Love, Simon

Simon Versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda, the book Love, Simon, is based on, was one of the first times I really felt seen in fiction. The book’s exploration of coming out in a reasonably-liberal environment, and how even in that context it’s still a fraught process, really hit home with me, and it was a major plus that it was within the context of a sweet, heartfelt story about friendship and first love. So it goes without saying that I was incredibly excited for the movie adaptation and its far superior name.


And on pretty much every level I think the movie succeeded both as an adaptation and as a phenomenal movie in its own right. The only meaningful complaint I have is that I feel the movie is more generic than the book in its exploration of coming out and subtle homophobia. Simon Versus has a lot of good material about how frustrating it is that coming out has to be such a thing, the way it can feel so daunting to contradict people’s expectations of you, how microaggressions and heteronormativity can make you uncertain how people will actually react. And the movie delves into those topics to some extent, but partially by the nature of the medium being more about showing than telling I think some of the impact of those topics gets lost.

On the other hand, I think there are ways in which the movie improves upon, or at least adapts excellently, from the book. The loose structure of Simon thinking of three different guys in turn as being Blue works really well, and the handful of characters the movie adds fit really well into the narrative. The more I think on it the more I realize how many individual scenes in the movie are completely new, and yet the whole thing feels very cohesive.

One of those new scenes is where Simon first emails Blue (something not in the book, which starts some time after the two began corresponding) and there’s this moment in it that really stands out to me. In his email, Simon introduces himself in relatively vague terms, gets close to coming out in what’s a theoretically secure, anonymous fashion . . . but doesn’t. There’s a strong sense of tension in the scene, and obviously part of it comes from the fact that we as the audience expect to be explicitly told this information, but there’s a painful reality portrayed here in how even in the safest of environments it can still feel so daunting to come out. I was surprised to be so affected by such a seemingly-small thing, but as someone who still sometimes struggles to talk about being gay, it was really powerful to see that represented on screen in a big-budget (for a teen movie, at least), wide-release movie.


There’s a great storytelling trick in this scene, too, which is how the audience learns that what was initially presented as opening narration is actually Simon’s first email to Blue. He opens with, “I’m just like you,” and when heard at the beginning of the movie this seems like an attempt on the filmmakers’ part to pander to the straight audience, to present a “straight, relatable” Simon before exploring his sexuality. But then after we follow Simon for a day and enter his world, it’s revealed that when Simon says “I’m just like you,” he’s speaking to another closeted teen about being gay. It’s a neat way to give the monologue a double purpose for straight and gay viewers, and it hopefully makes the straight audience empathize with Simon both times. And while I maybe would prefer a story that doesn’t even try to speak to straight viewers, I do appreciate that this story doubles as a mirror for gay people (at least those with certain experiences) while also inviting straight people to understand some of our issues.

I also love the way that the movie emphasizes, if only by omitting other parts of Simon and Blue’s correspondence from the book, the way that this is in part a story about solidarity and connection between gay people. Blue is the first person Simon comes out to, which emboldens Blue to come out to his dad, which helps Simon come out to Abby in a scene where we see that same hesitation again, but this time it’s overcome thanks to the courage Simon has gained from Blue. It’s a really powerful element to this narrative that I never noticed in the book, but really loved here.

There’s probably a lot more I could say here, especially after another viewing or two, but I’ll keep it short(ish) for now and conclude with a few random thoughts:

  • The way the movie uses Simon’s morning commute to mark the beginning, lowpoint, and end of the movie was really effective. I especially loved the overhead shots at the coffee shop drive-thru.
  • Martin says he has “screenshots” of Simon’s emails but when we see them posted, they’re freaking photos of the screen, like, what?!
  • Using the emails between Simon and Blue to reveal interiority works so well as a way to avoid straight-up narration.
  • It seriously annoys me that the writers changed it so that Simon’s family are watching The Bachelor instead of The Bachelorette like in the book, but never bothered to look up that neither air in the fall. Accuracy matters!!!

EmotedLlama’s 2017 in Movies

Or more accurately, “EmotedLlama’s 2017 at the Movie Theater” but that’s not the naming convention, dammit!

Anyway, here’s a rundown of the seven movies released in 2017 I saw in 2017, in chronological order. Full spoilers should be assumed.

Hidden Figures

This movie was utterly fantastic. On a fundamental level it’s a standard inspirational biopic, but by focusing on, well, hidden figures of American history, and doing it with just impeccable execution, Hidden Figures denies being reduced in that way. It’s hard for me to say a lot more about it since a lot of the depth to the movie is on topics I’m not well-suited to write about, especially since my memory of the movie is a little iffy after a year, but suffice to say that, well, this movie is great. Also, the performances from Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae are just perfect.

