but not too concerned about her looks or her status in school. I liked how Sierra is shown as standing up for herself from the beginning, how she obviously feels the pressure of conforming with the more popular girls but makes up for it with wit. She is not the classic "loser" that we know from other films, that can only ever be happy when ascending to a more popular or attractive state. I think there need to be more portrayals of "losers" like Sierra, because, let's be real, you don't need to be the most popular or beautiful person in school to find some friends and do your thing.
I also liked how Veronica is initially portrayed as the classic mean girl but soon turns out to be a sensitive girl with her own troubles and insecurities. I loved that these two characters become friends over something that was initially meant as an insult to Sierra, a prank. I could see how a friendship between Sierra and Veronica would help both of them and even out the strengths and weaknesses between the two of them. But sadly this did not happen.
While Veronica does turn out to be a good friend, Sierra does one terrible thing after another. She continuously lies to the boy she likes, she asks Veronica to play along with ridiculous staged dates (that can only be uncomfortable for her) and when the boy, Jamey, kisses Veronica, Sierra immediately humiliates her in front of a huge audience.
I hated the whole thing, really. I think the film portrays the act of pretending to be someone else to make another person like you better as a harmless technique to "get the boy" (or girl). But it is not. Think of the damage this could do if people used it with more malicious motives. Think of what sort of things happen to unsuspecting people (often children) over the Internet nowadays.
If the whole affair of catfishing had been addressed appropriately and Sierra had felt at least some repercussions for her actions I might have been on board with this film.
But that Jamey and Veronica forgive Sierra just like that, is not only lazy storytelling but also unbelievably unrealistic.
I don't know what the writers wanted to achieve with this ending other than insulting the intelligence of their audience.
Akatsuki no Yona (2014)
A solid start
Akatsuki no Yona is a story about a princess who is on a journey to reclaim her kingdom. To do that she needs to reunite the legendary four dragons and do something about poverty and crime spreading through her country.
She also has to deal with her throne usurping cousin, who, as an antagonist, is an intriguingly complex character. Yona herself initially comes across as very sweet but boring, which is one reason why I was a bit reluctant to continue this at first. The other characters, who join her as the story progresses, are much more entertaining than Yona. BUT: this show does not employ an ever repeating formula with no character growth and a never changing status quo. Yona does grow and changes as she realises that she has lived a sheltered life, which made her ignorant of the troubles that she now faces. And as she slowly gains this realisation she starts to do something about it and works on herself. Which is honestly so damn enjoyable to watch and excuses the rather slow progress the show makes in the first season.
As it is now, the story has only just begun and the first season only collects all the main characters, which does for a sometimes uneven pace. This is one reason why I'd say that this isn't a perfect anime. Another reason is the animation. I personally find it somewhat lacking, the fight sequences especially are rather mediocre. The soundtrack is fine and so is the art style, but a more dynamic animation would have made this so much better, given what a suspenseful material it is trying to illustrate.
There is so much potential though and as the manga readers know, this is going places! So I truly hope that Yona gets a second season.