What I’m Watching: Halt and Catch Fire

It seems like Halt and Catch Fire has been stuck with one narrative from critics, that of a show with a troubled first season that turned it around in season two but never found its audience due to Peak TV. I think that’s a somewhat inaccurate story (how many shows really see any audience gain from improvement in critical reception, Peak TV aside?) and, honestly, I don’t think the show was that bad in season one and thus I don’t think season two was that much of an improvement. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Whyyyy did they give Joe a beard in season three?

I don’t know how Halt and Catch Fire was conceived or why it was greenlit, but the show certainly came across in its first season as a bit of a “prestige drama paint-by-numbers.” You got your artsy but kind of nonsensical sequences, your ~mysterious and ~edgy antihero, your “electrical shock from computers as foreplay” scene. And as silly as some of it was (electrocuting yourselves for foreplay! What the heck!) I thoroughly enjoyed the show’s first season, mostly on the strength of its core characters and their relationships with one another. I can’t think of another character, at least on TV, who’s quite like Cameron Howe–young, idealistic, creative, but tough and hard-edged and hot-headed.

Meanwhile, I loved the way that Gordon and Donna were united in their passion and skill for technology–Donna could so easily have been slotted into the role of “nagging wife holding the dude back,” but instead she was a force unto her own right, and ended up being a crucial part of the team. Gordon is a little less interesting, although the fact that he’s kind of really pathetic drove a lot of probably-unintentional humor.

So, yeah, I was along for the ride after season one, and I was stoked to hear that the show’s supposedly-bad quality took a sharp upturn in season two, coinciding with its drastic change in status quo and focus. Where season one was about early computers, season two was essentially about CompuServe–an early mix of MMO and web forum, sort of like Club Penguin but not kid-oriented and using pre-internet multiplayer technology.

It was a bold shift for the show, and it paid off. While some of the interpersonal storylines got a little silly (Gordon and Donna’s home life got pretty melodramatic), the show did a fantastic job of capturing an exciting time in computer software and was overall totally fantastic.

Which brings us to season three, which just hit Netflix. There was less critical hubbub around season three so I went in not really knowing where it was going; all I had was the implications at the end of season two, which ended up being not very indicative of the show’s direction in season three. Season three almost felt like it was picked up by a totally different team of writers from season two, and I think the season suffered for it.

Let’s start with Joe MacMillan, the aforementioned antihero character. He was basically just a caricature of a TV antihero in season one, behaving erratically and kind of swapping between “good” and “evil” with no real reason to it. Season two used this to amazing effect: Joe claimed to now be a “good guy” and seemed to behave altruistically, but because both the other main characters and the audience had experience with his “evilness” (I’m using quotes because you can only be so evil in the context of the computer business) it was hard to trust him. The show wisely never gave much insight into his true feelings until toward the end of the season, where the conclusion to his arc appeared to be that he had indeed been trying to be a good guy, but because nobody believed him and things outside his control went wrong, he decided to just give up and be a jerk.

Joe’s character arc in season two is one of my all-time favorite plotlines in a TV show, and I was really excited to see where they’d take “evil anti-virus mogul Joe MacMillan” in season three. So where did they take him? . . . Nowhere. Joe in season three had very little in the way of personality, a bizarre turn for character who previously was so exaggerated, and what personality was there was more “normal guy who loves technology” than “evil genius.”

All the characters kind of felt muted, really. The show as a whole kind of felt that way; the season was way low on actual conflict, so most of the tension I experienced watching it was more from an expectation of something going wrong, or characters having a difference of opinion, then anything really happening. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing–I like nontraditional storytelling and I had a fondness for these characters and this show built up. But the problem is, I’m left in the end wondering what actually happened in season three. Joe’s plotline with Ryan led to an anticlimax, as did the “Mutiny going public” thing, with the only real drama being the pretty-contrived split between Cameron and Donna.

I can respect a certain amount of “things petering out” as a purposeful narrative choice, but here the petering out was over the entire season–until the timeskip for the last two episodes, at which point the show seemed like it was in setup mode for season four. And at that point I think that’s just bad writing–to spend the last two episodes of your season on setup is such a bizarre move and results in such an anticlimax, especially after such an understated season. I can’t imagine how weird it would have been to watch this season live (I watch on Netflix). I’m still in for season four, especially since it’s already been determined that it’ll be the show’s last, but sadly I have a feeling Halt and Catch Fire peaked in season two.

