The Best and Worst of 2016

What a year, right? The main theme of the Internet right now seems to be that 2016 sucked. And most of the movies contributed to, rather than alleviating, the general suckage. But we shouldn’t forget that this year had its bright spots. There were even a few good movies. Here’s a list of my favourites from 2016.

But first, let me list my least favourites.

3. The Jungle Book

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I am morally opposed to live-action remakes of Disney cartoons. Especially when they aren’t really even live-action. Everything in this movie was CGI, except for Mowgli (which actually makes his acting pretty impressive). It was pretty great CGI, to be sure, but it was still incredibly unnecessary, since we already have the cartoon version. And it turned the fun King Louis song into a vaguely disturbing scene with a giant gangster orangutan.

2. Ghostbusters

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It’s not that I hated this movie. I actually found it pretty entertaining. It’s just that it was so forgettable. It’s only been a few months since I saw it, and I’ve already forgotten almost everything about it. There was just nothing special or unique that stood out to me. My feelings about it are a solid “meh.”

  1. Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice

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I am still amazed by how terrible this movie was. Like, I knew it wasn’t going to be good, but I thought that a movie starring the two most iconic, beloved superheroes of all time couldn’t help having a few fun moments, even if it was directed by Zack Snyder. But no. It’s not even bad enough to be fun–except for the “Martha” scene. That was gold. I laughed my head off. But everything else was either boring or incredibly obnoxious (lookin’ at you, Lex). Between this and Suicide Squad (which I still haven’t seen, due to not wanting to spend money on it), I think it’s about time DC cut its losses and took a break from making live-action films. They can start again in a few years when they hire some decent writers and directors.

Okay, good movies now!

 

5. Doctor Strange

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It’s weird. It’s fun. It’s got amazing effects. It’s got Benedict Cumberbatch and the Cloak of Levitation (and if I’m being honest, I find those two equally attractive). Most importantly (spoiler alert), the titular hero saves the day by annoying a cosmic being so much it goes away. Plus, everything in the movie has an awesome name, like the Eye of Agamotto. I don’t care if it has all the usual Marvel problems, plus a nasty case of white-washing and a lot of plot ripped from Iron Man. I still love it, and no one can take that away from me.

4. 10 Cloverfield Lane

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John Goodman deserves an Oscar. Actually, with the number of movies he’s been in, I’m amazed he hasn’t won one already. But he definitely deserves one for this movie.

3. Kubo and the Two Strings

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It’s the most beautiful film of the year. The music is beautiful, the animation is ridiculously beautiful, and the story is beautiful. Pixar is spinning swiftly down the drain, but I think Laika is poised to become their successor in the “making amazing animated movies” category.

2. Arrival

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If I were a professional film critic with a degree in Film Studies or something (I’m not), I would probably say this was the best movie of the year. It’s artsy without being pretentious, surprising without being gimmicky, and understated without being boring. It’s full of great performances, great music, and fantastic cinematography. And it has arguably the most intelligent script of any movie in 2016.

  1. Rogue One

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But, because I don’t have any film-related degrees and my taste in movies is anything but sophisticated, this was the 2016 movie dearest to my heart. It was so exciting to see a Star Wars movie on the big screen that actually lived up to its predecessors’ standards. I had never experienced that before, and it was glorious. Besides, we lost Carrie Fisher this week. With the state my emotions are in right now, I would give this movie the top spot even if it were only half as good as it is.

 

TV bonus: Stranger Things

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Everyone’s seen this show by now, so I don’t need to tell you why it’s so great. Except I do need to say that Millie Bobby Brown deserves every acting award ever invented, because that can’t be said often enough.

B0nus bonus: Moon

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This movie didn’t come out this year, but I did watch it for the first time this year. I just wanted to mention it because it’s freaking amazing, and not enough people have seen it. 90 percent of it is two actors (one of whom is never actually seen, because he’s voicing a robot) in a space station on the moon, and it’s the most mind-blowing sci-fi movie you could hope to see. I can’t say anything about the plot, except that there are at least two or three times when I, the viewer, realised I wasn’t watching the movie I expected to be watching. And in this day and age, it’s hard to pull off more than one huge movie surprise that actually works.

See? 2016 wasn’t that bad after all! But let’s hope 2017 is still better. At least in terms of movies. Lord knows we’re going to need some distraction.

