Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The General's Post Winter Roundup

And now, one last note from The General

2016 has been a brutal year for my schedule, hence all these roundup posts that you have been seeing instead of more in-depth reviews as per usual. The reasons for this are many and varied, but the base fact is that, at this stage, I've been behind on my reviews for something like ten months. It's time to finally put a close to all of that by catching up once and for all. Here we go.

The General's Post Winter Roundup


Alternate Title:  Insert Rock Pun Here

One sentence synopsis:    The daughter of a Polynesian chief sets out to find the legendary demigod Maui, and to stop the evil force that is sucking the life from her island home.

The Verdict: Let's talk about Disney.

It's no secret that Disney's been on a tear recently, what with animated movies like Frozen, Big Hero 6, and Zootopia (to say nothing of the work of their subsidiaries: Pixar, Lucas, and Marvel). It's consequently also no secret that I've started looking forward to a new Disney film with more than average anticipation, particularly given the general quality of films this year. Add in The Rock, whom I'm always happy to see, and this one looked like a film not to be missed.

Based around a polyglot version of Polynesian mythology, Moana is the story of a Disney Princess, in this case the titular Moana, daughter of an island chief who dreams (as most Disney princesses do) of the the typical "more", in this case of becoming a legendary "wayfinder", a navigator who seeks for new islands across the breadth of the South Pacific. Propelled into leaving her home-island in search of a remedy for a terrible curse that has settled over it, she meets with demigod Maui, (a figure revered all across Polynesia as a sort of semi-divine culture hero), who very reluctantly joins her quest to destroy the evil forces that have brought scarcity and dearth to her island. Along the way, there are ludicrous, over the top villains, thrilling action scenes, gorgeous animation, a bunch of rousing songs, and an animal sidekick thrown in for comic relief.

So yeah, pretty much par for the course for a standard Disney film. But Moana pulls most of this off well, particularly the visuals, which are staggeringly gorgeous, with a rich, deep color palate and the latest and greatest computer-animated effects for water, storms, and sand. Though Disney's animation style is fully intact, with crisp visuals and well-drawn characters, certain elements branch out into a (fittingly) more Polynesian art style, particularly the animated tattoos that adorn Maui's body describing his exploits. The voice acting, from The Rock, from Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement, and from newcomer Auli'i Cravalho, is excellent across the board, with particular honors going to Clement, who plays a gigantic jewel-obsessed crab in the best tradition of Tim Curry in Fern Gully. Action, and there is plenty of it, is high-speed and clearly shot, incorporating everything from Eroll-Flynn-style swashbucking scenes to Hakka war dances performed by warriors confronting evil volcano gods. All told, the movie has everything you would expect to see from a concept like "Disney does the South Pacific", including Alan Tudyk as the world's stupidest chicken, and messages about following your dreams.

So is Moana a triumph on the level of Frozen or The Lion King? Not really. For one thing, the songs themselves, an important element in any kind of Disney film are pretty undistinguished. We've got the grand sweeping "I Want Moooooooore" style ballad, the fun "I'm a Whimsical Character who is Kooky and Weird" pop number, all the standard stuff, and while all of the songs are perfectly workable, there's nothing here to compete with the great Disney animated songs of yesteryear, from Let it Go to Tale as Old as Time to Be Prepared. And speaking of Be Prepared, the one major song archetype the film lacks is a good Villain Song, that time-honored Disney tradition that has given us their best work. Part of the reason for that is that the villain in Moana is a complete cypher, a roaring volcano-god of raw destruction with no personality beyond looking scary and wanting to kill, and while there are plot reasons for this lack of sophistication, it still hurts both the narrative and the song-selection, as we get no opportunity for a great Villain piece along the lines of Hellfire or Poor Unfortunate Souls. Granted, it's not exactly fair to criticize Moana for not being just like another movie, but Disney is a formula studio, and in everything but this, they adhere quite closely to the standard Disney formula. It's good, don't get me wrong, but lacks that key moment that would push the film over the top, either through innovation, or through perfect execution. The pacing is generally undistinguished, with too much downtime between moments of excitement, and there's a certain lack of ambition involved in a film that spends most of its time on a small boat in the middle of the ocean making (admittedly pretty funny) references to Mad Max movies as opposed to giving us a more cohesive world, the way some of the best Disney films have.