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

I really enjoyed the first Guardians of the Galaxy the first time I watched it, but on rewatch found it kind of stale, so I wasn’t entirely sure how much I’d like this one. And . . . it was fine. There were some good gags (<3 baby groot), and elements of the movie’s thematic material about family worked, but it felt like for every good moment there were twice as many moments where characters were just yelling at each other for no real reason.

There’s also a kind of unsettling tonal dissonance throughout the movie, like how the crew that stand up for Yondu are vented out the airlock and it’s meant to be a sobering moment, but when Yondu kills the crew who mutinied against him its a fun action sequence. Like, apparently murder is bad when it’s sort-of good guys, but when it’s sort-of bad guys it’s exciting! Another example is the character of Mantis, who on paper is a tragic victim of emotional abuse and educational neglect, but these things are played for laughs rather than examined in any meaningful way.

Additionally, the movie suffers from not really having a plot outside of the stuff with Yondu in the second act, which might work if the character interactions were more meaningful but they’re really not that exceptional. The relationship between Gamora and Nebula is somewhat interesting, if only because “adopted sisters who were forced to fight each other by their supervillain dad” is such a unique story, but then Peter Quill’s entire arc is one we’ve seen time and again in fiction and the wedge it drives between him and Gamora is super rote.

Wonder Woman


I mean. I’m not sure there’s much to be said about Wonder Woman that hasn’t been said already. It’s just an incredible movie and in a landscape of Marvel’s experimentation, Fox’s whatever-the-fuck-they’re-doing, and DC’s Zack Snyder obsession, Wonder Woman stands out as the first superhero movie in a long time to portray a traditional style of superhero. Diana Prince as a character is a beacon of hope, of selflessness, of fighting for what’s right and the greater good, to the point where her enemy is literally a personification of the concept of war. It’s really meaningful to see a hero like that in today’s cultural landscape, and I’m thankful that she has such a strong movie to back her up.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

After seeing this movie I thought about doing a post comparing the ways it, Wonder Woman, and Guardians Vol. 2 portray superheroes, because it’s a really fascinating contrast. Where Guardians is about messy people trying their best and Wonder Woman is about a classic-type hero, Spider-Man: Homecoming shows us a young kid who kind of wants to be a Wonder Woman-like hero, but is held back by his inexperience and immaturity, not to mention Tony Stark’s horrible mentorship. It makes for an enjoyable arc for Peter Parker, and the relationship he has with Tony Stark is fascinating to watch.

And outside of all that, this is just a really fun movie. The high school trappings are a smart storytelling move and help make for a story that gets closer to exploring what life for the everyday person is like in the MCU than any of the franchise’s other entries. There was some stuff I didn’t like as much, such as the way the movie pokes fun at some if its genre conventions (like Peter awkwardly changing into his costume or being unable to web in a park) while holding onto others (how in the heck did he get away from that ferry without being caught?), but on a whole it’s a well-crafted movie with a lot to enjoy.

Atomic Blonde

There’s not a lot going on in this movie (I left to use the bathroom at one point and didn’t even feel I’d missed anything), and it uses that simplicity and singular drive to tell a nerve-wracking, intensely-thrilling story with knockout action sequences and a brutal, but never sadistic, tone that just rules. I don’t think anything else needs to be said by me.

Thor: Ragnarok

This was really the year of fun Marvel movies, and this was definitely the most fun of the three. I have my quibbles–until Thor and Loki meet with Odin the movie keeps setting up dramatic moments and then diffusing them with silly humor in a way I found annoying, and the shuffling off the the series’ previous female characters is really questionable–but those aside, this is a fun, exciting movie with a pretty good use of humor and some interesting thematic material about colonialism and whitewashing of the past.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi


This. Movie. Was. Phenomenal!

Okay. First: The Last Jedi just would not stop producing incredible, destined-to-be-iconic moments. Leia’s spacewalk! The throne room fight! Holdo’s lightspeed sacrifice! Luke’s standoff with Kylo! And that’s without all of the other action set pieces which were thrilling and visually stunning and just a joy to behold.

Second: the thematic material! I’ve seen people deride the Canto Bight sequence for slowing the pace of the movie, but the exploration of a corrupt ruling class exploiting the working class was awesome to see and I felt it meaningfully expanded the Star Wars universe. (I didn’t have issues with the movie’s pacing, though, so maybe I’m extra forgiving.) And I’ve seen it pointed out how DJ’s character even criticizes the “both sides are bad” mindset by showing him siding with the unquestionable bad guys out of opportunism, which is an interesting interpretation.

