We’re in that barren wasteland of movie releases: after thanksgiving and before Christmas. This week we have two wide releases that probably nobody really wants to see and three smaller films that nobody will get to see. Let’s get started!
Month: November 2016
Starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson
“Oh, shall I have chamomile tea? Or shall I have some other sort of FUCKING TEA?” I think about this quote a lot. It’s a line from “The Tandem Story” which made its rounds in the late ’90s, when the Internet was in its infancy and genderized humor was still riding a Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus high. Sent primarily via email forwards with the subject line FW: FW: FW: TOO FUNNY!!!! it purported to be a real assignment wherein a male and female student take turns writing paragraphs with the goal to create a unified story. How it plays out is that the woman wants the story to be about mulling over lost love while drinking tea, and the man keeps trying to veer it into an exciting space combat adventure. You can read it here, or you can just watch Nocturnal Animals, which is kind of the same thing.
For at least a decade now, one of the largest criticisms of the film industry has been its inability to create anything new and original. Sequels, prequels, adaptations of preexisting properties, remakes, rehashes; anything but brand new ideas. Disregarding the fact that there’s plenty of terrible original films that grace screens nationwide and a seemingly unending stream of independent films just waiting for people to view them, it’s easy to complain about safe, big budget studio movies being forced down our throats on nearly every media platform known to man. A new symptom of these gigantic blockbuster anthology films and the universes they create is the ability for new stories to be told within the already established rules and lore of said universe. We’re collectively going to see at least one of these every other year by way of the Disney-backed Star Wars universe, starting with Rogue One, but the Harry Potter universe got the first shot with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Arrival is terrible. I don’t want any confusion on this point. It’s sitting on a 90+% fresh rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and that is a shocking failure of the film criticism community. If you look through the positive reviews for this film, you’ll find a common theme: it gets lauded for being “cerebral” or “intellect-stroking” or some other nonsense. Which essentially means critics will feel their intellect is validated by praising a movie that is, on its surface, about linguistics. (Noam Chomsky is a linguist, isn’t he? And he’s smart as hell!) In reality, Arrival is exactly as devoid of character, plot, or narrative logic as any summer blockbuster garbage that critics trip over each other to condemn. But it’s slow and boring and scored with sad string music, so critics that don’t deserve their jobs will tell the public it’s “smart sci-fi.”
They say write what you know. Who’s they? Doesn’t matter. While I don’t know what it’s like to grow up black and gay in America, I do know good movies when I see them (usually). Moonlight is a good movie about growing up black and gay and male in America. The main character, Chiron, grows up in Florida, where the director and myself were born, so I do know that fairly well. But since I’m a straight white guy who did not grow up in the projects of Florida I can’t say that I know the world on display in this film. Fortunately, the masterful writing and direction of Barry Jenkins presents this world in an intimate enough manner that any human with a functioning heart will appreciate.
Stop me if you’ve heard this premise before: affluent white man experiences a traumatic event in his life that not only sets him on the path towards heroism but is also the catalyst for correcting all of his character flaws. During the course of his journey and the fostering of his newfound power, he is thrust into a battle much too big for any one man, but somehow only he is qualified to overcome. If that sounds like the plot of almost any comic book origin story to you, it’s because as hackneyed as it is, it works. It attempts to endear us to flawed characters by reflecting our own shortcomings and showing that anyone can become a hero. Particularly if you’re incredibly skilled in some field and have a ton of cash! Doctor Strange doesn’t break the mold of the superhero origin story by any stretch of the imagination. It’s safe to say—and I’m sure numerous other blog posts and tweets will confirm—that that this movie is basically Iron Man with magic. If you step back and take off your critic’s hat, that actually sounds pretty badass.