Moana is a good film, well-executed and with a trembling eye towards the masses of people who were waiting to accuse Disney of cultural appropriation if they slipped up (some of whom did so anyway, because they are stupid). But it is not a masterpiece in the vein of Disney's last three or four attempts. Unoffensive and entertaining enough, it's a fine movie to go see for a weekend trip to the multiplex, but I do not expect to find people humming its songs to themselves while walking down the street six months from now. Then again, a good film is no slur to anyone's reputation, not even modern-day Disney. And if this is the worst film Disney put out this year (and it is), then that's a hell of an achievement by itself.

Final Score:  7/10



Alternate Title:  Pittfalls

One sentence synopsis:   A Canadian SOE operative and a French Resistance fighter fall in love and marry, only for her to be accused of being a Nazi spy.

\The Verdict:  Brad Pitt is a gorgeous man, somehow more handsome at the age of 53 than he was twenty-five years ago (I stand by this), but he's not a very good actor and has never been one. Oh there's been plenty of movies in which he elevated himself, 2014's Fury for one, but overall he's usually just a pretty face with a narrow range of emotions who is there to look good and eat food on camera. More than one film has been salvaged by casting Pitt opposite someone who COULD act, be it Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire, David Thewlis and B.D. Wong in Seven Years in Tibet, or everyone the Coen Brothers ever met in Burn After Reading. This time, in Allied, a period war drama about resistance fighters, spies, and double-crossings, the filmmakers thoughtfully gave us French actress Marion Cotillard to play the part of the real actor in the movie, a part she is indisputably qualified for. She plays Marianne, a French Resistance fighter who has escaped to Casablanca and who meets up with Pitt's Max Valan to assassinate a German General and escape back to London. Cotillard was born to make movies like this, rich period pieces in the style of Casablanca itself, showcasing the danger, excitement, and glamorous locations of the more espionage-laden sides of WWII. She's so good in the movie, that she almost excuses the fact that Pitt is not, as his typical stone-faced approach re-asserts itself, leading us as the audience to, almost impossibly, wonder what someone would see in one of the most gorgeous men alive. Such is Cotillard's performance that we almost buy the absurd twists that the plot deploys against her, and she almost singlehandedly makes the film work.


Allied, frankly, is not a very good movie, and the reason it's not a very good movie is because it sticks way too close to formula. Director Robert Zemeckis is, of course, an excellent filmmaker, but his strengths have always been movies that stretch the imagination a bit, whose stories are weird and quirky and offbeat, such as in Back to the Future or Death Becomes Her or last year's The Walk. When he tries to make a formula picture, especially one he hasn't written, the result looks an awful lot like this, mediocre films like Cast Away or What Lies Beneath, movies that are serviceable entries in their genres, but not destined to be remembered as anything special. The movie boasts stellar cinematography, but the war-scenes are almost pro-forma exercises in obligatory violence which happen and are then over, the better to advance a plot that, while decently original, is rendered entirely uninteresting by Brad Pitt's inability to emote anything beyond self-satisfaction and blank-faced stoicism. For all the criticism I've heaped upon him in this review, Pitt can act when he wants to, I've seen it happen, but he chooses this film to morph back into his cypher from Tree of Life, which is the death knell to sweeping romantic dramas like this one. The pace is agonizingly slow, even with massive time-jumps to bring us periodically through the war, and the lack of anything interesting happening allowed my historian's mind to wander through the absurd contrivances that the film employs for its historical veracity, such as having British citizens wandering outside during a Blitz raid, setting undercover spy missions in cities months after they were historically liberated from the Nazis, and employing an ending that left me baffled as to just what the plans of all those concerned were. I know that people get tired of me complaining about historical details in every movie set before 2010, but with acting this wooden from one of our leads and a plot that lends itself to soap-opera "twists", there was little else for me to do for large chunks of its runtime.

I've certainly seen worse films than Allied, even ones starring Brad Pitt, but for all the pretensions Allied makes of being an Old-Hollywood-style epic romance, it lands with an audible 'thud', doomed by a bad performance, overdirection, and a lack of crispness to any elements of plot or story. Those with souls more romantic than mine may well find a way to let Allied sweep them away into a realm of danger and romance, but for me, the fundamental lack of anything interesting going on dooms the film to the ranks of those I shall likely not be remembering at all.

Final Score:  5/10


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Alternate Title:  Make Magical America Great Again

One sentence synopsis:    A magical wildlife researcher whose specimens break loose in 1920s New York becomes embroiled in a conspiracy involving murder and monsters in the American Magical establishment.