Pilot: Time After Time

Yeah, this is way late; I got sick and didn’t have any desire to write about TV. Anyway.

I really wasn’t sure what to make of Time After Time prior to watching it; the premise was beyond absurd, but then, the same was true of Sleepy Hollow and that show managed a fun season before going off the rails. However, the trailers made this look far less self-aware and lighthearted than Sleepy Hollow, so it was a big question mark if the show would manage to be fun and entertaining or end up being boring and just plain bad.

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A little bummed they didn’t keep the period facial hair.

Interestingly, the two-hour premiere was both! The first hour was exactly what I was hoping for–a complete embrace of the show’s absurd premise and shameless silliness. My favorite part was when the female lead started blabbing her life story and insecurities to H.G. Wells like five minutes after meeting him. It was amazing not just because it was ridiculous, but also because H.G. Wells in this is so incredibly adorable and immensely attractive that I absolutely buy that she would do that. I would probably do that!

The first hour of the show really banks on the appeal of H.G. Wells’ character, and it’s to the show’s strength because he is written fantastically and cast perfectly. I was really feeling the Sleepy Hollow comparison, although I don’t think any show will ever quite top the sheer enjoyability of season-one Sleepy Hollow

Then the premiere got into its second hour and . . . spent the majority of its runtime on a hostage situation. Also it started toeing into its meta-mystery, and sadly both of these things proved to be extremely boring. Like, kudos for having a pretty respectable escape attempt from the female lead, but still–we’ve seen a character taken hostage how many times in TV before? What a waste of screentime.

Meanwhile to the female lead (whose name I cannot for the life of me remember, sorry) being kidnapped, H.G. Wells was getting to know his granddaughter whose being related to him is a mystery and she’s wealthy and powerful and has met him before through time travel and well, there’s some intriguing stuff there on paper but in practice she was boring and the episode didn’t delve deep enough into this mystery stuff for it to actually be interesting. Like, your premise is H.G. Wells following Jack the Ripper into the present–you can’t immediately segue into time travel conspiracy stuff unless you’re going to really commit.

So, yeah, this has aired a couple more episodes now but I can’t say I’m watching. My Sunday nights at nine continue to belong to Madam Secretary. I’d give ABC kudos for trying but really, who the heck gave this the okay?

Pilot: The Good Fight and TV Retrospective: The Good Wife

Yeah, I know, I’m two weeks late to writing this. College has been leaving me exhausted and uninterested in writing here. But better late than never, right?

I think I’d probably consider The Good Wife one of my favorite TV shows. I’d definitely call it one of the best I’ve seen, although I don’t watch a lot of prestige TV so that might not be saying much. Still, I think it earned its frequent classification as “the best show on network TV,” and it’s one of two shows I’ve ever seen manage to reinvigorate itself and even possibly reach its peak after season three.

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Juliaana Marguiles absolutely killed it in this role.

But let’s start with the beginning. The Good Wife came about when network TV was still mostly focused on procedurals, and on CBS no less, where procedurals still reign supreme. And in some ways I think the show was strongest in its early seasons when it had to play by these procedural rules, as I remember the cases of the week being more interesting and effective than later in the show, where they got less screentime and often felt perfunctory.

I think it was season four, though, where I stopped watching the show for a period because, well, it got pretty bad. The serialized conflicts began to feel stale and the cases of the week felt pointless, and of course there was the total mess that was Kalinda’s husband.

Luckily, though, I got back on board early in season five, because that season was possibly The Good Wife‘s best. Over the course of the season the show shook up its entire status quo in a way that brilliantly intertwined the interpersonal drama and power struggle machinations that were the show’s strengths. Even the previously-staid cases of the week were more interesting since many of them now saw the protagonists on opposite sides of the courtroom.

I’m not as hard as seasons six and seven as other people seemed to be, but they were certainly a letdown after season five’s peak. Still, Lucca Quin was a fantastic character, which is impressive given the typical quality of characters introduced for a show’s final season (see Jason Crouse, who was also introduced in season seven and kind of sucked), and the show did a good job bringing back past characters for one last hurrah. I don’t think the actual end to the show quite worked, but given the show’s strong body of work I’m not sure that’s a huge deal.