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Monthly Movie Rant: A New Year’s resolution

Would you look at that? Christmas is literally three days away, and 2016 is almost over.

“Good riddance!” -The World

This is the time of year when most people start looking at their lives, realising how deeply they have failed in all their goals for the past year, and resolving to do better next year. I am no different, but I’m only going to share with you my blogging New Year’s resolutions. There are two.

First, in 2017, I resolve not to review any sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots or movies based on video games. There were waaaaayyyy too many of those in 2016, and while they were occasionally decent, and one of them actually ended up being my favourite movie of the year, I’m tired of spending my money on movies that only exist to make money. I don’t have all that much cash (one of my personal New Year’s resolutions is to start saving), and I’d rather spend it on movies that are at least trying to be art, in some sense of the word. So I will not be watching, let alone reviewing, the 500th Pirates of the Caribbean movie, or the live-action Beauty and the Beast, or the…King Kong sequel that’s apparently happening? Nope. None of that.

Why is this allowed to exist?

The only exception to this rule is superhero movies. Because I’m an absolute sucker when it comes to those. And there are some really promising-looking ones coming out next year: LEGO Batman, a Wolverine movie that actually looks good, the new Spider-Man…I’m even holding out hope the Wonder Woman movie might be okay. I realise it’s a long shot, since it’s live-action DC and Zack Snyder is probably involved somehow, but wouldn’t it be great if it didn’t suck?

Anyhow, my second resolution is to broaden my horizons. When one lives in America, it is incredibly easy to only watch American movies. Hollywood puts out so many, and they’re so readily available, that you can watch a movie every day and never even notice that other countries have film industries, too. I think it’s shocking that an aspiring film buff such as myself has only seen one or two non-American movies in their entire life. The number of countries I’ve visited is greater than the number of foreign movies I’ve watched. And that’s terrible.

Yes, Godzilla. You are right to judge.

So, to correct that error, I will be reviewing one foreign movie per month throughout 2017. They will be of all genres, ages and languages, and I will be taking requests (although I have a pretty long list already). They’ll all be new to me, and hopefully some will be new to you readers as well.

Allow me to conclude my blogging resolutions by wishing you all a happy Christmas and New Year. Thanks for reading my blog!

I leave you with the best Christmas movie of all time.

Sincerely,
The Wizard

Rogue One

Star Wars is back! Merry Christmas, everybody!!

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I hesitate to call this movie a prequel, because we all know how Star Wars is with prequels, but…yeah, it’s a prequel. Taking place in the weeks just before the beginning of A New HopeRogue One: A Star Wars Story follows the Rebellion’s efforts to find the newly-completed Death Star’s weakness and destroy it. To do this, they rescue Jyn Erso, the estranged daughter of the super weapon’s chief engineer, from an Imperial prison in the hope that she can help them get to her father. Jyn is reluctant to join the rebel cause at first, but that changes once she finds out her father is secretly working for the same cause, and that he has purposefully placed a strategic weakness inside the planet-destroying weapon. After seeing what the weapon is capable of, she decides to risk everything to save the galaxy from its power. Together with rebel captain Cassian Andor, his reprogrammed Imperial droid, and a team of other misfits, she sets out on a desperate mission to steal the plans to the Death Star.

You know how, ever since The Phantom Menace came out, most every Star Wars fan over the age of 10 has been clamouring for Jar-Jar Binks’ head on a stick? Well, we’ll probably never get to see Jar-Jar die on-screen, but in a metaphorical sense, I think Rogue One will go down in history as the movie that killed him. Everything about it is the absolute antithesis of every idea that led to Jar-Jar’s existence. It’s the first episode of the Star Wars franchise that actually feels like a war movie. There are no flippy lightsaber battles, very few goofy aliens, and absolutely no attempts to pander to the kid demographic. Just a bunch of outnumbered, outgunned underdogs trying to fight back any way they can against a hugely powerful enemy.

Walkers vs. runners. Not good odds.

