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A Conversation About Superhero Movies

Wait. Bold type. Is this a new one of those slightly misguided political parody posts where you had to put an afterword to try and mitigate the ridiculous offensiveness of it?

No. That was a phase. I’m so much older and wiser now.

Are you?

No.

So, what is this post then?

It’s a review of Spider-Man: Homecoming. But everyone has reviewed this movie, so I thought a gimmick might be fun.

The gimmick in question being?

Pretending to discuss the movie, only I’m discussing it with myself?

You have become creatively bankrupt. No-one will want to read this.

I’m okay with that. Also, this is a fun way of articulating all the doubts I have about my initial judgements. And I’ve seen other people doing this.

Fine. So, how was Spider-Man: Homecoming?

It was good. I liked it. It’s fun, and satisfying, and justified the reboot of the character. I’ll want to see it again.

This seems like a pretty definitive judgement. Why are you talking to yourself about this, then?

Because this movie made me realise something about Marvel’s movies, and about blockbuster filmmaking as a whole.

Which is?

It’s cool to say that all superhero movies are the same, and that they’ve contributed to a creative stagnation in Hollywood. That noise became especially loud last year with car crashes like Suicide Squad and X-Men: Apocalypse. I’ve always rejected that, and this year has vindicated superhero fans. Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Homecoming have been critical and commercial hits. The genre is in better health than ever, just as it expands.

What’s the problem with that?

The problem is that one of those movies exercised genuine storytelling innovation, which was Logan, an elegiac, sombre character study in superhero’s clothing. The other four all felt like they were drawn from the same well – different aesthetics, different intent, but all circling around the same basic themes and philosophy.

What about Wonder Woman? Everyone loved that movie!

They did, and I appreciate that. I saw the movie and thought it was solidly enjoyable but didn’t take the genre anywhere new. I’ve had a learning experience in seeing how impactful it has been in terms of representation as the first female superhero movie in over a decade, and I concede that it is, if not a masterpiece, than at least one of the most important movies the genre has produced so far.

I haven’t completely discarded that judgement – the third act is a CGI gloop face-off against an underdeveloped enemy with an emotional beat that’s effective, but also the climax of Captain America down to the fact that the person sacrificing themselves for their love interest are muscular heroic white men named Steve, played by actors named Chris. And while the themes and ideas raised by the movie revolving around a woman are original, the bedrock of the movie is still a familiar hero’s journey set within a familiar storytelling universe.

Wait, weren’t we talking about Spider-Man? What happened?

I got sidetracked. So much so that I just changed the post’s title from ‘a Spider-Man review’.

This is why no-one reads your blog.

Eh.

Anyway. What was it about Spider-Man that made you think about this, as opposed to say, Guardians Vol 2?

Guardians 2 was a sequel made off the back of rapturous acclaim for the original by the same director. It’s unsurprising that it was enjoyable, but less fresh, because it was always going to give people exactly what they wanted, and wasn’t in a position to take risks. I enjoyed Spider-Man about the same as Vol 2, and I left the movie feeling the same way. That felt surprising, in a way.

Why?

The Spider-Man movies have always been kind of all over the place, the product of a ferocious tug of war between creative and commercial interests. Spider-Man 2, the best movie featuring the character, was a perfect distillation of Sam Raimi’s auteurist instincts into a franchise-friendly mould, a complete and satisfying story. On the other end, Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the two movies before Homecoming, were chopped-up messes with no coherent through-line where the handprints of a nervous studio were visible for all to see. Even the two in the middle feel distinctive – the original 2002 movie is a really fun origin story caught between grounded high-school movie realism and being a story where Willem Dafoe flies around in a plastic suit screaming while Spider-Man bounces around on inflatables, and the 2012 reboot is a Coldplay song gained sentience that reproduces the origin story with 20% extra pouting.

Wow, okay. Did we need all that detail? Nerd.

Yes.

Anyway, Homecoming was the first that felt… normal. It felt confident, sure of itself, striking a precise balance between close-ended storytelling and world-building. The jokes were reliably funny, and the action was basically fine, with one standout sequence. There were lots of characters who weren’t very developed, but were played by overqualified actors who made them interesting anyway. It crafted a moderately compelling but entirely unsurprising hero’s journey with a nice moment of catharsis at the end. There wasn’t much individuality to it, but it had its own sheen of difference anyway. felt… like other Marvel movies.