Then there’s the message about failure, which the movie builds into every one of its plotlines in a really great way. Luke’s failure to keep Kylo Ren from the dark side and Rey’s subsequent failure to turn Kylo to the light side, Rose and Finn’s failure to disrupt the First Order’s tracking, Poe’s failure to subvert Holdo’s plans, the Resistance’s failure to escape the First Order intact. The ultimate message of all this, though, is that just because the heroes failed and made mistakes doesn’t mean they’ve lost and can’t move on. It’s not a hugely original or complex theme, but for a Star Wars movie it’s pretty robust.

Third and final: the character arcs. I loved the continued evolution of Finn from The Force Awakens as someone who originally just wants to get away from the First Order/Resistance conflict, then gets involved to save Rey, then comes to see the value of the Resistance and the just fight they’re fighting and is willing to sacrifice himself to try to save them. (DJ is used neatly as a foil here, presenting pessimistic ideas that Finn ultimately rejects.) I also love the way that Rose saving him isn’t just a contrivance to keep him from dying, but fits with her grief after her sister’s sacrifice and Poe’s arc of learning that risky, showy plans aren’t always the best.

Speaking of Poe’s arc, it’s where I’m a little iffy on the movie. I think some of it works, but the contrivance around Holdo not telling him the evacuation plan significantly weakens the plotline. Not only does it really not make sense for Holdo to not make everyone aware that they’re going to evacuate the ship (I’d think at least her bridge crew would be aware, yet Billie Lourd’s character continuously helps Poe), but the fact that she withholds that information from Poe makes his decision to subvert her command seem like not such a bad idea. Additionally, the initiation of his arc is in the movie’s opening sequence where he leads a strike against a First Order ship against Leia’s orders–except whether his decision was a good one is pretty debatable, and so I’m left ultimately wondering just how much Poe actually needed to change.

There’s also the subtext of his arc, which I’ve seen pointed out is questionable given that Oscar Isaac is a Latino man and the movie portrays his character as hot-headed and reckless. (I’m not sure I’d use exactly those words but I’d need to rewatch to really disagree.) Of course, there’s also subtext in his plotline about men needing to listen to women, so it’s more complicated than just “the only subtext present is bad,” but it is an issue.

Finally there’s Rey’s arc, which I think I need to see the movie again to fully form an opinion on. Her story is split between her relationships with Luke, Kylo, and her heritage in a way that makes untangling those elements from each other a little complicated. I’m tentatively willing to say, however, that I don’t think Rey has an arc across the movie so much as she takes actions and learns things, which isn’t necessarily bad–I don’t think Moana really has an arc in Moana, and that’s not to the detriment of the movie–but makes her feel a little less dynamic in the movie compared to Finn and Poe. Still, it’s something I need to think more on and get another viewing in to really get my head around it.

But overall, as I said: this movie is amazing! I need more time to decide if I prefer it to The Force Awakens overall, but these two movies are definitely my favorite Star Wars movies regardless of their ordering compared to each other.

The The Princess Diaries Journals

I recently (read: two months ago when I wrote the first half of this post) rewatched The Princess Diaries and The Princess Diaries 2, two movies from my childhood that I hadn’t seen in a long time. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the first movie is actually pretty good, and unpleasantly surprised to find that the second one is really bad.


She’s not like regular princess, she’s a cool princess.

The first Princess Diaries movie has a really strong premise: Mia, an awkward, unpopular 15-year-old girl, finds out she’s actually the princess of a kingdom in Europe named Genovia and has to contend with the changes this brings to her daily highschool life.

The only thing I really remembered about this movie going into it was that it involved a makeover and the protagonist learning how to be more “princess-like.” Given that, I was expecting some questionable messages about femininity and how girls “should” be, but while that subtext was there at the bottom, I was pleased by how the movie sidesteps those themes by specifically grounding the story on this one character. It’s true that because Mia is now in line to rule a country that she has to act with a certain amount of decorum and meet a certain level of conventional attractiveness, but this is never presented as a universal standard of being that everyone else should aspire to. Lilly, Mia’s best friend, demonstrates this by starting in a similar social standing to Mia and staying there over the course of the movie, and this isn’t portrayed as a bad thing–it just is.

Meanwhile, amidst the silly humor (which works pretty well, actually) and larger-than-life plot, the movie is grounded by solid character work for its primary cast. Mia’s journey especially is extremely compelling, as she learns to become more comfortable in the public eye and finds that the popular kids, who she sort-of-secretly wanted an in with, aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

In addition to Mia’s arc, there’s some good stuff about how Mia’s fame affects her relationship with Lilly; how Mia’s grandmother Clarisse has to learn to see her granddaughter not just as a potential successor but also, you know, her granddaughter; and I think Mia’s mom sort of has an arc about respecting Mia’s independence but their relationship is mostly strong throughout the film. There’s even a little romantic subplot with Lilly’s brother, Michael, that isn’t groundbreaking or anything but is solidly executed.

