May 2016 Movies

Okay, I’ve been putting this off for so long that I just managed to handwrite three double-sided pages of Thoughts about The Neon Demon (that I will presumably type up and edit and post at some point) but still have little to nothing to say about most of these movies. Damn it, self, why did you have to watch so many movies in May?


Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Steve/Bucky is basically the only pairing for which I’ve read a significant amount of fanfiction, so this was a weird experience of expectations vs reality that I had not really encountered before, but that presumably people more engaged in fandom deal with all the time. Read enough fanfiction for a piece of media, and you’ll see certain elements or interpretations of events repeated enough to form their own sort of weird canon1, that you understand is not canon canon and yet, especially when there are two years between movies, it feels real enough that it becomes harder and harder to imagine the actual canon taking a different direction.

Obviously, the movie takes a different direction, and it’s not necessarily a bad direction, and perhaps it’s even a good direction, but man, I have no idea how I feel about it. The funeral scene made me cry and there was maybe too much focus on Tony Stark’s feelings and the ending felt super abrupt, but that’s probably about all I’ve got? Will have to watch again and re-evaluate at some point.

In the meantime:


Probably too soon to say what the long-term growth will be like, but so far, the growth between movies has been pretty linear (the slope may change with each movie released, though), preumably because they’re released regularly enough that the fandom doesn’t have a chance to taper off. Post-Winter Soldier, Steve/Bucky was getting about 23 new works per day, and post-Civil War it appears to be getting about 39 new works per day. Post-Age of Ultron, Steve/Tony was getting about 12 new works per day, and post-Civil War, it’s been getting about 18 new works per day. So, looks like the gap between ships is probably going to continue to widen until Infinity War (coming to theaters near you in May 2018), and who knows what will happen then?

 Four Lions (2010)

This was clever and I think that I respect what it’s doing, but unfortunately, I was not watching it as attentively as it deserved.

The Man Who Knew Infinity (2016)

I mean, a pretty typical biopic that probably won’t leave enough of an impression to even get awards recognition, but yay, Ramanujan2!

The main focus seemed to be on Hardy and Ramanujan’s conflict about proofs vs faith, which was a very expected choice to make. It’s the sort of biopic conflict we understand how to digest, although generally wrt unconvential artists being like, “I just want to make my Art; stop stifling me, mannnn” and some stuffy old white guy being like, “But there are Rules and Conventions that you must follow to be Sucessful in a Capitalistic Western Society!” and we the audience are expected to sympathize with the artist because Art Trumps All and, well, they’re the subject of a biopic, so the stuffy old white guy was probably wrong. But in the field of academic mathematics, you, like, do actually need proofs? You can’t just publish a theorem because you know it’s right in your heart of hearts. So, unclear how true to life this is—I think there’s some historical aspect to paper being super expensive in India at the time, so Ramanujan did his proofs on slates and only wrote down the conclusions in his notebook? Which is not quite the story the movie is telling—that he is either incapable or unwilling to prove his theorems because he just knows they’re right because they’re the Word of God (essentiallly) and he’d rather spend his time coming up with new shit.

I don’t know, I’m too close to the whole math thing to be able to view it as “well, did it work as a storytelling choice?” versus “NUMBER THEORY IS THE CROWN JEWEL OF MATHEMATICS” frothing at the mouth. But it annoys me when people nitpick TV shows/movies over how realistic the portrayals of their professions are, because yeah, real life lawyers/doctors/policemen/etc. do a lot of boring and uncinematic shit that no one wants to watch, so some liberties must be taken. And this is going to be super true for academic mathematicians, because right, there’s no action involved—just thinking and writing and drawing diagrams—and the professional dialogue is going to be incomprehensible to basically the entire audience3. Which is why the main math biopics we have are of “crazy” mathematicians (and this displeases my mathematician father). Ramanujan wasn’t crazy, so the most cinematic parts of his story are the various cultural clashes (Indian vs English, faith vs atheism, poverty vs wealth, etc.) and the tragically young death.

