Have seen a run of good movies lately

sing.jpgEither I’m mellowing out, or I’m having really good luck, or movies are getting better. Normally I hate both the big blockbuster films and the films that’re being positioned for awards. I hate them all!

But lately I’ve seen La La Land, Fantastic Beasts, Rogue One, and an animated film, Sing, and I enjoyed them all!!!

Rogue One was a relief, because my expectations were so low. The last four Star Wars films (I do not except The Force Awakens) have been so bad. I really only want three things from an action film. I want to understand what the characters want. I want to understand why they want those things. And I want to experience some sense of tension or suspense. The Force Awakens failed on all of these counts. It was nothing more than a collection of fights that were stitched together by happenstance (kidnappings and bad luck, mostly) and neither the objective nor the motivations were ever clear.

Rogue One, in contrast, made much more sense. I knew exactly what they wanted to find at each moment. I had some sense of why they wanted to find those things. And I genuinely wondered whether and how they would succeed. It was such a relief to see a Star Wars movie that was actually watchable.

And because the movie was watchable, I saw, for the first time in decades, some of the things I like about Star Wars: the visuals, for one thing. Star Wars is such a janky, run-down future. Nothing looks like it’s well-maintained. Nothing is in good shape. Everybody dresses like they’re in the Wild West. It’s a sad, fallen place, with a few touches of grandeur. And I liked that!

I also thought they did an amazing job of resurrecting Grand Moff Tarkin. I read online a few reviewers who complained he looked fake and all CGI-ey, but that is bullshit. Going into the movie, I didn’t know the actor was already dead. All through the film I just thought, wow, that guy hasn’t aged at all in the last thirty years! Only as we were walking out did my dad tell me they’d actually digitally recreated him. You could not tell the difference! It’s amazing! This shit is the future!

Let’s see what else. On the other end of the spectrum was Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. This is the new Harry Potter film. It’s a total mess. So many plot threads get introduced in this movie. I mean they’re still being introduced well into the halfway point. The main character does not have a strong reason for being involved in the action, he just sort of bumbles into it.

And yet…I understood what they were doing. They wanted to create a world that had as much richness as Hogwarts. They wanted to make something that could support a five-movie franchise. And I think they succeeded. I was not only charmed, I am positively eager to see what happens next. I loved Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander: the naturalist who’s both bold and shy, and who’s completely unable to get along with people. And I loved the slow burn of the romance. He and the female lead don’t even kiss! They don’t even acknowledge that they like each other! It was was utterly fantastic. I can’t wait to see what happens to them in the next book.

The plot was the usual ham-handed Harry Potter allegory, but the set-pieces had a lot of charm. And I liked the characters. And I thought some nice conflicts were built in w/r/t to how the Wizarding World sees all the (incredibly annoying and dangerous) creatures that Newt is trying to save.

Umm, what else, what else, what else. Loved La La Land. The ending at first made me incredibly angry, but I think they actually managed to pull it off. I did feel the story was a bit misaligned. The obstacle that came between them in the end seemed like it came out of nowhere. I mean, it was a problem that wasn’t even present at all in the beginning of the movie.

I thought Gosling and Stone had plenty of charm and chemistry, and I liked what it had to say about art and the artistic life. These are two people who’re more in love with the idea of being artists than they are with creation itself. They’re both obsessed with the mystique of old Hollywood, and, to them, capturing a piece of that glamor is the main reason for doing what they do. Which to me felt very honest. I think most artists, truth be told, care mostly about bottling and reproducing the way other art made them feel.

The singing and dancing were very mediocre. Not a memorable song in the bunch, too, which annoyed me. But I did like it a lot. Wouldn’t be too unhappy if it won an Oscar, particularly one for Best Original Screenplay.

Oh, and what was the last one? Sing. It’s an animated movie about talking animals that get into a singing competition. I have to say, it’s a pleasure to watch a film that’s well-structured. I swear to God, they literally create these animated movies in a laboratory, and it shows. This movie had a perfect structure. You had the show’s promoter, who’s sort of a huckster, and you had the five idealistic wannabes who he ropes into this competition. And each and every single one has a core conflict, and almost every scene is about increasing their stakes. For instance, the whole idea starts because the promoter needs to save his theater. So he has an incentive for the show to be a success. But then he accidentally prints that there’s a $100,000 prize (money he doesn’t have). So now if he’s gonna pay the prize, he REALLY needs the show to be a success. And then we learn that his dad spent all of his life savings so the hero could buy this place, and if he loses it he’ll be letting down his dad.

And it’s the same with each of the singers. They all have their personal stakes (why they need, on an emotional level, to win), and they often public stakes (why they need the money). And everything’s then layered over with another level of conflict because of course not everybody can win!

It was just such a pleasure, on a storytelling level, to watch. I mean this is basic storytelling, but it’s actually really hard to make everything fit, and oftentimes movies don’t even try! So I was very very very pleased with the way this one did. And also the climax of the monkey (Johnny) storyline literally made me cry.


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