It is a Marvel movie.

Yes, but it’s the first Spider-Man ever to feel like it was made completely painlessly. The character had been a weird, volatile experimental adjunct to the Marvel universe for over a decade; a microcosm of the highs and lows the genre could strike. And now, the character is in safe hands, starring in a fun but safe movie that’s making a lot of money. And that feels like a microcosm of where the genre’s at too.

Fun but safe movies?

Yeah. Superhero movies feel like they’ve gone from weird, experimental quality lotteries to products of ruthlessly efficient machines. Outliers exist, like Logan. But even when the genre produces a bad movie, it’s just because the studio/creative balance the genre is now built on was wrong.

This is what the critics of the genre are saying – that they’re samey corporate products built to a formula and stifling creativity. Is that what you’re saying?

… Kind of?

Look, I like superhero movies. I always go and see a new one. I even ran to a bus stop so I could be in time to see the Fantastic Four reboot. I’ve also enjoyed all of the movies that have been released this year, which is a relief.

But I do recognise that complaint now. I no longer go in and expect ‘art’ when I go and see a superhero movie; I just kind of want it to be fun and engaging like the ones I’ve seen before. Is it right that these movies keep giving me the same feeling, keep providing the same insights into the world, and feel like they’re the products of the same algorithm?

I’m meant to be asking the questions. I can’t answer this for you.

Rude.

There is an answer between yes, and no, right?

See, you’re answering the questions now. How the tables have turned.

Why are you developing this conversation so elaborately? Don’t you have any real friends that you want to talk to about this?

I’ve been told that telling people that you’d like to discuss the creative state of superhero movies in depth is not a positive social action.

Returning to your (my) question, there is an answer between yes and no to this question, and it’s the only real one that can capture the strange contradiction that the superhero genre is currently in a better state than ever creatively, but are becoming more and more polemical.

I’m sure an eighteen year-old nerd like you could find this elusive answer.

Hurtful. But the best answer I can come up with is that superhero movies have gone with the tide, and that they’ve become more like comfort-food TV. You know what you’re going to get from your favourite shows, because they have a timeslot and a status quo to stick to. Sometimes, there are big twist episodes that surprise people briefly, before the next one clears it all up. It’s reliable and familiar, like the taste of cheap hot chocolate on the disappointingly rainy first day of winter.

I feel like you’re making a lot of ambiguous statements that could be interpreted as praise or criticism.

I am, which I suppose gets to the core problem. Do we want our movies to be like TV? Do we want to feel the same way each time we come out of the cinema if it means we know we’re getting good value? Is consistency in franchise filmmaking good? Every answer begets another question. And I can’t answer them all.

That’s unsatisfying.

So is life, but we get on with that just fine.

So, the superhero genre – is it stagnating, or flourishing? 

Neither. Haven’t you been listening? It’s plateaued at a satisfying level, probably as a result of studios being too scared to rock the boat either way, and because they’ve learned from some particularly egregious mistakes.

What’s the consequence of this?

Superhero fatigue. Fire. Rivers of blood. A plague of locusts. Death of the first born.

I feel like you’re not taking this seriously anymore.

Uh huh.

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Open Worlds

Cinema loves franchises, and if there’s one thing any good franchise needs, it’s a convincing open world; a place that acts as a sandpit for the adventures of the hero, but also as a place that lives and breathes beyond the events of the given movie. It’s no wonder, then, that Hollywood is absolutely obsessed with cinematic universes right now. You can barely get out of bed without tripping over one. Marvel. DC. The ‘MonsterVerse’ with King Kong and Godzilla. Universal’s terrible idea, ‘Dark Universe’. And those are only the ones that survive.

But the thing that unites all of those movies isn’t necessarily how well they’re executed; it’s the fact that they all draw from a rich vein of source material. They’re building a LEGO set with the manual, or whatever analogy works for your childhood. So it caught me by surprise when, as you do, I caught up on the movies that Twitter just loves to talk about; John Wick and its sequel, starring Keanu Reeves as a soulless husk most famous for pencil-related murder, and discovered that this franchise contains one of the most improbably detailed open worlds in cinema at the moment.

