City of Stars

la-la-land

In the first time since I started movie season, I walked out of a movie thinking, “this might be one of my new favorite movie.” Not my new favorite super hero movie, not my new favorite comedy, not my new favorite feminist deconstruction of an 80’s classic, but my new favorite movie.

And that’s La La Land. I mean, I’ll have to watch it a few more times to really know if it will stand along side Good Will Hunting or D2: The Mighty Ducks or Dogma or Sabrina or West Side Story, but I think it’s got a good shot. (Yes, I am aware that two of those movies don’t quite fit on that list. And yes I’m leaving it up to you which two those are.)

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling reunite (Crazy Stupid Love once got close to this list.) as two Hollywood dreamers, Mia wants to be an actress and Seb wants to save jazz, specifically by opening his own club. They have a whirlwind romance, punctuated by several old fashioned Hollywood musical numbers and blowing up when their dreams don’t pan out quite how they plan.

I was enjoying the movie the whole time, it’s hard not to be enamored of Gosling and Stone, but it’s the final piece that  pushed it over the top. Flashing forward five years, we see that Mia and Seb’s dreams have come true, but they’re apart. They collide for a moment and in a stunning tribute to An American In Paris, we see a fantasy, all in dance and pantomime of the road not taken.

La La Land is my favorite movie of the year, and might well make it to a totally different level of love for me. We’ll see.

Rankings:

  1. La La Land
  2. Moana
  3. The Nice Guys
  4. Arrival
  5. Don’t Think Twice
  6. Star Wars: Rogue One
  7. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
  8. Queen of Katwe
  9. Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
  10. Pete’s Dragon
  11. Ghostbusters
  12. Captain America: Civil War
  13. Kubo And The Two Strings
  14. Star Trek Beyond
  15. The Magnificent 7
  16. Doctor Strange
  17. X-Men: Apocalypse
  18. The Legend Of Tarzan
  19. Suicide Squad
  20. Finding Dory
  21. Independence Day: Resurgence
  22. Alice Through The Looking Glass

Trailers:

There were a bunch but mostly FENCES…Oh Good, god Fences. I’ve seen the trailer so many times and I’m still blown away with each one.

 

Hope

Here’s the thing with me and Star Wars, it’s too deep in me for me to do anything but love, at least on first pass. I’ll go back and find the problems but I’m just thrilled on the first go round.

Rogue One: A Star Wars story is a very different feel for a Star Wars movie. It’s pace and tone make The Empire Strikes Back feel like a comedic romp. This is a dark, dark movie. You know, for Star Wars.

Without too many spoilers, we get the story of Jyn Orso, the daughter of an Imperial Scientist who joins up with the Rebel Alliacne in order to first retrieve her father and then the plans to the battle station he designed. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s called The Death Star.

Over the course of the movie, Jyn teams up with a rag tag gang, and they succeed at a terrible cost. There’s scary villains, idealistic politicians but the movie is focused on the often terrible choices even the good guys have to make in order to free the people around them.

The return of Darth Vader is equal parts menacing and hilarious. (Maybe just to me, but I thought it was funny.) I was eager to see Jimmy Smits put in more work as Bail Organa and wasn’t disappointed. The reanimated Peter Cushing was a neat trick, but overused and the final shot of a young Carrie Fisher, off to start this whole thing.

In the great pantheon of Star Wars, I think Rogue One is one of the best made films in the series. It is not, however, going to be a favorite of mine, it didn’t hit me in the same way The Force Awakens did last year.

  1. Moana
  2. The Nice Guys
  3. Arrival
  4. Don’t Think Twice
  5. Star Wars: Rogue One
  6. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
  7. Queen of Katwe
  8. Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
  9. Pete’s Dragon
  10. Ghostbusters
  11. Captain America: Civil War
  12. Kubo And The Two Strings
  13. Star Trek Beyond
  14. The Magnificent 7
  15. Doctor Strange
  16. X-Men: Apocalypse
  17. The Legend Of Tarzan
  18. Suicide Squad
  19. Finding Dory
  20. Independence Day: Resurgence
  21. Alice Through The Looking Glass

 

It’s Not A Weapon, It’s A Gift

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I get the feeling that over the next few years communication is going to be a very big theme in art.

That’s a very good thing, because if there’s anything that we all need to be reminded of it’s that there’s value in speaking to one another, and taking a minute to understand it.

That’s one of the many things that I got as I walked out of Arrival, it’s a really very special film that tells an incredible sci fi story with almost no bombast, no action at all, and a brilliant script and a few really outstanding performances.