Also, the following is totally inane, but I will mention it anyway. Shazad Latif (hot Dr. Jekyll in Penny Dreadful) was very briefly in the movie as a fellow Indian mathematician as Cambridge who gives Ramanujan some moral support or solidarity or whatever, and I don’t think his character is ever mentioned by name within the movie, so when I saw him come up in the credits, I was fully expecting him to be billed as “Student” or just some random name. But no! Apparently he was meant to be Mahalanobis (of the Mahalanobis distance) and that is delightful. I guess this is how comics nerds feel when they notice the Easter eggs in the MCU movies.

High-Rise (2016)

I think it was good? Tom Hiddleston was certainly a pleasure, the soundtrack was great, and anything outside of the “Hollywood formula4” feels worthwhile. But man, it was unsettling, especially now that I live in an apartment complex—dorm-living college self would not quite have appreciated it.

In the early stages of the building’s internal collapse, the directing/set design was really good at just capturing messiness—of the stickiness and crumbs and bits of paper variety—in a way that made me feel unsettled and gross in a really visceral way. Also, the escalation from the beautifully pristine building (and clothes and people) at the beginning to the apocalyptic landscape at the end was super well done; it feels like a mostly natural and gradual progression until you actually compare the two endpoints. I think there were a lot of complaints in reviews or comments sections about the lack of a distinct “turning point” for the anarchy and “well, why doesn’t everyone just leave?” but I think the Point—that feels true to my view of human nature, in any case—is that people can and will adjust to anything. There are a bunch of little inconveniences you put up with in your daily life and end up unconsciously building up routine workarounds without really thinking to do something to fix them. Let all of those things just build up—over a comically compressed period of time, sure, in a community that is unusually isolated/insular by construction—and, well, you have High-Rise.

I was expecting there to be some sort of dark sociopath reveal with Hiddleston’s character given his profession, obsession with cleanliness, mysterious past, impersonal apartment, lying about that dude’s diagnosis after getting snubbed by him at a party, carefully contained but clearly seething anger at any perceived humiliation, etc. I guess maybe you can argue that all of the elements I listed actually were revealing that without spoonfeeding it to the audience, but still, it felt like the movie was leading up to some sort of Big Reveal about the character that never quite happened? I guess the fact that he was actually talking, out loud, to the building in his voice-over was a weird enough thing?

Bright Young Things (2003)

Solid adaptation of Vile Bodies, and it does, in fact, probably make the book make more sense in retrospect, as it does really help to see and hear the characters interacting with each other and be able to associate them with faces rtaher than just names.

The Lobster (2015 UK/2016 US)

The themes of The Lobster have already been discussed to death in other venues and I have nothing to add. It’s odd to me how it was marketed in the press tour as a dystopian/sci-fi genre piece, especially focusing on the metamorphosis aspect, which yeah, it’s in the title and it’s an interesting hook, but that’s a pretty misleading way to describe what the movie actually is. And I guess this was probably intentional, so that everyine could act surprised and clever for figuring out that oh shit, it’s actually satirizing/deconstructing romantic relationships (from singledom to courtship to marriage, albeit not quite in that order)?

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2012)

Yep, good.

Gosford Park (2001)

Nope, bad.

(This isn’t even my Julian Fellowes antipathy speaking; I just so didn’t casre about anything that was happening?)

This Is England (2006)

[Insert thinkpiece here about how easy it is for otherwise decent and reasonable working class people to become neo-Nazis in times of large scale immigration and unemployment. Also probably something about the relevance to Brexit?]

In lieu of that, though: man, Joe Gilgun. So irritating on Misfits, so likable and weirdly hot in this and on Preacher.

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

Well, this exchange turned out to be a bit on-the-nose, when it was probably just meant to be charmingly self-deprecating:

Jubilee: [walking out of Return of the Jedi] I’m just saying Empire is still the best. It’s the most complex, the most sophisticated. Wasn’t afraid to have a dark ending.
Scott Summers: Yeah, but come on, if it wasn’t for the first one you wouldn’t have any of the rest of the movies.
Jean Grey: Well, at least we can all agree the third one’s always the worst.