This isn’t just a world where assassins operate behind closed doors, like in your average action movie, and where there are some organised criminal organisations. No. In John Wick, there is a hotel for assassins. It’s managed by a group of elders called the High Table, and it’s funded by special assassin tokens. This hotel, in the sequel, turns out to be an international chain. In my favourite, most gloriously stupid scene of the second movie, John Wick goes to buy guns from the hotel, only the guy he buys guns from is called ‘a sommelier’, and the entire conversation is conducted in terms of fine wine. I didn’t know cinema could be as exquisite as the sight of seeing Keanu Reeves ask for a bold dessert, get handed a pump-action shotgun, and then smile as if that’s exactly what he wanted.

I know. It just sounds like I’m listing a bunch of nonsense. And yes, in some respects, it is nonsense. The first movie tentatively embraces this, with the introduction of the hotel and a strange assassin underworld with its own folklore. Yet it’s only in the second movie where the franchise totally detaches from reality. Gunfights, in this world, occur exclusively in massively populated areas where everyone reacts as if it’s just a regular Tuesday, and these are street performers. The only policeman we see is friends with John Wick. It becomes abundantly clear that approximately a million New Yorkers (if anything, this seems like an understatement) are trained assassins under deep cover. It’s incredibly, self-consciously, silly.

But, in its own deeply strange way, it all holds together, and becomes far more convincing than so many other cinematic universes we’ve seen. Too many of those attempts try hard to graft on a mythology, to desperately convince us of the larger world outside the events of this particular movie. Just look at the terrible sequence in Batman v Superman where Batman watches specially recorded promo clips for the other Justice League movies. Attempts like that are earnest, and well-intentioned, but the concerned voice of the studio executive is always discernible.

John Wick‘s mythology works because it never actually treats anything as if it’s a mythology. Particularly in the sequel, Keanu Reeves assembles his gear for an assassination as routinely as he would make scrambled eggs. The absurdity of assassin blood oaths with the penalty of deaths isn’t treated as absurdity – it’s played deadly straight, with the full assumption that we should probably have known this anyway, somehow. In short, the John Wick movies drop us into a world already in motion, with rigid internal logic and processes that stretch back decades, and trusts the viewer to extrapolate how it could all have been built. That’s an impressive feat for any franchise, let alone for one that’s completely created its mythology from scratch, without any ancillary material like prequels or comic books to provide shortcuts for savvy viewers. It means that the movies can hang big dramatic moments, like the sequel’s inciting incident and cliffhanger, on rules that would be incomprehensible to those unfamiliar with the franchise.

Even better, though, the world of John Wick is as fun and interesting as it is intricate. As impressive as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, it can create intrigue for further stories purely based on things it hasn’t adapted yet – all Kevin Feige has to do is suggest that the next Spider-Man film will have, say, Kraven the Hunter in it, and he’ll instantly have bought the ticket of thousands of excitable nerds (and hey, that would totally include me, because Kraven is great). John Wick lacks that advantage, but its world is, nonetheless, one that feels absolutely full of stories, far beyond anything the trilogy, or even the mooted prequel series, is likely to manage. Studios would kill for intellectual property that would achieve that effect, but John Wick did it all on its own. It’s an example that Hollywood, as its shared universe attempts flounder away, would do well to follow.

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Cult Show Clips

I’ve been researching. What do my two readers want from my blog? What’s popular, out there? Is it commentary on the movie London Has Fallen? Is it definitive rankings of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Is it low-rent, dated social satire? Is it a long list of articles the writer hated too much to publish? I have tried them all.

But one thing that I haven’t tried is to use this blog to do what only a blog can do: exploring my own past, like a self-indulgent idiot. You see, the internet preserves a lot of things, and as a child of the Internet who can’t remember when it doesn’t exist, there happens to be a long catalogue of things I have done. Most of them are boring. Some of them are embarrassing. But if you go back far enough, you find something that seems to be from another person. Things that would be inconceivable to the person you are today. These things exist. And here, today, with the distance that time gives, I am here to show those things to you.

Those things are my 2011 YouTube videos, from the time when I probably thought I could make it big without any editing skills or personal charisma or original thought. I’ve protected them for a while, safe in the knowledge that I chose a strange and unrelated name for the channel that no-one would guess. But hey, they’re funny now. There’s only six videos on the channel, and they tell a wonderful story.

Titled ‘video008’, this first venture into the grim and gritty world of YouTube is one fraught with obstacles. For one, it gives the false impression that I’m a Liverpool fan, because I was filming in my brother’s room. For two, I seem to be dressed up weirdly formally, because I had no clothes other than school uniform in those days. And, for three, it has no sound. I can’t lip read, so it’s genuinely impossible to tell when I was talking about. As first efforts go, this was not good. I’m unsure why I uploaded it.