When 12 alien ships land in random places across the world, the first step that world governments take is to figure out how to speak to the aliens. They enlist Dr. Louise Banks to decode the strange language that the aliens speak in. She’s assisted by physicist Ian Donelly, and the film flashes through her life in bits here and there, as they solve the puzzle.

My favorite movie of Movie Season 2015 was The Martian, because it opened my eyes to the idea that drama could be created by kind, intelligent people being good at their jobs, when faced with extraordinary circumstances. Arrival does something similar and yet it’s also unlike any movie I’ve ever seen. Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forrest Whittaker are all incredible and the third act reveal is particularly gut wrenching.

Arrival is probably a really important movie, and worth seeking out.

Rankings!

  1. Moana
  2. The Nice Guys
  3. Arrival
  4. Don’t Think Twice
  5. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
  6. Queen of Katwe
  7. Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
  8. Pete’s Dragon
  9. Ghostbusters
  10. Captain America: Civil War
  11. Kubo And The Two Strings
  12. Star Trek Beyond
  13. The Magnificent 7
  14. Doctor Strange
  15. X-Men: Apocalypse
  16. The Legend Of Tarzan
  17. Suicide Squad
  18. Finding Dory
  19. Independence Day: Resurgence
  20. Alice Through The Looking Glass

Trailers

Passengers looks really good, and I’m kind of psyched that we’re entering a new era for sci fi and adventure, where they’re going to tell more grown up and original stories.

Hidden Figures – Seriously, I can’t wait for this movie.

You Need A Giver

fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them

I knew that I was going to at the very least enjoy Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, and I walked out feeling satisfied but not overwhelmed. My exact word was “cute.” But the more I think about the movie, the more I think it’s one of the most beautiful entries in The Wizarding World.

It’s not because of the plot, which like most of Rowling’s work amounts to “a group of misfits chase after a Maguffin that is linked to a Dark Wizard” but in it’s small details which gives us glimpses of this world we all thought we knew so well.

The movie takes place in New York in 1926, where New Scamander has arrived, hoping, as it turns out to get out west and set a poached Thunderbird free. He quickly becomes entangled with Tina Goldstein, a former Auror, now working a desk job after she confronted a group of anti magic cultists. This entanglement also brings him into contact with curious and big hearted No-maj (American for Muggle) Jacob Kowalski and Tina’s sister Queenie.

They chase after some of Newt’s escaped creatures, and get lured into a larger mystery involving the sinister seeming Auror Graves and the same magic hating cult, which deals with an phenomenon of child witches and wizards surpressing their magic and being consumed and unable to control themselves. This of course calls to mind, at least for me, the fate of poor Arianna Dumbledore.

Revealing more than that would spoil the twists which makes the movie’s plot anything special, so I won’t do that. As I said, what really impressed me were the myriad of small details. Albus Dumbledore gets a name drop, and we learn that at Hogwarts, Newt was involved with one of the Lestrange girls. We learn that even the Wizarding community was brought into the chaos of World War I (Newt worked with Dragons on the front.) A few of the differences between American and British wizarding culture are interesting, the one that stands out to me most of all was the use of House Elves. Obviously, we know their British deal, but in America, they appear to take on the tasks that in the No-Maj community would be done by people of color in the period (A jazz singer, shoe shiner, elevator operator.) Just really interesting.

Anyway, Fantastic Beasts is a worthwhile addition to the Wizarding World canon, and I’m sure that I’ll analyze it plenty more as I watch it a few more times. But for an intial watch, I greatly enjoyed it and the cast, Eddie Redmayne especially are all wonderful. I’m rarely let down watching Halle Berry and Colin Farell though, so that’s not hard.

Rankings:

  1. The Nice Guys
  2. Don’t Think Twice
  3. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
  4. Queen of Katwe
  5. Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
  6. Pete’s Dragon
  7. Ghostbusters
  8. Captain America: Civil War
  9. Kubo And The Two Strings
  10. Star Trek Beyond
  11. The Magnificent 7
  12. Doctor Strange
  13. X-Men: Apocalypse
  14. The Legend Of Tarzan
  15. Suicide Squad
  16. Finding Dory
  17. Independence Day: Resurgence
  18. Alice Through The Looking Glass

Trailers

Still no Wonder Woman? Like, what the hell dude? There was good stuff though.

Beauty And The Beast looks so exceptionally beautiful, and I was of course, crying through the whole thing.

Sing – Some new stuff in this trailer, I’m still intrigued by this movie, like not enough to run off and see it, but enough to watch it someday.