Because, man, Apocalypse was…not good. In general, I feel like “overstuffed” can be a weak criticism, but very true here: so many new characters and so little done with most of them because 144 minutes is not enough to give significant screentime to the returning characters from the current trilogy (Professor X, Magneto, Beast, Mystique, Quicksilver, Havok, Wolverine), the new versions of characters familiar from the first trilogy (Jean Grey, Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler), and the mutants we haven’t/have barely seen on-screen before (Apocalypse, Psylocke, Angel, Jubilee) ; there’s a reason that the comics end up splitting off into, like5, All-New X-Men, All-New Wolverine, Extraordinary X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, and X-Men ’92. Ultimately, I was just left with a sense that there were a lot of potential movies within X-Men: Apocalypse that I would like to see—more about life on campus at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters! more about the East Berlin underground mutant fight club! more about the Summers family and how they’re apparently so cool about their sons being mutants! more about young mutants idolizing Mystique! more about literally anything but vague plans for wolrd domination!—and X-Men: Apocalypse was not any of them.

It also lacks the allegorical appeal of past X-Men movies; as heavy handed as that might have been in some/most of them, it is, I think, a key reason for the success of the movies, alongside with the fight choreography’s tendency to come up with creative/visually interesting uses for each of the mutants’ unique powers. So when the mutant struggle isn’t serving as a euphemism for racism or gay rights or the Holocaust or whatever, and the central conflict is instead an explosion-heavy world domination plot, how does it distinguish itself from any other superhero movie? Especially when it keeps Charles and Erik separate for so much of the movie—and whether you ship it or not, it’s hard to deny that their dynamic has been one of, if not THE, greatest strength of the whole franchise (when Wolverine is more or less out of the picture, at least).

Step Up (2006)

Okay, I loved this, and I’m glad I’ve finally gotten over the whole internalized misogyny, “chick-flick” aversion thing enough to have watched it, because fuck it, I love a romance with a happy ending. The one-line summary of the movie makes you think it’s going to be a sort of Grease dynamic where Nora’s (at the time Jenna Dewan, now Jenna Dewan Tatum) the uptight modern dancer who learns to loosen up from bad boy Tyler (Channing Tatum), and, well, not really? For one,Tyler isn’t that “bad”—I mean, he steals cars, but he doesn’t really do too much emotionally distant cool guy posturing. But mostly, Nora and Tyler end up serving as mutual inspirations for each other, and not in the making compromises for love way, but rather seeing the other person’s potential and pushing them to be better. And that’s just really nice to watch, in addition to, of course, the excellent dancing.

Altered States (1980)

Very Ken Russell-y but not really my favorite version of Ken Russell; definitely prefer weird musician biopics to sci-fi trying to say something about the Human Condition.

Love & Friendship (2016)

Yep, good.

1. This textpost someone made on Tumblr encapsulates this nicely. ^
2. Okay, my only knowledge of Ramanujan is from a proof of 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + … = -1/12 that went semi-viral (well, among certain circles) in 2014, I guess because of some YouTube video from a…math channel? Anyway, at first it seems like a crazy, mind-blowing result, but becomes somewhat less so when you think about the assumptions it relies on (i.e. if you allow for a divergent series like 1 – 1 + 1 – 1 + … to have a finite sum, which is, like, a big if). Still, pretty cool.^
3. Even if you majored in math in college, the specificity of the problems that academics at this level would be discussing is just not going to make sense to you, because you probably haven’t read all of the relevant papers and theories leading up to these hard, narrow problems, unless it’s, like, actually the hard, narrow problem you did your thesis on. I mean, I think the initial explanation they gave of the partition problem in the movie was pretty easy to grasp, but had they gone any deeper—into, like, Ramanujan’s actual solution—probably not so much. ^
4. This includes big superhero movies, frat bro comedies, and tragic-but-inspiring biopics. It is harder to find a phrase to capture what it does not include. ^
5. Thank you, Wikipedia. ^


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