December 2016 Movies, Part 2


How to Be Single (2016)

Not memorable enough for me to even to have any praise or criticism, I think?

(Although Jesus Christ, zipping up your own dress should not be that big of a struggle; I mean, I know, 1) it’s supposed to serve as a symbol for all of those tasks that you don’t even think about when living with another person that reveal surprising difficulty when you suddenly find yourself alone or something, and 2) it’s exaggerated for comic effect, but still.)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Man, I really wanted to like this, although maybe that doomed my chances from the start. Hard to say if it’s “good” or “bad” or if the creators’ priorities are just completely different than my own; people seem to prefer it to The Force Awakens because of the plot, I guess? Whereas I just want to know about the characters and their relationships and could do without all of the formal discussions of plans and space battles1.

Still, I would have liked Rogue One so much more if it had committed more fully to the “Sarah Manning in space” concept and less to the “you nerds just want some explosions and space battles, right?” Because the casting and what we do get of the characters and their world contain glimpses of something more interesting and I think it just needed a few additional scenes of just like dialogue/backstory instead of planning/fighting to get there? Instead of landing at Generic Sci-Fi Rebellion Against Generic Authoritarian Future Government.

Like, what happened in the 10-15 years between the flashbacks of Jyn as a child and our reconnecting with her in prison? We have a vague sense of her existing on the fringes of society, but I feel like we2 don’t have enough societal context to really understand what that means. For all the unasked for backstory on the government situation in the prequels, it’s still just not clear to me what normal life in the Star Wars universe is? If you’re not a Jedi, if you’re not currently on a life-or-death mission, etc. And how bad is it under the Empire compared to what it was before? What are punishable crimes other than treason–and what did Jyn do to land her in jail if she is apolitical? What type of people become Stormtroopers–are they  True Believers or just people in financial need and without other marketable skills?

And having that context matters, if the only sort of character beats we get throughout the movie are Jyn going from apathetic, out-for-herself punk to driven resistance fighter and the conflict between her and Cassian w.r.t. her privilege of only caring now that it’s personal3 vs. whatever his backstory is; because the line to the effect of “living under the Empire is fine if you just don’t look up” is interesting, and I kind of wanted that explored further? (I’ve talked about this in a previous Star Wars post, but yeah, the 1930s Berlin connection.)

I suspect there are some illuminating deleted scenes to look forward to with the DVD release.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) – 3rd time

Probably no new feelings that weren’t already covered here or hereTFA remains super compelling and fun. And man, that last shot is really powerful.

In contrast to Rogue One:

  • TFA seems much more well-edited? There’s never a moment in TFA, I think, where a shot feels like it lasts slightly too long or you question the point of including a scene or a line of dialogue.
  •  The attempts at levity land better (and are, generally, actual levity and not just attempts)
  • The characters are just so much more clearly drawn, and not everyone has to be a Stoic Hero, which is nice. Even before Finn explicitly tells us why he left the First Order, you get a sense of what the dude’s deal is in a very specific way through his actions/body language/dialogue/etc. Not the case for, say, Bodhi Rook in Rogue One; you can make assumptions based on the genre on what sort of thing might have driven him to defect and how he feels about it, but we don’t really know anything about him other than the fact that he’s a Good Guy and he looks like Riz Ahmed (which is, granted, a plus).

La La Land (2016)

Excited about what this and Hail, Caesar! (and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Hamilton hype and the various networks’ attempts to make televised live musicals a Thing that appeals to the Youths) mean for the resurgence of the movie musical. I basically liked this a lot–Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are a charming pair and their courtship was very well done. And, you know, people breaking into song and dance to express their innermost feelings!


The actual songs were mostly…ehhh. Apart from the opening number on the highway–which was super fun–the music felt like it was too embarrassed to commit to full-on showtunes and was instead this kind of low-key twee shit? Unclear how much Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are to blame for not having big Broadway voices and how much the sort of half-assed vocals were an intentional stylistic choice to convey, what, authenticity and modernity? I’m leaning towards the latter because Stone does end up finally belting in her big audition piece and Gosling’s voice seems good enough in the one song I know from his weird horror band. But right, I guess to some extent musicals have always been influenced by contemporary popular music and thus the songwriting conventions will (and probably should, if they want to stay “relevant”) change with the times rather than doing the Rodgers and Hammerstein thing ad nauseam–and yet: I’d like to see the Rodgers and Hammerstein thing in a movie with modern storytelling and production values.