Sound! This is instantly better than the first one, because it can be understood. At a slender 19 seconds, this is a pithy, punchy intro that lets you know what this YouTube channel will provide you: reviews, film character evaluations, and regular updates. That’s content for the people there. My favourite part is when I say to enjoy the channel, despite the video you just watched being the only thing that was available at the time.

Also, there’s a comment there that says ‘honestly, Louis?’

Oh boy. Quite why I thought showing off a modest collection of DVD boxsets by waving them up awkwardly to the camera was good content is unclear now. I also remember posting about this on Twitter and Tumblr, so this was definitely a point of pride for my strangely materialistic 12-year old self, who would take a considerable amount of time to accept the advent of Netflix. I guess, of the three categories, this would count as ‘regular updates’. The topicality comes from my reminder that Primeval season five would come out the next week, and that I couldn’t want to get it, bye! I had my finger to the pulse.

I guess this was my first ever real review, and it’s a powerful piece of television criticism. Primeval was one of those culty sci-fi shows of the 2000s that rode off the Doctor Who wave, for context, and I was really into it at the time; enough to share my nice and succinct outline of the episode’s events before my 15 seconds of criticism (well-written, well-realised) . Useful, I guess, if you just wanted a 12-year old boy to describe it to you to relive the thrills. The best bit comes at the end, though, where the video abruptly comes to a stop and I say ‘Okay bye!!’ before shutting off the camera, as if I had just realised that this was a terrible mistake.

A stunning 156 views! I’d credit that incredible figure to the fact that this has the most interesting premise of all of my videos: a nice, quick recap of the history of a show before the new season. The only problem is that the video itself is, essentially, me reading some Wikipedia entries and stuttering a bit. I do not actually recap the events of the show in any detail, but I do list every episode title, which is much more useful.

The ‘bye!’ in this video is also, quite frankly, the creative pinnacle of my existence. Everything after that has just been a footnote.

It looks like my commercial success of the last video didn’t carry over to this one. I think I was planning to really kick things into high gear by giving my reviews an official name, but ‘iReview’ probably got lost in the wash. In retrospect, I don’t know why I named it for Apple, but these things are easy to say with hindsight.

The real tragedy is that I promised the next review would be uploaded later today. Do you see the next review on there? Do you? No. It’s like that novel that Charles Dickens never finished, or something; a creative endeavour cut short by the hand of cruel fate.

I plan to revive this channel in 19 years and cash in off the 2011 nostalgia for simple times. Just you wait. A premium cable network is going to snap this up.

Okay.

Byeee!

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Fear of Flying

Hey there, two readers. I’m doing something new. You see: this is my place to indulge myself. There are no stakes, and there is no editor. I could write endlessly about my life, and there would be no consequences. So I’m going to play into that, and write about myself. Welcome to my vanity. You have absolutely no obligation to come in.

But this is also an experience that I think relates far beyond my own: the feeling of creating something that doesn’t quite feel right. Almost everyone creates something in some way in their hobby or occupation, whether that’s a robot arm that packages ice cold cans of Diet Irn Bru, an Excel spreadsheet, or, I don’t know, pottery. So I’m assuming that this is universal.

I feel like, however, that writing holds a unique place in this. One of the things I love, and hate, about writing is that an essay or a story can exist in of itself. It stands there, unblinking, on the page or Word document, and it doesn’t speak back to you, or demand instant judgement. It’s not evidently broken or pristine like anything physical. So, in theory, it should be the most reassuring of hobbies for someone like me (local obsessive about others’ opinions).

And sometimes, that is genuinely the case. I wrote a 30,000 word novel back in 2012 for NaNoWriMo about a time-travelling team who are stranded in the past, and I was proud of that novel because I clocked in the time and I finished it ahead of schedule (for a wee little 13 year old, 30,000 words ain’t nothing). The thing is: that novel is terrible. I’m 99% sure it’s a disaster, from the characterisation (I did not know women, and still do not) to the plot (one twist worked… and there was only one twist) to the lack of a fixed set of time travel rules (I call myself a nerd?). But it didn’t matter. I showed it to a couple of people, but the achievement was enough for me.