The Verdict:  I was always kind of ambivalent on the Harry Potter films, a series based on books that I loved, but whose film adaptations... varied, shall we say, in quality. There was nothing globally wrong with them or their casts, but my interest waned after a while, and I skipped the last couple altogether, split as they were into two films for mercenary reasons. With the prospect of a reboot (sort of), however, one starring actors I admire and un-anchored to any textual source, I actually re-discovered a bit of excitement for the Potterverse, and found that I was interested in seeing what they had to show me. And so, now having seen Fantastic Beasts and processed it thoroughly, a single thought occurs to me.

These movies are fucking dark.

There's always been a strong anti-authoritarian streak to Harry Potter, no doubt the product of its author, what with children (or other marginal figures) being revealed as possessing simple wisdom, while almost all authority figures are revealed as being shallow-minded, bureaucratic incompetents at best, and outright genocidal bigots at worst, with the former often being transformed into the latter once you get to know more about them. Fantastic Beasts continues that trend to such a degree that I would be tempted to complain about an Anti-American bias if it weren't for the fact that the series has always been just as merciless with everyone else. The Magical Government of the United States may look glittering and inclusive, with Art Deco-styled magical buildings, fedora-and-longcoat-wearing Aurors, and a black, female President whose stylings look like those of a flapper crossed with Cleopatra, but beneath the surface it is a gang of brutal, anti-miscegenation (forget 'mudblood' prejudice, American Wizards are forbidden under pain of death to marry or have children with mundanes), blinkered reactionaries, arrogant, contemptuous, and stupid, who primarily exist to throw obstacles, lethal or otherwise, in the way of our plucky heroes trying desperately to save the day. This is a film where anyone competent is evil, and anyone incompetent is merely antagonistic, and while that's fine, generally speaking, it does result in a rather unavoidable tonal clash when the rest of the film is trying to be an enchanted adventure of whimsy and wonder.

Another thought that occurred to me as I watched this film was that it appears to be a good year for autistic heroes, as first The Accountant and now this film have showcased leading characters that are... shall we say... neuroatypical? Our lead here is Newt Scamander, previously a background character in the wider Harry Potter universe, portrayed here by Eddie Redmayne as either a high-functioning autist or simply the most awkward British introvert alive (it can be difficult to distinguish the two). Honestly, Redmayne is excellent in the role, a committed magical-zoologist with little interest or time in anything else, who has no idea how to interface with most people beyond a veneer of officious British charm, and no particular interest in learning. I suspect most British actors are born with the ability to exhibit charming befuddledness on command, but Redmayne nevertheless goes above and beyond, delivering a performance that's surprisingly nuanced and warm, despite the requirements of the role, even when the Oscar-winning actor is called upon to perform an elaborate mating dance for a creature that appears to be a cross between a rhinocerous and a stag beetle. Behold, the dignity of acting.

Would that the rest of the movie were as good as Redmayne is, but sadly it is not. Comedian Dan Fogler and Alison Sudol turn in serviceable roles, the former as a Nomaj (No-Magic, or Muggle in Brit-speak) cannery worker who gets caught up in the magical madness against his will, the latter as an airheaded Legilimens (mind-reader) with a big heart. Newcomer Katherine Waterston, playing leading lady Tina Goldstein, an ex-auror trying to solve the case, does not. Her character is supposed to be a no-nonsense gumshoe battling for what's right despite the orders from on-high, but she plays the character like a wide-eyed innocent, constantly bursting in on important meetings of the magical congress (called MACUSA for short) before forgetting what she was going to say. The character never gels properly, which unfortunately makes her look rather stupid, a quality I do not admire among my plucky protagonists. Colin Farrel, meanwhile, takes the villainous role of Percival Graves, and he's fine... at least by comparison to your typical Colin Farrel role. His character, ultimately, is nothing more than a teaser for other movies to come, though how this is accomplished is obviously something I shall not be describing here. The rest of the plot, which involves among other things a group of neo-Salemite witch-burners, child abuse, a newspaper magnate played by Jon Voight, and his son, a normal, non-magical Senator, is confusing and belabored, with Deus Ex Machinas liberally strewn throughout for whenever the writers get themselves in trouble and have no idea how to resolve things. It's nothing horrific, and it doesn't rob the film of all of its charm, but it takes a big enough bite out to be noticeable.