The Lego Batman Movie – I’m so in!! I can’t wait for it.

 

The Little One Can Become The Big One

Queen Of Katwe is a very special movie. Also it made me want to hug my mom and those teachers that believed in me.

Anyway, it’s the true story of Chess Master Phiona Mutesi, who grew up in the slums of Katwe, Uganda, and through hard work and prodigious talent, became an elite chess master. The movie follows some sports movie clichés, but for the most part sidesteps those by it’s game of choice (chess) and it’s setting (poverty stricken Africa), oh, also it’s hero, (shy but intelligent preteen African girl!) sets it apart.

The story itself is straightforward, but the devil is in the details and the details are wonderful. There’s also just not enough praise in the world for this cast. Madina Nalwanga is wonderful as Phiona, every move she makes feels subtle and real. David Oyelowo turns in an inspirational and warm performance as Robert Ketende, the missionary who teaches Phiona, and the other children of Katwe chess. And then there’s Lupita Nyong’o.

We do not deserve this woman’s talent. We do not deserve her beauty and her intensity, but for whatever reason this angel of the art of acting has decided to bless us with her presence, so maybe WE DON’T FUCK THIS UP HOLLYWOOD. She’s going to be the new Meryl Streep and it’s time for us all to get on board. She’s incredible in this movie as Harriet, Phiona’s mother. Just, indescribably good.

Rankings!

  1. The Nice Guys
  2. Don’t Think Twice
  3. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
  4. Queen of Katwe
  5. Pete’s Dragon
  6. Ghostbusters
  7. Captain America: Civil War
  8. Kubo And The Two Strings
  9. Star Trek Beyond
  10. The Magnificent 7
  11. X-Men: Apocalypse
  12. The Legend Of Tarzan
  13. Suicide Squad
  14. Finding Dory
  15. Independence Day: Resurgence
  16. Alice Through The Looking Glass

Trailers!

Some documentary about Eagle Hunting that I really want to see but can’t remember the name of. It looks frickin cool though.

Fantastic Beasts trailer that I’ve never seen before. The movie looks more interesting now. My hatred of Eddie Redmayne is pretty well eclipsed by my love of all things Wizarding World, and Colin Farrell and Halle Berry and period, so you know, there’s that.

Hidden Figures: And we will look upon Taraji P. Henson and we will say, “she is queen of us all.” We will look upon Kirsten Dunst and say, “I am so glad you’ve kept up being low key and successful your whole life.” We will look upon Kevin Costner and say, “We have always loved you and shall continue to do so.” We will look upon Jim Parsons and say, “AWWW.” (I am looking forward to this movie)

Moana: MOANA!!!!!!!! Everytime I see any trailers I just think, “MAAAAN, the man is NON STOP!” Brace for EGOT.

Beauty And The Beast: It really does look stunning. But this time around, I was focused on the music. That tinkling theme really might be some of Ashman’s best music. You know the one that I mean, “DO do do do do do DOOOOO.” (If you’re familiar with the Broadway music, it’s the melody that The Beast Sings in, “If I Can’t Love Her,” the “Long ago I should have seen, all the things I might have been. Careless and unthinking I moved ON WARRRRDDD!!!”) Anyway, it’s a lovely tune.

A Rebellion Is Based On Hope

I was going to write about a running milestone I hit this week, but that’s going to have to wait because NEW ROGUE ONE TRAILER.

Just to get it out of the way, the only reason I wasn’t sobbing, was because I’m currently hopped up on Dayquil and can’t quite feel the full spectrum of emotion right now.

But I still got choked up.

Overall, I’m excited, Jyn’s father is the one who designed The Death Star!!!! This is great, because in case you missed it over the past forty years, but family legacy is kind of a thing in Star Wars.

Also we see more Darth Vader, and more X-Wings, we learn that “Rogue One” is the call sign of the team, and we learn about how the fading rebellion needs heroes and hope and OMG YOU ARE ABOUT TO GET ALL OF THE HOPE REBELLION!!!!

 

Just Make Sure We’re Fighting The Battle In Front Of Us

Guys! Movie season is back! The past month has been too busy to go see movies that I was only lukewarm about, but I’m pretty sure from here on, there’s something I want to see every weekend again!