On the other hand, writing is rarely as pure and as immune as Welcome to the New Age (yes, that is my novel’s title, and yes, it’s from an Imagine Dragons lyric, in case you wanted an insight into my deviant 13-year-old brain). Often… it’s made to be seen by people, and that’s where it gets all knotty. Those people will have reactions, and will make judgements. Those reactions and judgements can’t be controlled, can’t be predicted, and often can’t be seen.

It’s easy to ignore the idea that people see your stuff, sometimes. It’s what I do for the majority of my reviewing, where a lack of comments means a lack of judgement. Every now and then, people might come up to you and tell you that they read your review, and had opinions, and then that falsity comes crashing down.

The net result, ultimately is fear. It’s amazing how irrational that fear is. It’s led me to reject about 30 draft posts, some of which have clocked in past the 1000 word mark when I realised that I hated them. One of these posts was about those unfinished posts, if you like irony. This is ridiculous, of course. If I’m lucky and my post is shared somewhere, it’ll inch over 10 pageviews. Otherwise… well, put it this way: I’ve had blog posts that no-one has ever seen apart from me. That gut worry that other people will judge me for it, therefore, is ridiculous. It’s even more absurd when you factor in the feeling of affirmation you seek when you put out a piece into the world. Craving something and fearing it at the same time? As someone, somewhere, once said, nope.

That’s the thing with irrational fear, however. The irony of it is that it pushes you away from, or ruins the experience of, good things, for no logical reason. It’s the same reason why I hate flying and always worry for a while before about it, despite the fact that I’ve never had a genuinely bad flight. You can throw all the logic in the world at the problem, and it bounces right off.

I’d love to say I’ve had an epiphany writing this post, but this was simply my attempt to unpack a thought process that’s defined a great deal of what’s happened, or failed to happen, on a blog. Maybe in the future, though, this post will be here for when the back button looks like a tempting prospect instead of soldiering on. After all, who’s judging?

Aside from myself, that is.

Yes, I briefly abandoned this post. THE IRONY IS NOT LOST ON ME

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Art Is…

This post was slightly inspired by this one, if you’d like to journey on my train of thought and read a piece with a similar idea, but, you know, more of an idea.

I write a lot of reviews. I have no idea if I’m good at it, but I certainly know that I write them. They’re almost entirely of film and TV, two mediums which go hand in hand and require a skillset that’s functionally identical to criticise.

I also like music. I listen to a lot of it, and it takes up broadly the same time in my life as film and TV. But if you asked me, say, why Of Monsters and Men are my favourite band, I’d probably just tell you that they’re good, and mumble something about consistency. I certainly couldn’t articulate it in any remotely eloquent way.

And if you’re wondering what the point of this post is, well… er… I’m wondering something. Not all art is the same, that much is clear. Each form serves a different function, is capable of something that no other medium can match. Music is purely audio. Paintings, or dance, are purely visual. Film and television are both. Books? They’re somewhere in between, or above.

But all art is, fundamentally, storytelling. The extent of that story, the specificity of it, and the way the audience engages, is different, but no matter the medium, there’s a basic story there, and there’s something subjective, and personal, that lies below the surface. Theoretically, therefore, if you’re able to grasp how that story’s being told, and whether that story accomplishes its aims, and what it means (and almost everyone is), that should carry across the board. Or at least within the boundaries of personal preference. I don’t like opera, so, obviously, I can’t engage with it critically.

And so we come back to music. Music is a remarkably diffuse form of art – it can be lyrical poetry (look at how Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature), a sonic earworm (look at, er… Ed Sheeran) or something bizarre, impressionistic, and so abstract that it seems to actively defy interpretation (hey, Alt-J!), but it recognisably takes from the toolbox of things I understand as an ‘English person’ and unhealthy TV addict.

But why do I like the music I like? That I cannot articulately explain.

So I guess my point in this weird, rambling post (if you got to the end of this, congrats! But, why?) is that art is something that you can never fully pin down. Art, to use a horrible cliche that I am definitely not above, makes you feel, and feelings aren’t built to be articulated in tight prose with strong usage of the Oxford comma. There are practically infinite ways of telling a story that no one person could ever hope to encapsulate in one mind. Any given person might never click with the fundamental appeal of an art form, or click with it without ever knowing quite why. Most importantly, art is much more than this paragraph, which is just the conclusion I, an innocent boy looking up at the stars or something, came to. After all, with art, the best we can do is to understand the tiniest corner of it, even if the patch right next to it remains entirely elusive.

