Movie Reviews

It's been a long time since I've done this! After having taken a laser to the face for the second time (for a frenectomy, it's not as cool as it sounds. The only thing weird about it is that you get to smell burning flesh during the process), I feel all energized to write about the films I've seen! Who knew. Out of the 0.001% of people who have their tissue grow back, I had to be the one. And I was told it was supposed to be three days before it was all healed up, but it already looks all clean and white (new tissue, not infected). The body's ability to heal is amazing. Anyway! Movies.

Ghostbusters (2016)

If you were like me, when you heard about a Ghostbusters reboot with women as the four titular busters, you were probably sent back to childhood memories in which all the boys at daycare had taken the Ghostbusters toys and you secretly stole the car so at least you had something that they didn't. The girls, already in clique mode, scoffed at the fact that you didn't want to be the dog in their rendition of "house." I may be talking about myself. I loved Ghostbusters as a kid, especially the cartoon that soon followed, The Real Ghostbusters. I have vivid memories of the ending credits, a parade for the Ghostbusters that is slowly taken over by Slimer. But I grew up in a time where you were lucky to have one female character in a fighting game. And while I had no problem seeing myself in the Ghostbusters despite supposed gender barriers, other kids on the playground had no problem reminding me that I was not allowed to have that.

What is sad is that these mentalities have stayed practically the same and are now espoused on the internet rather than in the sandbox. If there is one moment in which the new Ghostbusters shines, it's when the women are reading comments on their video uploads. It's hilarious and I wish that the film had the audacity to mock this reaction more.

The rest of the film falls pretty flat, which is a shame, considering that all of the women playing the Ghostbusters can be incredibly funny. Kristen Wiig plays Erin Gilbert, a professor who once wrote a book about ghosts with her childhood friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). Having since parted ways, Abby is working at a technical college with engineer Jillian Holtzman, portrayed by Kate McKinnon who practically steals the entire film with her eccentric mannerisms. Even the appearance of Jillian is a throw-back for me, her hair styled like the drawn version of Egon. Eventually, while hunting down a ghost in the subway, they meet Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones). When she finds their base of operations, she insists they enlist her for her knowledge of New York.

What's missing here, and what is painfully obvious in the amusing cameos, is Harold Ramis. His wit, his eccentricity, and his flair for memorable, witty one-liners. That being said, there are a few things I appreciate in this film:

1. There are no love interests. The most important relationship in this film is between childhood friends Erin and Abby.

2. Erin's dress attire is constantly brought up (to mock) while working as a professor. After she's fired and finds success as a Ghostbuster, she doesn't change how she dresses. It's subtle, but this is something I would love, love to see in more modern films.

Other than that, the only moment when Ghostbusters reaches the full effect of a team of women bustin' ghosts is in a beat-down scene with a whole horde of ghosts. It's a sad reminder of what this film could have been.

Being Flynn (2012)

This is going to be short, as I saw this a while ago, but the point I wanted to make is that while Being Flynn is far from perfect, it has a few incredible moments. The acting is great, from both Robert De Niro and Paul Dano, but the writing is clunky especially in dialogue between Nick Flynn (Dano) and his friends. Funny, considering this is a film about writers. Nick and his mother (Julianne Moore) were abandoned by his father Jonathan (Robert De Niro), who insisted he was a brilliant writer in the making. Eventually, Nick's mother commits suicide and the most moving scene in the entire film is when Nick finds her body. This came a little too uncomfortably close for me, as my aunt's brother committed suicide and his granddaughter found his body in the backyard. All I could think about in that moment was what she must have felt upon finding the body. It's unimaginable.

Eventually, Nick starts working at a homeless shelter where he finds his father coming daily. These moments were also a little too close to the truth for me, as I work with the homeless on an almost daily basis. And the depictions are true. Most just want a nice, warm, clean place to stay where they know they'll be safe. But there are the ones who start screaming and yelling, who try to pick fights, who are mentally in the worst place possible. I've met some. I've had some shout in my face. And worst of all, I've had some give me their phone number. However, in no way does this make up the majority of homeless people. I've had a good number of people ask me for where to find information on housing, on how to find their way back under a permanent roof.

Ultimately, Being Flynn is a highly flawed film. I had a deeper connection to it simply due to personal experiences. Perhaps there's something universal in working to help people down on their luck.

La La Land (2016)

Creativity comes from the pit of authentic emotional response. Why is it then, in order to "make it," one has to succumb to the illusions of mass appeal? These illusions have no basis in authenticity - they are meant simply to dazzle the audience, to entertain them for one brief moment and allow them to return to their comfortable lives. But artists, artists thrive on the uncomfortable underbelly of emotion. So why is it that only in the creative field that we see this dichotomy between fake and authentic?

This is perhaps the most important point Damien Chazelle's La La Land sets out to make, and is hot off the heels of his previous film Whiplash, that questions the liminal space between art and life. The theme of fake vs. authentic is shown constantly, visually, as fake snow falls upon a party in Southern California. Mia (Emma Stone) is an actress who wishes to achieve greatness and is constantly chasing embarrassing audition after another. She catches many a casting agent on their phone while she acts, interrupted while crying in a scene by a call for another agent. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist with great dreams, who has to play soul-crushing ditties in restaurants to make ends meet.

On a chance encounter, Mia hears Sebastian playing, as he swings from jaunty Christmas music to the more emotionally gratifying jazz. She connects to his music then, but he is quick to ignore her after being fired. They continually meet in chance encounters until Sebastian convinces her to go see Rebel Without a Cause with him and to go listen to live jazz music after she admits that she hates jazz. Not real jazz, of course. Elevator-music jazz. Mia and Sebastian connect on the path for creating art out of their craft and both receive continual rejection. When they're together however, they seem absolutely inspired. Mia supports Sebastian's plans to open up a jazz club and Sebastian is wholly gung-ho for Mia writing scripts for herself.

Not all is right in the land of Hollywood though, city of broken dreams. Sebastian is the first to falter, taking a gig that he doesn't believe in solely because it will make him money quickly. Mia is working away on a script for her one-woman show while Sebastian performs with an old friend, Keith (John Legend), and his pseudo-jazz band. The question remains - will Mia and Sebastian be able to stick together in this land of illusion? Will they succeed in their dreams?

As a musical, La La Land was a little too referential for me. This film works as a pastiche of all of Gene Kelly's hits, as a love-letter to old Hollywood. Mia and Sebastian dance on a set depicting the Seine River (An American in Paris), they visit Griffith Park (Rebel Without a Cause), and pass a few sailors (Out on the Town). There are dream sequences that are akin to any Gene Kelly musical dream sequence. I found myself more riveted by the more original sequences, such as dancing on the 101 Freeway. Or Mia telling a story to a casting agent and simply standing still while singing. There's something about that scene that is so pure. The music is incredibly catchy, the costume and set design perfection, and I loved it that the lights would dim on the artist when in a moment of creative bliss. But there's something a little too pristine about this film that kept me from loving it unconditionally.

I will say that I loved the ending. Initially, I read it as showing the possibilities that Mia had before her, that she and Sebastian would respect each others choices. But now I see it more as a nostalgic re-imagining of the past. That we're forced to make illusions out of the past, to live through them unharmed. Sebastian re-imagines their past as having occurred perfectly, with no bumps in the road. Perfectly or imperfectly, this is where their roads lead - with them apart. Burdened by the past, but able to move forward.

I can live with that kind of ending.
  • Current Music: Another Day of Sun, constantly in my head