With all that the first movie had going for it, I had moderately high expectations for The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, the second Princess Diaries film utterly fails to live up to its predecessor’s level of quality.


I’ll take the alternate universe where “she needs the rock to rule” refers to Dwayne Johnson, please.

The first misstep here is the premise. The first movie sets up the idea that Mia can be an actor for positive, large-scale change as the ruler of a nation, and so the obvious (and good!) narrative for the sequel would be her working to do just that while navigating the complexities of leading a country. Instead, The Princess Diaries 2 opts for a plot in which a political rival seeks to take the throne by invoking an archaic law which states that a queen of Genovia must be married in order to rule. What follows is a shenanigans-y romantic-comedy plot that’s ultimately nothing more than a piece of meaningless fluff.

What’s extra frustrating about this is that the movie does occasionally flirt with substance, but never actually goes the distance. For instance, there’s a sequence where Mia learns of an orphanage that doesn’t have an adequate building and chooses to home it in one of the royal palaces until a better one can be built, angering the Genovian upperclass in the process. That’s exactly the sort of stuff I wanted from the movie–but here it takes up maybe a few minutes of screentime and has no real impact on the plot.

Meanwhile, there’s this really uncomfortable subplot involving Mia’s maids, who are so subservient and eager to please Mia that they get on her nerves. It’s really bizarre to watch Mia, who lives in an opulent palace and possesses the highest office in the country simply by chance of birth, engage in wacky tactics to avoid two girls whose job is to serve her every whim. It comes across as totally tone-deaf to portray the maids in this way, totally ignoring the injustice of their disparate positions from Mia. Like, she could probably sell a single one of the lavish pieces of jewelry given to her by Clarisse and the money would set her maids for life, but she does nothing. Adorable orphans, though, they get absurdly-overkill help!

Probably the worst part of the movie, however, is the resolution to the main plot, where Mia calls a snap vote to abolish the law requiring her to get married. It’s framed as this feminist message but, like, I’m not sure how meaningful a statement “women shouldn’t have to be married to inherit the rule of a monarchy” is in the 21st century. Plus, there’s literally no reason why Mia couldn’t have called for this vote at the very beginning of the movie and made the entire plot moot.

A better movie might have made it so that Mia, an outsider to the country, didn’t have the political clout or trust of the people to abolish a law right off the bat, but by the end of the movie proves herself as a capable leader worthy of respect, but nope–she just arbitrarily decides that actually she’d rather not play by shitty rules and everyone’s like “yeah that checks out.” It’s really disappointing because the first movie managed to be a lighthearted, silly affair that nonetheless had meaningful things to say about its characters, who had actual arcs and solid plots. The Princess Diaries 2 just leans into the silliness with no substance to back it up.

But, hey, apparently they’re trying to get a third Princess Diaries movie off the ground, so maybe whoever’s behind the next one will have the chance to right the mistakes of the first sequel.

Speech & Debate is a Movie about Speech & Debate the Club and Also Speech and Debate the Concept

This is another of those tiny indie movies that Netflix picks up distribution rights to and is basically impossible to gauge the quality of until you try it. Fortunately this one was more Eat With Me than Jenny’s Wedding (which I haven’t written about, but trust me, it’s awful).


I don’t actually have anything snarky to say about this poster, it’s pretty cute.

Speech & Debate is about three high school seniors in Salem, Oregon and ostensibly follows their struggles for creative and social freedom in their school. That thread kind of gets lost a bit along the way, but we’ll get to that.

Let’s start with the teens. There’s Solomon, who works for the school paper and wants to pursue journalism as a career, but the limits placed on what subjects he can write about (anything controversial is off-limits) makes him feel silenced. Next is Diwata, an aspiring actor/singer/etc., who’s frustrated by the school’s decision to alter its production of Once Upon a Mattress to appeal to social conservatism (and is ticked off she didn’t get the lead role). Finally is Howie, openly gay but used to big-city Portland, who feels isolated as a result and wants to start a GSA but is blocked by the school board because it’s “more of a social hour.”

This all works pretty well, and writing it out like that it seems like there’s a pretty clear trajectory for the movie wherein the characters try to find ways to affect change and stick it to The Man. The problem is that the movie never really gives its characters tangible goals until the very end and spends most of the second act on stuff that’s functionally irrelevant to the movie’s plot and themes. I think the movie intends to frame this section, where the characters get involved in Speech & Debate club, as the characters trying to follow their interests in a system-approved manner to less-than-stellar results, but there’s two problems with the execution.