And it is dark. This movie makes The Empire Strikes Back look like…well, I was going to say ‘a Disney movie.’ How did Star Wars become less Disney after Disney acquired it? However it happened, Rogue One is not the type of fairy tale that made its parent company famous. For starters, none of the characters are exactly pure good. Almost all of them are trying to atone for past misdeeds, some of which were done on behalf of the Rebellion. And as for beating the bad guys–well, anyone who’s seen A New Hope knows that the Rebels succeed in getting the Death Star plans, but it’s pretty clear from the outset that it’s not going to be easy. The Rogue One team is made up of a few brand new characters who don’t appear in any movies that come later chronologically, fighting thousands of Stormtroopers who can actually aim for once and have an oversized gun–and a certain Sith Lord–backing them up. So…don’t get too attached to anybody, is what I’m saying.

Speaking of which, it’s hard to develop a lot of totally new characters in a movie as action-heavy as this one, but the Rogue One crew does a pretty good job overall. Jyn may be another female, British, brunette lead with anger issues, but she still manages not to come across like a Rey clone. Unfortunately, she’s also not as much fun to watch as Rey. (Which was a pretty high bar to clear.) But her partner, Cassian, is interesting enough to make up for it, with his moral ambiguity and need to atone for his past driving much of the movie’s (superior) second half. The blind, Force-believing ninja guy and his heavily-armed sidekick are a welcome addition, as well. But the best new character by far is the droid, K2SO, voiced by the great Alan Tudyk. His wonderful sarcasm and cynicism provides the movie some much-needed comic relief, and he’s also a lot better in a fight than most Star Wars droids. Alan Tudyk tends to be one of the best things about any movie he’s in, and this one is no exception.

Must be nice for Wash to look down on someone for once.

But while the heroes are pretty much all brand new, there are some familiar faces here, too. Moff Tarkin manages to make several appearances, despite the fact that his actor has been dead for more than 20 years. The CGI work used to accomplish this is some of the best I’ve ever seen–which means it only occasionally looks like someone put a cartoon head on a live-action body. There are a few other cameos from the Original Trilogy, some of which feel more forced than others.

But none of that really matters. What matters is that DARTH VADER IS BACK. And he’s here to remind us why he’s the baddest Big Bad of all pop culture. Vader’s only on screen for maybe five minutes total, but he makes every single second count. He’s never been more terrifying–or more awesome–than he is in the final scenes of this movie.

“Asdfasdlkfjasdjfhkj!!!!!!” – Me, during this scene.

Although Rogue One feels, if possible, even more like a love letter to the Original Trilogy than The Force Awakens did, it stands out from the rest of the franchise in a lot of ways. For one thing, it’s the first movie not to have the classic opening text stretching out to the stars. It’s the first movie without a soundtrack by John Williams (although Michael Giacchino imitates him pretty well). It’s the first movie without any Jedi in sight. And, based on my first viewing, I believe it’s the first movie in the series not to feature a Wilhelm scream.

It also differs from the rest of the series in its willingness to acknowledge the cost of a rebellion. Star Wars has always had a bit of a cavalier attitude towards unnamed casualties. It takes Leia about five seconds to get over the destruction of her planet in the very first movie, and most of the X-Wing pilots who die throughout the trilogy don’t get so much as a moment of silence from the rest of the cast. You could argue that the movies are just too full of plot and action to dwell on those casualties, but regardless, Rogue One is important because it finally makes those background sacrifices seem real and meaningful. Where other movies in the series have glossed over the issue, this one confronts the truth that defeating evil is never easy, and never comes without a price.

And it does so while still giving us the coolest, most epic battle sequence in Star Wars history. Good job, Gareth Edwards. I completely forgive you for Godzilla.

You thought TFA had some nice fight scenes? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

It might just be because my expectations were lower, but I think I like Rogue One even more than The Force Awakens. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s a strong contender for the title of Second Best Star Wars Movie Ever. (Nothing will ever beat The Empire Strikes Back, obviously.) It’s not perfect–the first half feels a bit disjointed at times, with all the skipping about between planets, and for all his awesomeness, I can’t deny that Darth Vader does make a pun at one point. But most of my complaints about this film could also be made about every other Star Wars film, and it compensates for them in so many more ways than its predecessors. Rogue One is as good as Star Wars gets, and that’s good enough for me.

So far, this movie is my favourite Christmas present.

Grade: A

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

I love Harry Potter as much as the next person, but it’s taken me a while to go see the latest movie set in the wizarding world. This is because I don’t believe in unnecessary prequels (especially not when they get turned into their own multi-film series–I’m still mad at Peter Jackson for the Hobbit movies), and everything in me recoils at the idea of making a movie as a follow-up to a series of books. The Harry Potter story was completed satisfactorily almost 10 years ago, the film series finished up equally well in 2011, and Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them just seemed like a shameless money-grab to me.