Also just not super invested in these characters achieving their dreams, because one gets tired of Struggling Artist types. People have issues with Gosling’s character being a white guy trying to Save Jazz,  but I wonder if the unbearableness of that goal is sort of intentional? Certainly when Emma Stone’s character considers quitting acting, I was like, “yeah, that seems sensible at this point”–but because, you know, Art Is Subjective and Narratives Are Unreliable, it’s always difficult to tell whether the audience is supposed to think that Artists in movies are actually talented (and, like, how talented?). And especially when you have successful actors cast as struggling actors, since we assume–by the actual actors’ success–that their characters are imbued with the same Innate Star Quality and thus deserve the same success.

So, totally unclear to me, but I’m not really interested in diving into the “official” reviews: are we supposed to question the validity of the characters’ dreams–and thus their choice to end up pursuing those dreams rather than their relationship? Is the What Could Have Been montage at the end supposed to be bittersweet or just plain bitter? (I definitely found it depressing.)

Lion (2016)

Lots of tears. Great advertisement for Google Earth, but not necessarily that great as a movie? As in, the actual story it’s based on is automatically going to be compelling and emotional, but did the storytelling choices of the movie show it to its best advantage and transform it from Real Life into Art? Probably not.

Not sure that the Rooney Mara character really added anything other than “I guess we’d better have a romance and a marketable female lead in here, huh?” And I’m generally pro-romance! This one just felt very obligatory and tacked-on, especially when there was so much going on with the family dynamics–and the tension with the brother could have used more time.

Super shallow note: Dev Patel looks really great with the Long Unkempt Hair of Emotional Distress.

(Also, it seemed super weird that he was nominated as Supporting Actor rather than Lead Actor at the Golden Globes, but I guess the adult version of Saroo didn’t show up until like halfway through the movie? Is this just a movie without a Lead Actor, then?)

Southside with You (2016)

As stated above, I’m generally pro-romance, so an entire movie that just takes place on a first date? Sure!

However, the Obama element just totally weirds me out; I guess because not only are they both still alive, but Obama was still in office at the time of the movie’s production and release? Which is unusual for a biopic, right? Especially for one that’s dealing with the subjects’ private lives from before they became a public figures? And yet: how would the movie work if it were just this date between two fictional characters and you didn’t know what the future held for them? (No idea; I think it would still be cute, but things wouldn’t feel as much like foreshadowing?)

The World’s End (2013)

So it seems that I’ve decided to make the viewing of this movie a New Year’s Eve tradition, which is super dumb, because this movie makes me feel like shit about myself and all of my life choices. It’s weird, because I was not that impressed with it when I saw it in theaters (and it seemed like a disappointing final entry in the otherwise brilliant Cornetto Trilogy), but then I re-watched it after graduating from college and getting dumped by (or “growing apart from”) various friends and just generally not being able to let go of the past and accept Real Adult Life, and man, it suddenly hit close to home.

So okay, much bleaker in tone than Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but still comic gold. It’s just so tightly scripted, where basically every line and every shot serves a comedic or plot-advancing purpose, the musical cues are right on (and what a soundtrack!), and I don’t know, any callback jokes are repeated just the right number of times without going overboard. From the premise of the movie, you know that you’re going to have to twelve pubs with these characters and that could easily turn into a slog, but the pacing and the differentiation between the pubs prevents it from getting boring.

1. I know, it’s ridiculous that my complaint about so many of the Star Wars movies is that they spend too much time on space battles when that is, like, exactly what it says on the label. ^
2. Not including the fucking nerds who follow the Star Wars Extended Universe, I guess. ^
3. Except…wasn’t she political in her years with Saw Gerrera? And hasn’t she had a personal stake in this since she was a tiny child and witnessed her mom getting killed? So what is the actual conflict? That she was dicking around in the time period (unclear how long) between being abandoned by Saw Gerrera and being picked up by the Alliance?^


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