That, I guess, is why I can’t review music. Art is hard, and reviewing is unnatural. That’s the moral of this piece. You can copy and paste that ending bit.

Apologies for the rambling, incoherent nature of this. This is my blog, and I get literally two pageviews max per post, so I figured that there’s no harm in freeform experimentation. I am accountable to no-one but WordPress, and truth be told, I doubt they’re watching.

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Moonlight

In an exceptionally strong year for awards movies, Moonlight still stands out in the crowd. Character studies don’t get a lot more intricate and emotionally affecting like this – partly because of the way in which we’re allowed to view the central character, who goes by shifting names that mirror his uncertainty over expression of his true identity as he’s shaped by formative experiences that twist his desires and repress his hopes, and partly because Moonlight intimately covers the experience of a black gay man, something that mainstream cinema is liable to run away screaming from even as it takes steps towards inclusivity.

Moonlight and its closest Oscar competitor, La La Land, have almost nothing in common thematically, aesthetically or in terms of characters (they are definitely both films), but it’s interesting that they both possess the same strength, which is to fuse a brilliant precision in the film’s construction with a sense of unfettered emotionality and intimacy – to bottle up very specific components of a particular experience and stitch them together (please ignore all mixed metaphors from here on out) with meticulous attention to detail. Moonlight is remarkably efficient in what it does. Each one of the three acts tells its own complicated arc with a mix of characters who age throughout and figures who flit into and out of Chiron’s life within one act, but they knit together to create an entirely coherent vision of a life’s greatest moments of hope and lowest moments of despair laid back-to-back. The Chiron of each act is drastically different from the last – from scared boy to repressed teenager to hyper-masculine adult – but each change is completely true to the character, and to the circumstances that have pushed him there.

What’s so impressive about Moonlight is that it’s so far away from the overcooked Oscar bait that you could passingly judge it as if you peeked at the premise – the kind of Hacksaw Ridge pomposity and speechifying that plays super well in 30 second clips. The screenplay is notably economical with dialogue, because it’s content that the visually lush and evocative cinematography and the dreamy soundscape (this movie is fantastic at attaching poignancy to an image, like a beach or the ocean, and calling back to it just by evoking the sounds of that moment to suggest the power of memories in shaping Chiron), let alone the actors’ terrific performances, can suggest a well of emotion and conflict that a thousand words couldn’t match (a picture paints a… wait, what was the saying?). When Little asks his father figure, Juan, if he sells drugs, all it takes is a simple, weary ‘yes’ to suggest an endless amount of uncertainties and simple shame that Juan feels in his attitude towards his trade. And in the same scene, Little’s sudden question – ‘What’s a faggot?’ is enough to establish a scared child’s hopelessly difficult existence in a world that has already begun to reject him. Words are vital to Moonlight, but so is the lack of them as these characters struggle to articulate the powerful feelings that can often only translate into destructive action.

And this movie also boasts the kind of cast that, if there was a Hollywood fantasy league, you’d do well to dip into (and speaking of a Hollywood fantasy league, does anyone have some startup money I can borrow?). The three Chirons, bookended by the nicknames Little and Black, are all compelling emotional leads – especially Alex Hibbert as Little – but their central feat is to create performances that are simultaneously satisfying on their own, and perfect as one third each of a realistically evolving character. The actors apparently never met, yet there’s never one second of doubt that they’re portraying the same person with the same hopes and fears and struggles. The director, Barry Jenkins, may be a wizard.

The other two powerhouse performances belong to paternal influences that dominate Chiron’s life, yet with extremely different levels of actual involvement. Mahershala Ali, apparently wasted for four seasons on House of Cards, is ruthlessly good as drug leader/father figure Juan, capturing the strange dichotomy of nurturing paternalism and brash confidence in his environment to illustrate his own unique take on masculinity that evidently informs Chiron’s own struggles to find his place within his gender throughout his life, but he’s actually only in the first third. Naomie Harris has roughly the same screen-time as Chiron’s mother, but her role is spread over all three segments, during which Harris takes the stereotype of the junkie mother and deconstructs it to find the emotional realism of the inadequate yet loving mother within. She is so good, and in such different ways, and somehow she did it all over 3 spare days in her press tour for the last Bond film. They deserve every award being thrown at them.