As I sat on Tuesday night watching Antoine Fuqua’s new version of The Magnificent 7, I tried to remember the last time I watched the 1963 movie, (sometime in high school, I think,) and when the last I watched the Kurosawa’s original Seven Samurai, (probably college), when I decided that The Western was a genre I actually gave a shit about, (definitely college), when I realized I’d go see Chris Pratt in anything (halfway through season 3 of Parks And Recreation) and when Denzel Washington became a constant presence in my 5 favorite actors (middle school, though I didn’t realize he had the official title of Greatest Actor of All Time Period until about 2 years ago.) So that’s a lot of baggage to bring into a movie, that, on it’s own is pretty fluffy.

Don’t get me wrong, I like fluff, especially fluff like Magnificent 7, which is good looking, exciting and fun fluff. If you don’t know the story of The Magnificent 7 you probably haven’t ever watched movies before, so I suggest you get on it, but basically, in this variation, a robber baron has begun victimizing a small town of hardworking farmers, they recruit a bounty hunter, Sam Chisholm (Washington) to defend them and send the guy running, he gets together a band of six ragtag friends, (Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio and others) and they chase of the bad guys.

Of course what makes the story special is that the heroes are kind of bad guys themselves, who’ve decided to do something good, for the money, but still.

Overall the movie is great. It’s stunning visually, and the cast jibes well, and the action is clean and the quips are there. It’s not anything special though and can’t touch the magic of it’s source material. (That’s really unfair, I know…but still…) The whole enterprise is worth it to see Denzel, in all black, on a black horse, riding through the desert. That’s an image that the world deserves.

Rankings!

  1. The Nice Guys
  2. Don’t Think Twice
  3. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
  4. Pete’s Dragon
  5. Ghostbusters
  6. Captain America: Civil War
  7. Kubo And The Two Strings
  8. Star Trek Beyond
  9. The Magnificent 7
  10. X-Men: Apocalypse
  11. The Legend Of Tarzan
  12. Suicide Squad
  13. Finding Dory
  14. Independence Day: Resurgence
  15. Alice Through The Looking Glass

Trailers

I don’t think there was anything new…Inferno looks like, really, really bad though. Rogue One still makes me cry.

And That Is The Least Of It

I love stories about storytelling. I think it’s because I’m a writer that’s up my ass about criticism, but nothing gets me quite like talking about why stories matter to the larger world. (We like being reminded that we matter.)

Kubo And The Two Strings is not exactly a meta narrative, but it is deeply invested in both craft and stories, which fit in well with Laika’s hand crafted stop motion animation style. Kubo is beautiful, heartfelt, just scary enough and something of a triumph.

We follow our eleven year old hero Kubo as he hunts for his long dead father’s mystical armor, in the attempt to thwart his grandfather, the wicked Moon King, and his two aunts. His grandfather stole his eye when he was a baby for vague mythological magic reasons, and his mother has lost her mind in her grief over his father and trying to protect him.

Kubo is aided in his adventure by Monkey, a guardian brought to life by his mother’s magic, and Beetle, a samurai transformed into a giant amnesiatic bug man, because that’s the single coolest thing ever.

There’s a lovely twist that drives home the family theme of the whole thing and as I said before, no one makes movies quite like Laika. Kubo is another truly wonderful entry for them.

Rankings

  1. The Nice Guys
  2. Don’t Think Twice
  3. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
  4. Pete’s Dragon
  5. Ghostbusters
  6. Captain America: Civil War
  7. Kubo And The Two Strings
  8. Star Trek Beyond
  9. X-Men: Apocalypse
  10. The Legend Of Tarzan
  11. Suicide Squad
  12. Finding Dory
  13. Independence Day: Resurgence
  14. Alice Through The Looking Glass

Trailers

Sing really does look so adorable. I can’t wait to watch it. I probably won’t go in the theater though.

Moana – It feels so close, and yet so far away at the same time. But like how you couldn’t keep me away from Creed on Black Friday last year, you’re not keeping me away from Moana this year!

Surprised, but also glad there was no Miss Perigrine’s trailer. I’m looking forward to the movie, but I’m getting as tired of that trailer as I was of Jason Bourne

Who’s Elliot?

Petes-Dragon-Poster-2

Like every trained musical theater singer since 1977, when Pete’s Dragon was initially released, I have stood in front of an audience and attempted to melt hearts with the plaintive ballad, “Candle On The Water.”

So I went into the new version this week, ready for Pete’s Dragon to tug on my heart strings. I did not expect to weep my way through the third act and still be crying when I got home. This movie is beautifully emotional and terribly sweet and absolutely lovely.