Ultimately, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a decent enough film, one that has enough imagination, whimsy, and hammer-handed political allegory to satisfy any die-hard Harry Potter fan. But I doubt seriously it's going to convert too many fence-riders to jump one way or the other, especially not given some of the promises it makes regarding the sequels to come... but then that would be telling ;)

Final Score:  6/10


Manchester by the Sea

Alternate Title:  Broken People Living Marginal Lives

One sentence synopsis:   A janitor moves home to the New England town he grew up in after his brother dies, and finds he must take care of his now-teenage nephew.

The Verdict:  Oh goody, another movie with universal critical acclaim! Surely this won't turn out to be an epochal disaster like Leviathan, Under the Skin, The Railway Man, White God, or Elysium!

One of the (few) bright spots at the movies this year was February's underrated crime flick Triple 9, a movie that aspired to be a modern-day version of the classic 1995 Michael Mann thriller Heat, and came closer than I, for one, thought it had any chance of. Triple 9 had a bunch of very good actors in it, including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Winslet, Anthony Mackie, Michael K. Williams, and the reason we're here today, a fine actor whom I've been following for several years now, Casey Affleck, younger brother of Ben. Far from being a hanger-on riding the coattails of his more famous brother, Casey has spent the last decade or two proving that, if anything, he is the more talented of the two (at least when it comes to acting), in a host of recent movies including Out of the Furnace, Gone Baby Gone, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Affleck's signature has long been playing quiet men on the edge of a psychotic break, and thus we come to his character here, a janitor.

Somewhere in the less scenic parts of New England, Lee Chandler (Affleck) works as a custodian for an apartment complex, living alone with his beer and guilt following horrific events which destroyed his life, marriage, and family. Summoned back to his old hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea (Title call!) by the death of his brother (King Kong and Argo's Kyle Chandler), he discovers that he's been named the custodian of his sixteen-year-old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), and must now uproot his life to deal with the thousand-and-one things that must happen when a loved one dies, arranging a funeral, reading the will, settling probate, etc, while also somehow figuring out how to take care of a sixteen year old whose father is dead and whose mother is a recovering drug addict uninvolved in her son's life.

And that's... really all there is to Manchester by the Sea, a quiet movie about damaged people living out their lives that is almost militantly non-histrionic. Apart from the occasional snap of bar-and-beer-induced violence, nothing really "happens" in the film, no formulas, no character arcs, no dramatic speeches or fights in crashing thunderstorms (I'm looking at you, The Judge). Affleck plays the movie very close to the chest, walking through the film as though in a daze, a man whose fires for life burned out a long time ago and will not be rekindled by any Disney-esque magic of last-second reconciliation or forgiveness. Hedges, meanwhile, plays a very adult sort of teenager, who deals with his father's death by not dealing with it, by and large, continuing his life with his friends, multiple girlfriends, sports and school while only occasionally giving into the emotions that the sudden loss of his father are generating. The movie goes so far out of its way to avoid histrionics or any form of formula that it quite perversely begins to feel incredibly depressing and dour, as if the filmmakers thought Biutiful was a good movie, but needed more charmlessness and depression. It's a skilled production, drawing emotional resonance from minimalist performances and eschewing all of the conventional story beats we might expect with a film like this, but goddamn is it a downer. Not that I have anything against non-saccharine movies, but the relentless mundanity of these broken people's lives as they manage to cobble themselves together and continue on with their empty existences is not an experience I recommend for those looking to be taken away from their problems for a couple of hours at the movies.

Manchester by the Sea is one of those films whose quality is entirely divorced from my enjoyment of it, a well made film that I have absolutely no need to see again. Darling of the critical circuit as it has quickly become, it may well generate the Palme d'Or's and Golden Globes and other such awards it was obviously created to generate, but it has little to offer anyone who isn't an admirer of the technical qualities of filmmaking. And though I do indeed admire both it and Affleck for their evident skills in piecing a defiantly non-traditional movie like this one together at all, the film experience is simply not one I'm in any hurry to repeat.

Final Score:  6.5/10


Rogue One:  A Star Wars Story

Alternate Title:  Sound and Fury

One sentence synopsis:   The daughter of the designer of the Death Star joins a high-risk rebel operation to locate him and stop the Empire from bringing the station online.

The Verdict:  *Sigh*





No, I'm sorry guys, I can't do it.