So that brings us to The Good Fight, which picks up a year after the end of The Good Wife.

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That “hand on the neck” pose is sooo unnatural-looking.

I wasn’t totally sold on this show on paper. It had potential–promoting Lucca to protagonist role sounded awesome, and the ability to refocus a bit and shed some of the baggage from The Good Wife (Alicia’s kids, ugh!) could allow for improvement over that show. But at the same time, there was the possibility that the show would feel kind of pointless, adrift, by picking up in the same place as the show it’s a spin-off from except now without the main character.

But no, the pilot was really damn good and absolutely feels like it has a purpose. Some of it is simply due to the world we live in–an older, powerful, unabashed liberal and feminist woman, a black woman, and a lesbian as your three protagonists is pretty much a “screw you” to our 45th president–but most is outright on the strength of the writing. Diane was always a fantastic character and getting the opportunity to see more of her inner life after all these years is engrossing. Meanwhile, Lucca was one of the best things of the final season of The Good Wife and has a ton of potential as a protagonist. The pilot didn’t give a lot of development to Maia, the third lead, but she should be good as a link to the serialized plot and outsider to the show’s world.

Beyond just the strength of the lead characters, though, this is show creators and writers Michelle and Robert King at their best. The dialogue is snappy, the pacing perfect, the tone perfectly blending situational humor with high-stakes emotional and social drama. This is one of the best-crafted pilots I remember ever seeing, and I can only hope the rest of the series holds up to this level of quality.

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!

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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.

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Minimalism!

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.

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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!

What I’m Watching: The 100

You know, all else aside, I give The 100 kudos for going to places I never would have expected going into it.

The premiere seemed strongly influenced by the book the show is based on, full of stock teen characters and a moderate amount of contrivance. Something happened along the course of the first season, though: the characters got fleshed out and took unexpected turns, the show presented tough moral dilemmas with no easy answers, and the “villains” evolved to just be people with differing (albeit “wrong”) ideas. The deepening of the show continued and by the end of season two, I was confident to call The 100 this decade’s Battlestar Galactica, a show with heavy themes, inventive sci-fi concepts, and enough human drama to make it that much more compelling.

Then season three happened, and . . . well.

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Okay, this poster for season four is pretty hella.

The thing about season three is that it wasn’t bad. It was mostly just overambitious, resulting in plot elements that felt like first drafts and character arcs that didn’t quite work.

The biggest problem with season three was its main antagonists. Seasons one and two focused on differing ideologies and mutually-exclusive needs to build conflict, while season three’s two main antagonists were a xenophobic jerk and an evil AI. And the real shame is how easily these characters could have been handled better–if we’d gotten a flashback episode to Pike’s landing on Earth and and subsequent struggle with the grounders, he’d have been far more sympathetic. (Instead the show wasted two episodes on an oil rig that was utterly pointless.) The writers also could have shuffled around the coup by Ontari, making it so that the grounder army Pike slaughtered actually could have been a threat and there would be an actual argument; instead he was just wrong to have done that.

Meanwhile, the evil AI, Alie, was revealed at the end to be enacting her whole plot because the world’s nuclear reactors were about to melt down and kill everyone. Rather than introduce this to the characters so they could grapple with the moral implications, or even hint at it so the audience knew there was an actual reason for Alie’s goals and not just ~evil AI~-ness, the show held off until the last moment for the shocking revelation. I don’t think that was the right choice.

Ask fandom circles what the big issue was with season three, though, and you’ll get one main answer: Lexa’s death, which I touched briefly upon in my post “The 100, Diversity, and Death.” Now that it’s been nearly a year since it happened and I’ve been at more or less the same place with it for a while, I’m gonna go ahead and give my opinion on this: it wasn’t nearly as big a deal as people made it out to be.

To give background, the issue with Lexa’s death is that it plays into the “bury your gays” trope, which at least anymore tends to affect wlw (women-loving women) characters most. That this is a trope indicates the problem: that LGBT+ characters are at least seemingly killed off at a disproportionate rate to other characters, which sends the message that this is the appropriate, inevitable end for LGBT+ people.

So, yes, Lexa’s death does play into this trope, and therefore it does contribute to a wider fictional landscape where wlw characters are too-frequently killed off. But the thing is, Lexa’s death in context is just about as justified as it possible could be.