But of course I had to see it anyway.

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WARNING: Neither the following review nor the movie will make any sense unless you’ve read all the Harry Potter books and seen all previous movies, preferably multiple times.

Fantastic Beasts takes place across the pond from its predecessors, during the rise of Gellert Grindelwald in the 1920s. Newt Scamander, a sort of wizarding zoologist, arrives in New York City with a suitcase full of magical creatures (the case is bigger on the inside). Almost as soon as he sets foot in America, several of the creatures get loose, which is particularly bad during a time when evil magic is on the rise and many Americans are starting to get suspicious of magical activity. While Newt begins an impromptu scavenger hunt through New York for the missing creatures, he gets mixed up with an ex-Auror and her mind-reading sister, a hapless muggle, and the ridiculously strict Magical Congress of the United States of America. Meanwhile, another magical threat is building in New York that makes even the most dangerous of Newt’s pets look tame.

I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by many things in this movie. First off, it has two very important things that the Harry Potter books lacked: a Hufflepuff who isn’t a total loser (Newt himself), and a heroic muggle (Newt’s friend Jacob Kowalski–who is actually called a “No-Maj,” which, if I’m being honest, is exactly the kind of stupid term I’d expect American wizards to come up with.) The lack of good muggles, in particular, has always been one of my biggest pet peeves about the Harry Potter universe, so Kowalski’s presence is greatly appreciated.

Good news, kids: You don’t need magic powers to be useful!

Fantastic Beasts may have been made for greedy purposes, but it’s clear that good ol’ JK still put quite a bit of thought into writing the script. It’s fun to get a detailed, but not overly-exposited, look at what the wizarding world is like in another country, and what sorts of things wizards get up to after they’re done with school. The beasts are indeed fantastic, especially the cute Niffler and the majestic Thunderbird. And Eddie Redmayne is as delightful as ever in his role as a socially awkward animal lover who’s a lot more competent than he seems.

Tone-wise, this movie resembles the later Harry Potter instalments a lot more than the early ones–which makes sense, since it has the same director. There are plenty of fun scenes with the beasts causing mischievous mayhem, but it earns its PG-13 rating with themes of child abuse and some fairly gruesome on-screen deaths. More annoyingly, it continues the later Harry Potter movies’ habit of having wizards cast wandless spells left and right, and fight duels that consist of two wands pointing energy at each other. Neither of these things ever happens in the books except under special circumstances, and neither has ever made much sense to me. Wands also seem to behave oddly like guns in several scenes–but then, this is America.

Even our fake magical government sucks.

I have a couple of complaints about this movie. One is that it’s too long. Overall, I think JK did a pretty good job balancing action and exposition in this introduction to another side of her universe, but there are still several rather slow scenes–and an entire subplot involving a newspaper editor and his family–that could have been cut without damaging the story at all. The ending, in particular, seemed to drag on.

The other problem is that THEY’RE MAKING FOUR MORE OF THESE. That’s more than half the number of actual Harry Potter movies, and if all of them make money–which they will–I have no reason to believe Warner Brothers will stop there. One spin-off movie I could understand, but there is just not enough plot in this story, or its scant source material, to justify that kind of bloated franchise. When will we let Harry rest?

The one good thing about getting a whole prequel series is that we might eventually see the famous duel between Dumbledore and Grindelwald. And my excitement over that has now been diminished by the fact that Johnny Depp, of all people, is playing Grindelwald. I like Depp’s acting for certain, very specific roles (mainly bonkers ones), but I just can’t imagine taking him seriously as Wizard Hitler. And his brief cameo in this movie did not reassure me.

Sorry, but this guy was a much better villain.

But in the end, there’s a certain amount of storytelling magic that the Harry Potter universe just can’t seem to shake, however hard it tries. This movie has some genuinely heartwarming moments, some surprises, and plenty of fun in between. It avoids many of the common pitfalls of an unnecessary spin-off (like copying the plot of its predecessor), and actually manages to feel like a pretty original movie, even though it takes place in a familiar universe. Much like the Harry Potter books, it has several characters I instantly fell in love with (especially Newt, because Eddie Redmayne), and as much as I hate the idea of four more sequels, I won’t mind seeing what happens to some of these chaps later on.