I love Star Wars. Everyone loves Star Wars for god's sake, and I love it right along side them. I love the originals, I love the games, the RPGs, the new Disney series and the fun that is to be had therewith. Forty years on and with countless imitators in its wake, and it's still the only science-fantasy franchise that's worth a damn, one that covers every style and every genre of storytelling from noir to high fantasy to space opera to classical tragedy across the board. I can even say some good things about the Prequels if you force me to. So of course, I went to see Rogue One, with high expectations. And of course in some regards those expectations were met. But... no, I just can't geek out over this one the way I really want to because the base fact is that the movie isn't very good.

Look, I see why everyone loves it. I'm not stupid. It has wonderful spectacle to it, something Star Wars even at its nadir has usually done quite well. The film takes place on half a dozen different wlldly-different planets, each with its own lush and rich cinematographic possibilities to offer, from a stony-desert world that looked chiselled out of Monument Valley, to a rainy riot of buttresses and adamantine cliffs, to a tropical paradise-world-turned military installation whose shot inspirations seem drawn from WWII's Pacific Front (and which was apparently filmed in the Maldive Islands). Certain shots come straight out of an epic war or fantasy movie, such as that of AT-AT walkers laboriously advancing through the dust and smoke of a battlefield, toppling palm trees as they crash through their cover. In a world where everything is shot either in the stark Bruckheimer/Bay contrasts of Blue-and-Orange, or in washed out, dust-impregnated brown, this film gives us vibrant colors and gorgeous setpieces to go with the lived-in feel that Star Wars has always excelled in. Battles, and there are several, are spectacular affairs, combined-arms showcases of space and air and land all rolled into one, to say nothing of a truly epic rendition of just what happens when a Death Star is used... sparingly. Die-hard aficionados of the originals will find piles of easter eggs, references, in-jokes, and subtle (and less subtle) callbacks to the original series, enough to keep the internet spinning for years, and all of this wrapped up in a story that is much more adult in feel than the movies of yesteryear, filled with rebels who not only shoot first but actively feel like the terrorists that they must be, in actuality, all without sacrificing the essential good-vs-evil dynamic that the Star Wars films are cored around.

So what's missing? character.

Rogue One is a movie with an enormous, almost labyrinthine plot, involving multiple rebel groups and cells, political maneuvering on several levels, reunions, betrayals, battle plans and lengthy engagements, and to its credit it handles all of those things quite well, even when it has to spend the first ten minutes of the film establishing about half a dozen different planets that we will eventually be visiting. The problem isn't the plot, it's that it has to do all of those things while also establishing nine different major characters, none of whom we know anything about going in (save for those who have been watching the cartoon series), all in a runtime of less than two-and-a-quarter hours. It's not that the movie fails in its attempts to characterize these people, it's that characterizing that many people and that much plot in that short a run-time is impossible. As such, we get the briefest introduction to each character before plunging them into another battle or plot point, with the predictable effect that almost all of them are complete cyphers, robbing the film of the emotional core that the best Star Wars movies have. As always, a lack of characterization throws the job of generating interest onto the actors themselves, who accomplish their impossible task to varying degrees of effectiveness.

Veteran character actor Ben Mendelsohn, of whom I have always been a great fan, pulls it off, playing Death Star project director Orson Krennic as a driven man who's life's work is finally approaching fruition and who is stymied on all sides by incompetence, political underhandedness, and the rebels (in that order), who does not understand why things can never go smoothly, and why the disasters that befall his pet project must continuously happen to him. Nightcrawler-alum Riz Ahmed pulls it off as well, playing a defecting Imperial pilot caught up in the larger chaos of the war between Empire and Rebellion, a man trying to do the right thing unable to understand what is happening around him. Mads Mikkelsen, Diego Luna, and Chinese director Jiang Wen all also manage to pull at least something out of their characters, respectively a broken man struggling to redeem a lifetime of failure and deception, a committed rebel terrorist attempting to ensure that the horrors he has perpetrated have meaning, and a stoic badass with a gigantic machinegun (this is Star Wars), as does Alan Tudyk, as the voice of the comic-relief droid, a world-weary cynic who does what he must. But unfortunately, one who does not pull it off is Felicity Jones, star of the movie, whose character of Jyn Erso has no character whatsoever, a plot device at best who goes along with the flow of the movie until it's time for the script-demanded "big rousing speech" that the movie has entirely failed to earn. Forest Whitaker, meanwhile, tries to escape into weirdness, playing a gasping, throaty lunatic of a rebel fighter. One is reminded, with this character, of Episode III's General Grevious, a villain that popped up out of nowhere to command a central role that had not been established, due to the character having been first created in one of the TV shows. Leaving aside the question of this sort of practice, the character is a complete non-entity, who plays no role but exposition before being summarily dumped in favor of more plot.