Consider: As seen in the aforementioned post about death in The 100, over 50% of characters in the show are killed off. This number increases if you focus on recurring characters, which Lexa was. The 100 is a show steeped in death not just mechanically but thematically, and it’s the most likely end for any character. So to say that Lexa’s death is the show saying something unique about wlw characters just doesn’t make sense, because within the context of the show it very clearly isn’t. To look at Lexa’s death and get the message that wlw are supposed to die requires completely misunderstanding the show you’re watching, and at that point I don’t think it’s fair to put the blame on the writers.

With that all said, I guess I need to talk about Wednesday’s season four premiere. Which was fine, I guess, but after such a messy season I was hoping for a bit more wow-factor to kick off the season. There really wasn’t much going on, actually, as it picked up right where season three left off with no new characters or locations or concepts to introduce. Pretty much the whole episode was spent dealing with the Ice Nation’s aggressions, which was a pretty perfunctory plot for the show. I’m cautiously optimistic about where The 100 is going this season, but it’s too early to say much.

What I’m Watching: Netflix Originals Edition (The Get Down, One Day at a Time, A Series of Unfortunate Events)

Yikes, last time I thought about it it felt like Netflix still didn’t have that many original shows. Now it seems like everything I watch is a Netflix original! Anyway this is a rundown of three Netflix originals I’ve been watching lately.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

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Their clothing is too bright IMO. This is supposed to be Gothic, goshdangit!

This is good on a whole, I think. It’s a pretty faithful adaptation of very good source material, but it does enough to stake out its own identity that it doesn’t just feel like someone converted the books directly to a script. One of the best divergences is the more immediate introduction of the secret society stuff, which is used to link together the books so the whole thing feels more like a season of TV rather than four two-part TV movies.

I’m not sure about the fakeout parents and Jacquelyn, though. One of the consistent themes across the books was how there really were no competent adults on the Baudelaires’ side; even those who were sympathetic to them were ultimately not enough help. Jacquelyn almost stuck out as too normal within the show with how reasonable and competent she was, and her combined with the implication of the Baudelaires’ parents being alive sort of diluted the titular unfortunateness.

Interestingly, I think the show on a whole is less dark and hopeless than the books. The absurdness of the comedy is amplified by being on screen and a lot of the tragedy feels either glossed-over or weakened by the overall pretty wacky tone of the show. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing–as someone familiar with the books, a lighter tone makes things more engaging as there’s less time spent on drama I know the outcome of–but it is a somewhat notable divergence from the books.

The adult cast does a very good job with their material, though, both comedic and serious. The adults’ dialogue is quick and expressive and it’s fun just to watch the actors deliver their lines. The kids, on the other hand, are somewhat dully written and the actors tend to seem like they’re struggling just to enunciate, let alone match the speed of their older colleagues. But with such vibrant supporting characters it’s not a huge deal if the protagonists are on the boring side. (And they do get some nice conflict/pathos in the Miserable Mill episodes.)

Also, am I forgetting something, or did the show basically steal the eyeglass thing from the movie? Could’ve stole the aesthetic while they were at it. The show is much more bright and cartoony than the book illustrations and movie, which I don’t love. There’s also a pervasive sense of cheapness to the visual design and copious CGI, which is to be expected from a TV show that only uses its sets for two episodes, but it’s still disappointing.

One Day at a Time

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Who do Netflix think they are, infringing on ABC’s family comedy brand?

I’m only three episodes into this but it might take me a while to finish this so I’m gonna write about it now. Anyway, it’s . . . fine. The comedy feels kind of tacked-on and very mug-for-the-camera-y, which might just be from the multi-camera format, I dunno.

The actually interesting/engaging/good thing about this show is its more serious stuff, which deals with social issues like sexism and religion and such. The writing is really smart here, with realistic arguments on either sides and no easy answers or Very Special Episode feeling.

The Get Down

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This show’s posters are super cool.

I have, like, nothing to say about this show. Not that it’s bad–it’s pretty good–but it feels kind of impenetrable to me when it comes to critical analysis.

Well, I can say that I find the often-weird editing just kind of annoying. And some of the plotting feels a bit contrived. But otherwise it’s quite enjoyable and the show is very evocative of a time and location I’ve no personal knowledge of.

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 six 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.

Zootopia

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.