First, the characters aren’t actually pursuing Speech & Debate club in an approved way. They go off to a competition without a faculty sponsor for the club, or even seemingly alerting the faculty of what they’re doing, which results in them getting detention for fraudulently representing the school. Second, their less-than-stellar results don’t really have anything to do with Speech & Debate not fulfilling their desires, but rather because they’re inexperienced with the format and don’t properly prepare. If they’d just gone through the proper channels and learned the rules of the competition, there would have been no problems.

As a result of this, the characters don’t have a meaningful realization about how following the decisions made by those in power isn’t going to work for them, and so their subsequent decision to cause a scene at a school board meeting in order to draw attention to their being stifled doesn’t have nearly as much weight. The only reason they couldn’t have done it right at the start of the movie is because they didn’t know each other well enough, but any plot in the second act could have accomplished that. The movie could have spent half an hour on them at Disney World and the same character work could have been done.


There’s also a problem with the conclusion to the film in that the way it resolves the characters’ goals is unsatisfying and reveals how low-stakes the whole thing was. Solomon is interviewed by a local news station, getting him recognition in a journalism context and implicitly pressuring the school board to change some things (although it’s never shown that this happens), so he pretty much gets what he was looking for, but it’s more complicated for Howie and Diwata.

It’s implicit that the reason Howie wanted to start a GSA was to find friends and to date, so the fact that there’s no indication the school is going to start a GSA isn’t a problem for him because he made friends and gets a romantic interest. But that romantic interest, as far as I could tell, was someone from the Speech & Debate competition, and the same is true for his friends. This means that while his personal goals were accomplished, the climax in the third act has no bearing on them, and his thematically-relevant goal is left totally ambiguous.

Diwata, on the other hand, never even seems to be that concerned with the alteration to Once Upon a Mattress and is more interested in being the lead in any sort of performing. So in that way her goals are fulfilled by the trio’s performance at the school board, but continuing with Speech & Debate club would have accomplished the same thing. And she has the same issue as Howie, where her personal desires led her to the issue around free expression, and so while that’s the theme of the movie neither character actually has to succeed on that front to be successful. The result is that the movie’s themes are played up and made to seem like the important thing, but they really aren’t. Speech & Debate is torn between telling personal, individual stories and exploring a wider topic and because of that it doesn’t really execute either vision.

So . . . that’s all pretty negative, but the thing about fiction is that it doesn’t have to be thematically and structurally solid to be enjoyable, and Speech & Debate totally was enjoyable. The leads all have strong characterization and are easy to like and root for, and their actors do great work to make them come alive. The movie also has a pretty charming sense of humor that keeps things feeling breezy and entertaining even when the plot is going down pointless detours.

And while I am pretty harsh on the movie’s handling of its themes, I do appreciate that it’s trying. Exploring the world of bureaucratic school decisions and their affects on students is a solid premise, and even if the movie doesn’t dig as deep as it should it still touches on important and engaging ideas.

The movie also does a pretty decent job of incorporating modern technology. The usage of texting feels really natural (there’s a great bit where Diwata texts Solomon’s mom as him and the mom immediately knows it’s not him because of Diwata’s excessive emoji usage) and there was a good sense of how Youtube fame works. The on-screen presentation of Youtube did bug me a bit though since the bar showing the like-to-dislike ratio never fit the videos’ views and like counts. Aside from that, though, the movie had a great sense of style. There were a lot of original-but-not-distracting editing flourishes and musical cues in key places that made things more interesting.

Finally, a little nitpick: when Diwata auditions for the school play, she briefly sings from Hamilton, and then later in the movie Lin-Manuel Miranda shows up but not as himself in an instructional video the leads watch. Apparently in this world Hamilton exists but Lin-Manuel Miranda doesn’t? It’s kinda weird.

Overall, I’d give Speech & Debate a pretty solid three out of five stars. It’s far from exceptional and has a lot of issues, but it’s got good heart and even if it doesn’t quite work, you can really see what the movie was going for and that helps me forgive its faults.

Moana Is Great and Frozen Is Terrible

So before I get into the rest of this post I want to include the disclaimer that I am analyzing these two movies purely from a filmmaking standpoint, that is, I’m not getting into gender or race politics because I’m not qualified to speak on such issues. (The second half of this most recent episode of the podcast Still Buffering had some good discussion on gender representation in Moana and Frozen if you’re interested.) With that said:


I hate how snow and ice are so blue in this movie.

I remember being fairly skeptical of Frozen‘s quality when I finally got around to seeing it a year after release. I think it was mostly because Olaf looked awful, and while he was, it turned out that was only the tip of the iceberg. Frozen reportedly went through some late-stage changes in story, and while that worked out well for Zootopia, it really did not here.

Let’s begin with the beginning. Frozen opens with Anna and Elsa as friends, playing with Elsa’s ice powers. Then Elsa accidentally hurts Anna and the sisters’ parents have trolls make Anna forget about the ice powers and tell Elsa to hide them, and then the parents die at sea and there’s a song showing Anna and Elsa growing up and not being friends anymore and then there’s going to be a big party and Anna sings about how the castle is finally going to be lively again.