Did this movie need to be made? No. But now that it’s here, we might as well enjoy it for the quite decent story it is, and remember that the original Harry Potter books will always be around for us purists.

And while we’re at it, let’s enjoy Eddie’s face, for it brings happiness and joy.

Grade: B+

Moana

I can’t decide how sad I should be that Disney owns Lin-Manuel Miranda now. On the one hand, I think it’s going to be a really bad thing for his creative freedom (not that we’re likely to hear him complaining), but on the other hand, it’s obviously a really good thing for Disney.

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Moana is the story of…Moana, the daughter of a village chief on the South Pacific island of Motu Nui. Despite being surrounded by ocean, her people refuse to sail very far out on it, for fear of monsters and storms. But our rebellious teen heroine loves the ocean, and it turns out the feeling is mutual. Meanwhile, a curse is destroying all the islands in the Pacific because a demigod named Maui has stolen, and subsequently lost, the heart of life-giving goddess Te Fiti. When the curse reaches Motu Nui, Moana sets off on a voyage to save her people by finding Maui and returning the heart.

This movie doesn’t seem to be getting Frozen levels of hype yet (thank the Lord), but just in case it gets there in the coming months, let me reassure you: nothing about Moana is going to revolutionise Disney forever. True, it taps into a culture and mythology that Disney hasn’t really explored before, which is cool. But it’s still about a princess (with the same face shape the animators have been using since Tangled, no less) who rebels against her overbearing dad and her society’s expectations, has a goofy animal sidekick, goes on a journey, finds out she’s The Chosen One, joins up with a grumpy magical creature, and gets encouraged by the ghost of a dead ancestor. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before.

It’s a good thing she’s not white, because I was running out of ways to tell Disney princesses apart.

The only thing Moana is missing, in terms of Disney princess cliches, is a prince. I guess this movie is slightly revolutionary in that, not only does Moana not have a love interest, but the topic of romance and/or marriage never comes up once in the entire story. Which is great, because there’s no room for it, and it’s about time we got a fantasy adventure that wasn’t bogged down by a romantic subplot. Moana’s got oceans to sail and islands to save! Romance can wait!

I will freely admit that the main reason I went to see this film on opening weekend was that I’m obsessed with Hamilton. But by and large, I enjoyed it. The animation is lovely, the characters are engaging, and it goes without saying that the music is awesome. (Except for the hideous pop cover of the main character’s signature song during the credits.) My favourite song is “We Know the Way,” the one where you can actually hear the Lin-Man’s beautiful, beautiful voice.

He’s the only Disney prince I need.

But I digress.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the Disney formula. It works spectacularly just as often as it doesn’t, and it’s produced many a classic in the past, which is why Disney owns the world now. Moana is a perfectly good princess movie, and, while it may not reach the heights of some of the greatest classics, it’s a huge improvement on Frozen.

But Moana is also an excellent example of some of the things I dislike most about Disney. For one thing, I can’t understand their current trend of injecting self-conscious, 2010s-style dialogue into supposedly timeless fairy tales. I am simply not amused by forced Twitter references and fourth-wall-breaking discussions on whether or not Moana fits into the Disney princess canon. I’d rather just laugh at the suicidal chicken, thank you very much. (I’ll admit, though, the sneaky Godzilla cameo made me smile.)

More importantly, though, this movie’s underlying message is the safest, most time-worn Disney message in history: Be yourself and follow your heart. I’ve always found that movie advice to be puzzling, because back when I was a part of Disney’s target demographic, my heart was mainly telling me to read books all day, throw rocks at my brother, and tell my little cousins that Santa Claus wasn’t real. And only one of those was a good thing. It’s all very well for Moana to follow her heart, since it only tells her to go sailing and save her island, but it’s not the best advice for most real people, especially children. Then again, when has Disney ever cared about reality?

Never. That’s when.

Other thoughts about Moana: 1. I had no idea The Rock had any talents other than body building, but he actually did a pretty fantastic job as Maui. 2. One minor villain’s song seemed weirdly out of place in this movie, but I still kinda liked it. 3. The coconut pirates were adorable and I want to hang one from my windshield.

All in all, a good Disney flick. Disney may never make something as great as Kubo, but they’ve done much worse than Moana.

