2016 Movie Review Part 2: Movies I Liked

These movies are definitely worth watching if you have the time, but aren’t quite at the level where I’d insist that you watch them. They are overall enjoyable experiences, but have flaws that keep them from being among my all time favorites.

  1. Kizumonogatari Part 1: Takketsu

After 6 years in development, hopefully it will have been worth the weight wait. While Kizumonogatari isn’t quite the length of a feature film (more like the first episode of a BBC television series), the production value rivaled that of its cinematic counterparts. Now that the novels are finally being officially translated into English, I’ve had the opportunity to read the source material for one of the most innovative anime series of the decade. Although this does spoil the overall plot for the trilogy, there’s still much to look forward to in the animated adaptation. It made me realize how much of what makes the Monogatari franchise unique is Akiyuki Shinbo’s direction and the influence of new wave cinema. I won’t ramble on too much about this movie because it’s a already a rather niche show within the anime community where people either love it or pretend to not love it, so if you’re a fan of the series, you’ve probably already seen this movie already by hook or by crook. If not, go watch it now.

  1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

I didn’t expect Rogue One to be quite so divisive in people’s opinion. There are those who consider it on par with the original trilogy, and those who thought it was just an “okay” movie that had numerous flaws. Those who criticize the movie certainly have valid points, but overall I find myself in the former camp. While Episode VII seemed to reboot the franchise and inject new life into it, Rogue One is another bridge that provides a better backstory to the events of the original trilogy than anything in the prequel trilogy. While the characters weren’t as fleshed out as I had hoped and some of the editing is chaotic, the worldbuilding was successful in making Star Wars seem like a world that exists outside the movies, one with a real mythos and history. The characters, while neither the most original or complex, were ones you could care about, especially the side characters. And maybe I’m just blind, but I did not find the use of CGI for certain characters disconcerting at all (well, except at the very end). In fact I didn’t realize that it was CGI through most of the film.

Oh and as everyone else has said, VADER THO.

  1. La La Land

I loved Whiplash (2014) despite its flaws, as I’ve detailed in my review. La La Land had the same director and many other stylistic similarities (including a minor role for J.K. Simmons), but while it’s a movie that will likely cash in at the Oscars this year, I found it not quite as groundbreaking as its spiritual ancestor. La La Land suffers from similar problems to Miss Hokusai, several conflicting identities that fail to serve a greater whole. The film tries to be a throwback to older musicals while trying to be surrealist while trying to be a drama while trying to explore the evolution of jazz while highlighting the struggles of the entertainment industry. It tries to both be unique and original while paying homage to older movies like West Side Story (1961) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952). Damien Chazelle desperately tries to fit all these creative ideas into one film, but the constantly shifting tone and scenes that seem to fit the format of a stand alone short film rather than being part of a feature makes for a movie that’s held together by Elmer’s Glue rather than one where each scene is carefully crafted to fit naturally into the whole.

Its schizophrenic writing notwithstanding, there were plenty of things to praise about La La Land. The acting was top notch from both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. I was going to call this review “Emma Stone stares into a mirror and cries” but given some scenes of character development she was able to take a previously generic uninteresting character and make her someone the audience could invest in. Ryan Gosling is unfair. He learned how to play jazz piano in just 3 months, and some of those sequences would have been difficult for me to play after nearly 20 years of keyboard experience. Of course the song and dance numbers were very well executed, although the ones earlier in the film seemed more forced and generic (perhaps trying too hard to be like the ones they were homaging) than the ones later on.

Overall La La Land was a film I’m glad to have seen in theaters. It’s not going to be among my favorite films of all time or even among my favorites of the year, but it was certainly worth the watch.

  1. Deadpool

If I had to choose one character that codified the notion of postmodernism, I would without a doubt choose Wade Wilson, alias Deadpool. While there are certainly other characters that question the nature of plot and characterization, there are few if any that do so in a more irreverent yet entertaining way than Deadpool. It’s not just about breaking the fourth wall and making a few jokes. It’s about challenging the very structure of one of the most popular story genres of the 20th century, superheroes, which serve as our modern myths.

I won’t get too philosophical about this movie because its main value isn’t as much in its deconstructionism but its humor. Successful R rated comedies seem few and far between because producers usually fail to realize that actual effort is required for success. Sex appeal and sophomoric humor (which, granted, Deadpool had as well), will only take you so far. It’s only when you treat your audience with respect rather than as mindless idiots that your humor can reach a wide appeal.

  1. Zootopia

“But it’s a buddy cop movie.”

That’s what I told myself throughout the first half of Zootopia, a movie that is so unashamed of its tropes that I was surprised that it wasn’t trying to be a straight up parody. However, calling Zootopia a buddy cop movie is like calling Spirited Away (2001) an Isekai (trapped in another world) movie. I’m going to steal the words of PMRants for this one.

“When Disney was making Zootopia they could have just made the movie about animals doing nonsensical animal things, called it a day, and it still would have made a metric ****ton of money. So it’s all the more impressive that they made Zootopia, or Zootropolis if you live in the UK, such a well written and thematically powerful work of art.”

The creativity in Zootopia is incredible. Even in the portions that had animals doing nonsensical things, it was obvious that a lot of thought and effort were put into how the animals would interact with each other, how they overcame the differences in size and biology. The comedy was legitimately hilarious, and not all of it had to do with animals doing silly things, there were pop culture references, creative slapstick, observational commentary, and legitimately witty humor. The one thing that keeps Zootopia from being higher on this list was its predictable plot and character interactions. While there are other movies higher on this list that also have this issue, there’s something about Zootopia that is constantly reminding you of the buddy cop formula. For a movie that had the potential to be progressive and reconstructive, I thought this was a missed opportunity.

See also: Part 1

Part 3

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