That all happens in about 15 minutes, by the way. The extreme speed of all this plot information and changes in status quo make it impossible to care about any of it; sure, for Anna it’s been years since the castle was exciting and fun, but for the audience it’s been about five minutes.

This flip-flopping in status quo also drives the problem with Elsa as a character. Elsa basically has two characters in the movie: shy and afraid of her powers, and overly bold and confident. The result is a character with a totally unclear personality; is the confident Elsa just a blip and the shy Elsa we see for most of the movie “really” her, or is her confident side her “real” personality that’s otherwise been hidden? Because her character arc is kind of deemphasized at the end of the movie (at least to my recollection; it’s been a while since I saw the movie) there’s not really enough information to determine that.

Speaking of the end of the movie, that’s it’s other main problem. At this point in the plot Anna has been put under a magical curse that will freeze her unless broken by an “act of true love.” The resolution to this is when Anna steps in front of the villain Hans’ blade to save Elsa; Anna’s self-sacrifice is the act of true love. The problem with this is that Anna’s love for Elsa is something that’s never been in question during the movie. Half of the plot, in fact, is driven by how much Anna cares for Elsa. So for Anna saving Elsa to be the climax just doesn’t mean much because it says nothing new about the characters and requires no personal growth or change.

Hans, meanwhile, is a terrible villain. It’s really easy for characters who are pretending to be good but are secretly evil to come off as cheap because the writers can just write the character as if they were good until the reveal comes. And that’s exactly what happens here: there are no hints that Hans is evil, no indication that he’s putting on an act. He’s just a good guy who suddenly becomes a bad guy.

And it’s a shame that he turns out to be a bad guy, really, because of how it makes the song “Love is an Open Door” totally meaningless. I actually really like the song (it’s the only one in the movie I enjoy listening to), but not only is it lampshaded almost immediately when Elsa points out how ridiculous it is to get engaged to a dude after five minutes, but it turns out that the love was 100% fake on Hans’ part anyway so in retrospect, “Love is an Open Door” is basically just filler and its cuteness is totally undermined by the deception involved.

The final point against Frozen is its songs. Most of them are either emotionally hollow (“Love is an Open Door,” “For the First Time in Forever”) or more-or-less filler (Olaf’s song, the trolls’ song, the opening song which is sort of thematically relevant but is literally just about ice miners, whose lifestyle is totally irrelevant to the movie). “Let It Go” is the only song in the movie that has any real significance to it, and while its popularity is undeniable I don’t think it’s a very good song.

In addition to the actual quality and relevance of the songs, they also fall into a problem I have with a lot of Disney musicals, where the songs are majorly frontloaded. After “Let It Go” closes the first act, three of the four songs left in the movie are pointless filler and there aren’t any at all in the third act. (Also, while I don’t have the patience to start up the movie and check the timestamps, I’m pretty sure there’s only one song past the halfway point of the movie.) The end result is that the movie feels less like a musical and more like a movie that has some songs in it.


Not sure why the pig even exists since it’s just there for like ten minutes.

And that brings us to Moana and the first point in its favor, which is that it has not one but two climactic songs, both of which are great. (I haven’t thought a lot about what my favorite Disney song is but “I Am Moana” is definitely up there.) And there really aren’t any filler songs, either–the closest one to being filler is “Shiny,” but the way it’s used as a focal point for the setpiece going on during the song makes it feel more important.

Beyond that, Moana just fundamentally works. The characters have clear personalities and their arcs make sense; the light plot twist feels natural; the climax is founded on Moana’s unique skills, not a test of something that was never in question; and while the pacing in the first act is a little jumpy, the prologue isn’t at all convoluted. I haven’t seen Big Hero 6, but that aside I feel quite confident in calling Moana Disney’s best 3D animated movie this decade. (Zootopia is pretty close, though.)

Ugh, this is why writing about stuff I like sucks. I got nine paragraphs out of Frozen but only two out of Moana. Anyway, Moana is awesome and Frozen is not, case closed.

Carol, Tennessee Williams, and The Birdcage

Okay, bear with me, I promise this makes sense.

I finally got around to seeing Carol (2015) last night, and yeah, it is that good. And while watching it, I noticed connections to the works of playwright Tennessee Williams, connections I also noticed when rewatching The Birdcage the night before. So I thought I’d do a post about all of them!


This movie has some very pretty posters.

The first character followed in Carol is a man. We watch him recognize someone in the restaurant he’s in, who’s dining with another woman, and he goes over and says hello and invites her to a party. It’s clear from the way the two women look at each other (and a lingering hand on a shoulder) that there’s something important going on here, but we’ve not yet been clued in to what, exactly, it is–we have as much information as the man.