“I forgive you for stealing Lin.” “You’re welcome.”

Grade: B+

Arrival

It’s a great time to be a sci-fi fan. It seems to be the only genre that still produces smart, creative movies on a semi-regular basis–and they just keep on getting better. This year’s model is Arrival.

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It starts by introducing us to Louise, the linguistics professor who will be the movie’s protagonist. But before we get to know her language skills, she’s shown as a mother, welcoming her brand new daughter to the world. In about five minutes, we see the daughter play in the backyard with her mom, struggle with school, grow into a rebellious teenager, get diagnosed with a rare disease, and die in a hospital bed, leaving Louise alone and grieving. This will all become incredibly important later.

But the story proper kicks off when 12 strange extraterrestrial objects land in 12 different countries around planet Earth. The world’s scientists, military leaders, and politicians are naturally very eager to find out why the aliens inside have come (and whether they’ve got any death rays), but there’s a problem: the alien creatures, dubbed “heptapods” because of their seven octopus-like limbs, don’t speak anything resembling any of our languages. As fear of the unearthly visitors spreads, Louise is recruited, along with physicist Ian, to figure out how to communicate with the heptapods who’ve landed in America before the government assumes the worst and starts shooting. But she soon finds that learning the alien language comes with…unexpected side effects.

“What’s that? I feel like we’re talking in circles here.”

I feel like the issue of language doesn’t come up often enough in alien movies. Most of the time, humans are too busy either blasting the aliens, smooching them or getting melted by them to really struggle with the quite realistic problems of deciphering a non-terrestrial language. If aliens ever did land on Earth, I expect we’d have to spend a few months learning how to say “hello” before we could decide whether or not to be friends. Always assuming neither the aliens nor humans subscribed to the “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality. Well, if you’ve always wanted a movie that meets the communication problem head-on, in a scientific manner, it has arrived. (Heh.) The movie also explores the various ways humans would respond to a first contact—from curiosity to outright worship to panic and fear. And of course there are parallels to the current rise in xenophobia in certain countries, complete with the obligatory jab at Fox News.

But despite its relevance to current events, this is, at bottom, entirely Louise’s story. I’ve always thought of Amy Adams as a good actress who gets stuck with a lot of bad roles, but this is one that really allows her to shine (Jeremy Renner is also in his element as the smart, sarcastic Ian). Her excitement and awe as a scientist confronted with the ultimate challenge is both believable and contagious. But as she begins to understand the two heptapods she’s talking to (dubbed “Abbott and Costello” due to their real names being unpronounceable) and their purpose in coming to Earth, her task becomes a lot more personal than she expected, resulting in a surprisingly emotional climax.

“Man, these aliens are so much more talkative and interesting than the last one I met.”

There’s a pretty huge twist near the end of this movie, and like most self-respecting sci-fi twists, it’s to do with time. I won’t say any more, except that it’s pulled off quite well and adds a whole new dimension to the story. And it left me with a lot to think about, including the numerous plot-related questions it left unresolved.

Arrival doesn’t have as much action or CGI as some of the bigger sci-fi blockbusters, but it’s still quite visually impressive. The scene where Louise and Ian first enter the alien ship and discover that gravity works a little differently inside is pretty jaw-dropping. The ship’s weird appearance and the unearthly noises its passengers make, combined with the eerie minimalist soundtrack, really drive home just how alien these visitors are. Which just makes it even more effective when the characters—and the audience—finally start to understand them. A bit.

But again, the visuals aren’t the star of this show. It’s a quiet, introspective, and ultimately quite idealistic movie with a message: that humans can accomplish great things by putting aside our differences and working together. And that it’s worthwhile to do so even when it involves pain. Oh, and also that you can totally breathe an alien atmosphere without any long-term health issues.

Maybe don’t take that last one to heart.

I have some quibbles with Arrival, as you can see, but overall I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys smart sci-fi. It’s a slow burn that pays off nicely in the end.

Grade: A

Monthly Movie Rant: The end is nigh

I am an American, due to circumstances beyond my control. So, for reasons that will probably be clear to anyone who’s glanced at the news recently, I’ve had a rather trying week. Anyway, since I didn’t post a Monthly Movie Rant for October, and since the real world appears to be headed towards an apocalypse of one kind or another, I thought this might be a good time to take a look at apocalypses in film.