I know it’s become the cool thing to use Moonlight as a stick to bash the more conventional La La Land, which obviously lacks the uniqueness of perspective that this movie has in spades, but realistically, they’re different enough that comparison feels reductive.. The fact that we can get both in such a close proximity is good enough for me. Personally, I found Moonlight to be better. It’s the masterpiece of the two – the passion project where nothing got lost in the wash and nothing feels out of place. It’s that rare movie that gets better when you try to pick it apart. It deserves the Best Picture at next week’s Oscars.

But if La La Land wins Best Picture, that’s fine too.

But in that case, Best Director for Barry Jenkins.

Awards shows are a reductive medium through which to discuss the complexity of art.

Anyhoo.

Moonlight – it good.

Conclusions!

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Yet Another La La Land Review

This is such a good movie.

Honestly, I don’t think I could write a long textual analysis of it. It’s conceivable that, if I did, it would fall apart. And look, I could do that, but I’m not a monster, nor an accomplished film critic capable of substantiating my own opinions. But some movies just don’t deserve to be nitpicked. They’re too sincere in their meanings, too committed to their vision to be pulled apart with overanalysis of subtext and of potential character flaws. They’re good enough at what they do, and so heartfelt in their intent, that they earn the right to be taken at face value.

La La Land is one of those movies. And wow, the face value is something else. It’s a well-oiled machine where every part carefully fits into the clockwork precision of the structure, yet it never feels mechanical. On the face of it, it would be impossible to link it with the past work of its director, Damien Chazelle, who helmed the equally fantastic Whiplash, with a sun-baked visual aesthetic that’s soaked in big, vibrant primary colours as opposed to the muted grit of that film. Yet there’s actually a surprising amount of shared DNA below the surface in its manic, headlong dive into the plotlines it opens up, and the swooping one-take vistas in which the camera loops and spins round its characters. It’s deeply nostalgic, reverent in turns for the technicolour sincerity of Old Hollywood and the freestyle experimentation of old music, and surprisingly modern, with a romance that feels right for 2017 in its frank honesty that not all relationships are kitted out for marriage and a happily ever after. It’s a sweeping old Hollywood musical with glitzy, ultra-catchy numbers full of colourful signing and dancing that can pivot at the snap of a finger into punchy, sharp back-and-forth dialogue exchanges that zing with thoughtful comedy.

Most of all, it’s just incredibly sincere. It’s not averse to comedy, or to subverting genre tropes, but it’s utterly committed in its tribute to people who care passionately about what they want to do, a message that it never once tries to undermine. At its core, this is a movie about the joy of liking things unreservedly for the sake of the pleasure it gives you. It’s almost like Damien Chazelle reads my blog.

Oh yeah, and there’s Gosling and Stone. Everyone loves both of these actors, right? Both are given the chance to dive deep into the hopes, dreams, fears and flaws of these characters, and they unearth idiosyncrasies and character tics that give the characters a fullness beyond the script. Gosling’s allowed to mix his Nice Guys self-deprecating comedic chops with a soulfulness that brings across Seb’s passion for his craft in a realistically flawed yet admirable way. And Stone has turned witty, ever-so-slightly downbeat pathos into a fine art, which she channels into a character who could very easily have come across as the more thinly sketched of the two. Neither is a truly accomplished singer, but their commitment and enthusiasm shines through anyway, and Stone’s big solo is as affecting and musically satisfying as anything you’ll see in the theatre.

There’s already a backlash out there, I know. There always is for any Oscar hopeful. There are those who would have you believe that the film is hopelessly derivative, that the story is bland, that the music is generic, or that Ryan Gosling’s character is a sinister jazz robot whose all-encompassing commitment to pure jazz makes him into the kind of creep that should be avoided at all costs. And hey, I’m not Sean Spicer. I can recognise that my opinions are not facts.

But for me, at the very least, La La Land is a big, warm hug that leaves a melancholy aftertaste (my metaphors are unmixed, thanks). It reels you in from the start with proud, bombastic Technicolour nostalgia, and ends up becoming something more emotionally complex, signing off on a brilliantly bittersweet ending that denies us gratification but offers fulfilment by the truckload. It is thoroughly deserving of the Best Picture nod it seems poised to snatch.

Don’t like musicals, you say? You’ll like this. I swear it.

And you can trust me, because I have a free WordPress blog.