Rogue One is not a terrible movie, nor a bad one, but in defiance of all those saying otherwise, it is my solemn duty to report that it is a fairly mediocre one, certainly not a disaster on the scale of the Prequels, but nowhere near the equal of the originals, nor of last year's Episode VII. It is, to me at least, proof positive that Star Wars' strengths, particularly in the modern day, do not rely solely on Empty Spectacle, as some overly-serious critics might imply. Here, after all, is a movie that is largely nothing except Empty Spectacle, and it does not equal the warmth and glory of the predecessors, not even with a bevy of decent-to-good actors at its service.

But then, surely the Prequels already told us that much.

Final Score:  5.5/10


La La Land

Alternate Title:  Streetlight People

One sentence synopsis:   An aspiring actress and a frustrated jazz piano player find love and follow their dreams in Los Angeles.

The Verdict:  I feel like I've done you guys a disservice this year. I'm not talking about the irregular schedule I've had, for that was unavoidable given my other commitments. I'm talking instead about my selection of movies for 2016. All year I've been beating the drum of the fact that 2016's movies have been godawful, on average and in summation, and it's true that if you look over the reviews I've laid down this year, that's certainly reflected in the score. However, it wasn't until a number of other critics started releasing their year-end best lists (mine are coming, don't worry), that I began to realize that what was wrong with this year might not have been the movies, but my taste in them. Most of the films people were citing as the best of the year, movies like The Handmaiden, The Nice Guys, or Neon Demons, were movies that I had, for one reason or another, decided to skip in favor of more mainstream fare, which turned out, generally speaking, to be utter crap. I pick the movies I'm going to see based on purely arbitrary readings of trailers and my own mood, but it's true that after the disaster that was 2015's Indie cinema (Leviathan, anyone?), I turned back to Hollywood's mainstream offerings, in the hope that I would not be subjected to a movie as bad as any of those I saw in 2015.

Well that didn't quite work the way I had anticipated, as the rest of my reviews from this year can tell you. But as a final parting gift from 2016, I decided to do something about this unpleasant trend from the year now fondly departed. And so, bypassing more mainstream movies like Passengers and Collateral Beauty (the vibes of which were becoming quite toxic), I decided to go see a classic-style musical starring a sexy, sexy man.

Which sexy man? Why, Ryan Gosling, of course, who stars in La La Land as a jazz pianist struggling to follow his dream of opening a classic jazz nightclub somewhere in Los Angeles, while dating the equally adorable Emma Stone, who is that most common of all Los Angelenos, an aspiring actress. I could tell you more about their particular characters, but honestly, they're not really playing characters as much as they're playing the ur-representations of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, two movie stars caught up in a glorious musical ode to love and life and dreams and the quest for all three, and god damn are they good at it. Granted, Gosling is not much of a singer, but in all other respects the two of them are just radiant, playing modern day incarnations of the featherweight characters that used to be portrayed by people like Gene Kelly and Judy Garland and Fred Astaire. Stone even tries her hand at tap dancing. And given that this is Ryan Gosling, who as I mentioned before is a sexy, sexy man, and Emma Stone, one of the most effortlessly charming actresses working today (and who is also possessed of some of the most gorgeous eyes I've ever seen), the result is a wonderful little movie, thin on plot (though perhaps not quite thin enough) and long on song and dance and heartwarming, occasionally bittersweet, modern fantasy. The musical numbers range from old-style dance escapades that would not be out of place in a Ginger Rogers movie, to more modern ensemble pieces, including a wonderful opening sequence set, of all places, in the middle of rush hour traffic on a highway. It rambles from big band ensembles to jazz numbers to marching-band-and-samba pieces with cameos by John Legend and J.K. Simmons. It's a wonderful movie, in the sense of being full of wonderous things. I enjoyed it more than I have most anything else this year.

La La Land isn't perfect of course, the middle section drags fairly heavily, due to the baffling decision to drop the music for a while and focus on a fairly formulaic plot, but it scarcely matters when dealing with a movie like this. La La Land is a charming movie in every sense, one that is the perfect way to see out the calendar year of 2016, and usher in a year full of, hopefully, better things.

Final Score:  7.5/10

Next Time:  We begin the January cleanup of last year's Oscar season with a stage-to-screen adaptation starring two of my favorite actors.

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