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Perhaps the Mayans were just a few years off, after all…

The end of the world has been a popular subject in movies–and all media, really–for a long time. It works its way into all sorts of genres: zombie movies, disaster movies, religious horror movies, post-apocalyptic punk car racing movies…there have even been romantic comedies set during or after the apocalypse. Not all of them are good, but they usually make decent money. Which is really friggin’ weird, if you think about it. Why are we, as a species, so entertained by imagining our own extinction?

Essays, dissertations–nay, full textbooks–have been written in an attempt to answer that question. And I’m not going to say that any one answer is more valid than another. But I know why I, personally, like end-of-the-world movies.

First, it’s because they’re so darn pretty. This only applies to good post-apocalyptic movies, of course. Some of them look really boring and washed-out. But that’s just poor cinematography. Picturing a world without humans–a world after humans–gives the judicious filmmaker a ton of great aesthetic options that a normal movie doesn’t have. There’s something starkly beautiful about an empty, overgrown city, or a barren desert, that you don’t get in your typical present-day movie. It’s the same attraction that drives people to travel hundreds of miles to look at ruins.

Then there are the outfits. Whether out of tradition or necessity, post-apocalyptic characters always seem to wear the coolest fashions. Which makes them both fun to watch and fun to cosplay.

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So shiny. So chrome.

But there’s a deeper reason, too. As crazy as it sounds, I think a lot of end-of-the-world scenarios are wish-fulfilment fantasies. Bear with me.

Real life in the modern world is very complicated. We’ve got societal pressures coming at us from all sides. We’ve got to make money, pay bills, get educated, look good, get the right number of followers on social media, build a family, take care of the family, travel, vote, and on and on. It can get overwhelming. But if you take away the infrastructure of society and all its little “luxuries,” like the Internet and money, life becomes very simple. Most protagonists in apocalypse movies have only one real goal: survival. It’s a simple goal–easy to wrap one’s head around. And for those of us who have never actually had to fight for survival in the real world, the simplicity of it can sound weirdly attractive. Especially if it involves katanas.

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But the wishful thinking goes beyond that. In the present, there are a lot more teeming, inhabited cities on Earth than overgrown, abandoned ones. And every single person in those teeming cities wants to believe they’re somehow special and unique. But in a world full of people, where everyone has a platform to voice their thoughts and opinions (thanks to the Internet), how can one person stand out in the crowd? (They can make cat videos, of course. But even those start to all look the same after a while.) In most post-apocalyptic movies, there are at most a couple million people scattered all over the globe, instead of the billions that pack the surface today. Our hero usually trudges through miles of abandoned farmland and cities before finding a settlement of a few dozen survivors. And when your society consists of a few dozen survivors, everyone is special. Everyone’s important. And, for me, that’s where the wish fulfilment really kicks in.

Take, for example, Will Smith in I Am Legend. His backstory is that he’s a scientist, one of many who were working on a cure for cancer before it went horribly wrong. By the time the movie starts, he’s the last man on Earth (or in New York City, at any rate), and now he’s working on a cure for crazed vampirism. Which makes him…wait for it…legendary. Because he’s the only hope for the human race, by default. However lonely and depressing his life was, who didn’t want to be Robert Neville while watching that movie? (Yes, I know, everyone wants to be Will Smith no matter what. But the point still stands.)

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I mean, he owns New York City, sans traffic. What more do you want?

 

When I imagine an end-of-the-world scenario, I am, of course, imagining one where I survive the apocalypse. And the idea of being able to start over, create a new identity in a world where nothing matters–not the circumstances of my birth, not my online following, not my education or job skills–except my ability to survive, is rather appealing.

Of course, in any remotely realistic apocalypse, I would die quickly. I have more flab than muscle, and I don’t know how to build a fire without a lighter. But that’s why we have movies, isn’t it? To escape from reality. And, occasionally, to remind us exactly why we find reality so escape-worthy.

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“Why didn’t I take the blue pill?”

Anywho, that’s how my diseased brain responds to end-of-the-world movies. Perhaps I’m alone. But I doubt it. Because in real, present life, I’m not special, and I’m certainly not the last blogger on Earth (thank Heaven).

So what are your thoughts? Why do you like apocalypse movies? (I’m assuming you do.) And what are some of your favourites?