I barely remember the original movie beyond the song, but I think I was pretty fond of it as a child, and the image of the little boy Pete, curled up with dragon Elliot has pretty much been stamped in my brain. And that gets reproduced ten fold. Oakes Fagley is incredibly endearing as Pete. This is one of the greatest ever child performances, almost completely natural. Also, he roars at a bear to try to scare it away, and your heart melts.

Bryce Dallas Howard is all love and warmth as Grace, the forest ranger who finds Pete, and Robert Redford brings a certain folksy gravitas to the proceedings as her father, who once encountered Elliot on a hunting trip.

The movie keeps the story small and focused, which makes the spectacle of a CGI Rendered dragon all the more special, and allows the sweetness of the characters to come through fully. Even the antagonist, a logger played by Karl Urban isn’t nasty, he’s just, well, confused and a little bit shallow. (Although his eventual plan does basically come down to “Part 1: Catch Dragon; Part 2: ????; Part 3: PROFIT!)

I’ve ranted about Disney being on a roll, and it really isn’t stopping, but what’s most interesting about these remakes is finding new ways into these stories, while keeping their hearts. Pete’s Dragon has a lot of heart.

Rankings

  1. The Nice Guys
  2. Don’t Think Twice
  3. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
  4. Pete’s Dragon
  5. Ghostbusters
  6. Captain America: Civil War
  7. Star Trek Beyond
  8. X-Men: Apocalypse
  9. The Legend Of Tarzan
  10. Suicide Squad
  11. Finding Dory
  12. Independence Day: Resurgence
  13. Alice Through The Looking Glass

Trailers

Moana: I’ve seen this trailer so many times, and I love it more and more each time. I’m so excited for this movie, and I’m even more excited to be in Disney World with a new princess to meet! (And Lin-Manuel songs to sing…)

Sing!: This looks so goddamn charming even if it also looks a little bit stupid.

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them: Look, if the past week has taught me anything it’s that I’m never going to be able to leave The Wizarding World. I will take whatever door I can to get there.

The Queen of Katwe: This movie is going to make me cry a lot, I have a feeling.

Monster Trucks: This looks dumb as anything, but also charming and has Jane Levy in it. I miss Suburgatory enough to see this dumb movie about monsters who build truck engines.

 

Everything Ends

I’ve been having a weird dialog with myself over the past few weeks, as I realized how much I’ve sacrificed to build up my theatre group. It’s a weird bunch of emotional math as I wonder if I maybe wasted my 20’s, when most people were pursuing profitable careers or building healthy relationships, I was producing community theater…

All this to say that this put me in the exactly right headspace to meditate of Don’t Think Twice, Mike Birbiglia’s film about an improv troupe grappling with their next step, in both comedy and life.

This movie is garnering almost entirely positive reviews and it’s easy to see why. It’s beautifully made. I’ve been a fan of Birbiglia for years, and even though improv as an art gives me a headache, it was easy to see myself and my friends in this group. The story is simple and heartfelt, one member of the group ascends to the heights of “Weekend Live,” a barely veiled stand in for SNL, and he and the others must deal with how this changes things.

Birbiglia himself plays Miles, the founder of The Commune, and kind of a washed up never was. He auditioned for Weekend Live once upon a time, a story he’s been dining out on for years.

Keegan Michael Key continues to cement himself as my favorite actor as Jack, the guy that makes it.

Gillian Jacobs plays the one who doesn’t want more, who considers improv to be the end all be all. She makes this girl endearing rather than just annoying.

Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher and Chris Getherd round out the group, and it’s all just so good. I can barely review this movie, it’s that good.

Rankings

  1. The Nice Guys
  2. Don’t Think Twice
  3. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
  4. Ghostbusters
  5. Captain America: Civil War
  6. Star Trek Beyond
  7. X-Men: Apocalypse
  8. The Legend Of Tarzan
  9. Suicide Squad
  10. Finding Dory
  11. Independence Day: Resurgence
  12. Alice Through The Looking Glass

Trailers

These are not my usual thing at all, as quiet indie dramedy tends to fall below my radar, I only knew about this because of podcasts.

American Honey – For some reason during this trailer, I kept thinking about how from like 2007-2009, I had a huge crush on Shia LaBouef. Like many things from that time in my life that feels very disconnected from who I am and how I feel now…regardless, that movie looks like it’ll annoy me.

The Hallers – Oh baby, I like nothing more than “one sibling comes home to family dysfunction” movies. They’re the freaking best. And this one has John Krazinski!

Office Christmas Party – No matter how stupid this movie is, the cast will save it. Jen Anniston, TJ Miller and Kate McKinnon, I’m counting on you.