The movie then goes back in time to tell the story of the two women before revisiting this scene toward the end of the movie, but it now opens following the titular Carol, and we now understand the relationship between her and the other woman, Therese. We see this time how meaningful the conversation between them is before it’s so carelessly interrupted by what we’ve learned to be a totally inconsequential character. The movie has shifted us from this male perspective, ignorant of the inner lives of these women, to their perspective, showing us how much is going on under the surface of 1950s repression.

Repression is really a key theme of the movie. For Therese to go on a weeks-long vacation with a woman she just met might seem bizarre in other contexts, but it makes perfect sense when you consider how this is the first time she’s experiencing real attraction, not just going along with what others expect from her. Carol has opened Therese up to a whole new world, one that’s more fulfilling and exciting than what she’s previously experienced.

It’s not as simple as just going away with Carol, however. Both Therese and Carol have men in their lives, who represent not just literally but also I think figuratively the way that society traps women, forces them to relate to men even when they have no desire to. Therese and Carol both have to extricate themselves from their preexisting relationships to be with each other in a way that other couples never would.

And that’s where the relation to Tennessee Williams comes in. I’ve been reading some of his plays lately, and being trapped by social situations (albeit usually familial rather than societal) is a big theme of his work, at least the one’s I’ve gotten to.



This is best summed up in an early scene in The Glass Menagerie, when the protagonist Tom tells his sister about a magic show he saw where the magician trapped himself in a coffin and escaped “without removing one nail.” He then says:

“There is a trick that would come in handy for me–get me out of this two-by-four situation!”

It’s this impossibility of escaping his mother and sister without removing metaphorical nails that prevents Tom from leaving as he’d like, and it’s what keeps Carol and Therese from each other, too. These situations that they’ve been trapped in, by society or by family, prevent them from living their lives on their own terms.

While Tom, Carol, and Therese all eventually do escape their coffins, mess and all, we see another side of this issue in Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. In it, the more-or-less protagonist Brick is very clearly gay, but seems unwilling to admit it even to himself. He’s trapped by his wife, by his family, and the conflict of it all has led him to a state of alcoholic depression. In the end, he’s not willing to disturb the nails, and is seen prepared to conceive a child with his wife. We see how it’s so much simpler, not to mention easier, to just go with the flow, to let others’ expectations for you run your life. Brick just isn’t capable of breaking free.

Through this lens, The Birdcage has a lot in common with a Tennessee Williams play. The vivid dialogue, the exaggerated characters, the themes of family conflict and repression, all would fit in pretty nicely among Williams’ works.


This movie’s poster is surprisingly understated.

The Birdcage sees repression from the other side, though: its gay characters are flamboyant and totally out, but through the course of the movie’s events find themselves playing straight to get along with their future in-laws. They put themselves back in the coffin, and while the movie is too much of a comedy to really get into the thematic material behind this, the fact that things go so wrong is evidence of how hiding one’s self and playing by society’s rules just doesn’t work. Albert and Armand are gay; no amount of drag or fancy suits can change that.

It’s notable to the progress made over the course of the 20th century, though, that Albert and Armand are even able to be out as they are. They’re afforded more room by society to refuse to conform, living in 1996 and not the ’40s or ’50s. Carol and Therese barely even have language to describe who they are; the movie’s characters only ever speak of being “that way” or other vague euphemisms. The Birdcage is, in a way, a sequel to Carol and Therese’s story, showing how their lives could have been just 40 years later.

Something unrelated I noticed on the rewatch of The Birdcage is how much of a dick Armand’s son is. You’d think that having grown up with a gay dad would teach him a thing or two about homophobia and how much damage it can do, but he’s perfectly content to ask his dad to go back into the closet with basically no sympathy. Pretty selfish, dude!

I don’t have a good closing for this post, so instead I’d like to point to a great post about Carol written by one of my favorite authors, Malinda Lo. You can find it here!

EmotedLlama’s 2016 in Movies

For simplicity’s sake (and for the sake of not having to try to remember everything I’ve watched this year) I’m going to limit this list to movies that came out this year, which means only stuff I saw in theaters plus Zootopia. And since that only totals seven movies, I’m going to go chronologically rather than ranking them.

Captain America: Civil War

I’m pretty much down for everything Marvel is doing in the movie department right now (except for Doctor Strange, fuck that) and this wasn’t a disappointment. The MCU movies have hit a good midpoint between highbrow and lowbrow, and it’s really just cool to see a shared universe in a movie franchise. Civil War wasn’t anything overly special in and of itself, but it was super enjoyable and was impressive in its handling of a crapton of characters.


This released before Civil War but I saw it on DVD so I think this is where it fits on the list. Anyway, Zootopia is a fine movie that does a really good job at exploring prejudice and internalized biases, but the actual plot was underwhelming to me–it’s just a standard police mystery, but waaay simplified. I’m sure that’s fine for kids, but it doesn’t really hold up from an older perspective that’s used to more complex plots in plot-driven stories. Adventure or character-driven stories work better for all-ages movies, IMO.

Finding Dory

I rewatched Finding Nemo before seeing Finding Dory and I was surprised by how good the former is coming at it as an adult. The thematic material exploring cautiousness and father-son relationships was really well-handled and practically everything that happened in the movie supported its themes.

Finding Dory, on the other hand, kind of just takes a “if you repeat a word enough it’s your theme” approach that I found really disappointing, and the plot is pretty much just willy-nilly (or at least that’s how it seemed from a first viewing). Also, Dory doesn’t scream nearly enough.

Star Trek Beyond

I stopped watching Star Trek Into Darkness about 20 minutes in because it sucked. This movie did not suck! In fact I really enjoyed it; the plot was engaging, the characters were enjoyable, the visuals were great, the action was exciting. A great summer blockbuster and probably the best we can hope for from a modern Star Trek movie.

Kubo and the Two Strings

Oh man, this movie. Totally blows Finding Nemo out of the water as far as sophisticated thematic material goes, although I’m not sure it’s quite as successful in its execution. Kubo and the Two Strings is a gorgeous, enrapturing movie that hits on some really good pathos, but it stumbles a bit with the actual plot, which felt sort of incidental, like a first draft that never got tightened up. Still, I would readily recommend this movie with no real reservations; it’s really incredible. I might have more to say about it when I get around to rewatching it, as it’s a very dense movie.

Rogue One

Ugh. There’s nothing technically wrong with this movie; the plot can be followed, the character motivations can be understood (for the most part; I think Jyn’s arc is too sparsely-communicated), the effects are phenomenal, it doesn’t really drag. There’s nothing actively bad in this movie, and yet it forgets to actually do something to make you care:

The characters are bereft of even cliche, one-note personalities, and don’t really have anything in the way of arcs or progression. The plot is far simpler than it needs to be given how much screentime it takes up and how ultimately pointless it is (given that this is a prequel and we know the results). The personal connection the movie tries to build, of the protagonist and her father, is never explored or given its due. The villain is totally unthreatening and basically just a huge screwup. And frankly, there aren’t enough action sequences and the ones that are there are far too basic.

La La Land

A late entry delaying this post because I was too lazy to write about it!

On the surface I really liked La La Land. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone put in great performances (and Ryan Gosling is very dreamy), the songs are great, the ending hits the right notes of bittersweetness. There’s also a stylistic touch I really liked where the movie starts out a lot more heightened-reality, surface-level sort of thing as it goes through the budding stages of the central relationship, and then as things start to fall apart the scenes get longer and the musical segments fade away and it becomes a much more traditional movie to match the fading magic from Mia and Sebastian’s romance.

Unfortunately, I also think the movie has a lot of wasted potential and missed opportunities. The whole shtick is that it’s a sendup to classic Hollywood, but La La Land fails to ever really have anything to say about classic Hollywood, and it does nothing to update the genre beyond setting it in modern day. “A movie in the style of classic Hollywood but made in 2016” is okay as a premise, but it’s disappointing that there’s really nothing new or thought-provoking here.

The closest the movie ever really comes to meaningful commentary is when John Legend’s character remarks on how his poppy, modern jazz is, despite Sebastian’s clear lack of interest in it, a valid take on the genre, as the whole point of jazz was to be new and exciting and daring. But there’s never any payoff to this; Sebastian doesn’t really argue, but his opinion clearly doesn’t change and he gets his jazz nightclub in the end, so I’m left wondering what is being communicated by this. It kind of feels like nothing much at all, like the movie was just showing a defense of progress and change without really engaging with it.

Meanwhile, the movie’s biggest theme, as best I can tell, is of dreams and the pursuit of them. This is fine, but I think it’s wealemed by the fact that the movie never really goes into the reality of going after one’s dreams and doesn’t show its characters attaining them. The actual plot of the movie is just the relationship between Mia and Sebastian, leaving the themes less explored than I would have liked.

Also, as much as I loved the songs, two (maybe three, arguably) of the five didn’t have much connection or relevance to the plot or themes of the movie, which I thought was disappointing.

While I didn’t end up loving this movie as much as I hoped, because ultimately there isn’t enough going on underneath the surface, I do need to stress that the surface is really lovely. The primary-color costuming, the fantastic cinematography, the music, the set design; La La Land is delightful to watch and I enjoyed it a ton.