Random Movies: Best to Worst

Moana

Moana is very good. I was worried about it, going in, because I had heard mixed reviews, but the music is incredible, and the story – about a teenage girl who learns to balance her responsibilities to the community with her own desire for freedom, and becomes a hero through believing in herself and practicing compassion – is very powerful.

Supposedly, the original script was about the demigod Maui, who accompanies Moana on part of her journey, and some of the reviews I saw complained that the movie was still too much about Maui saving the day, but I disagree. Maui ends up being a teacher for Moana – like, literally, he teachers her the skills she eventually needs to sail to Tahiti, and also, figuratively, he teaches her to believe in herself and not give up by modelling the opposite behaviour – but the entire point of the story is how Moana is changed by her experiences and how her choices reveal her character.

It’s really empowering, and I’m really excited that kids are growing up with this movie and with the other movies Disney and Pixar have been putting out in recent years.

Finding Dory

Speaking of Pixar movies and positive messages, one of the cool things about Finding Nemo was that it had a subplot about characters with disabilities discovering that they were capable of more than they believed. Dory is one of those characters – she has a memory problem that makes her life more difficult – and Finding Dory takes that subplot from Finding Nemo and makes it the focal point of an entire movie.

The action mostly concerns Dory trying to remember where she came from and locate her parents. She’s separated from her friends, Marlon and Nemo, and ends up interacting with a new cast of characters, including a whale who can’t see well and a weird bird the other characters call stupid. Along the way, there are scenes where Dory explains that the solutions other characters are impatiently offering her are not going to work, because they’re based on assuming everyone can do things she can’t do. You can feel her vulnerability in having to depend on others, but also her resilience in finding creative ways to overcome the obstacles in front of her.

It’s not as good as Finding Nemo, but it’s a very touching story.

Swiss Army Man

This is kind of, like, the opposite of the first two movies. It’s not uplifting or empowering – it’s about a man who spends a few days stranded with a farting corpse. The corpse becomes his friend, and he imagines that it’s talking to him, and he tells it stuff about love and, specifically, about this girl he loves whom he’s too afraid to talk to.

Without giving everything away, the ending definitely re-casts the events of the film in a different light, and it becomes clear – if it wasn’t already – that this story has been a very creative, very strange way of generating empathy for a person who would seem, from the outside, to be quite disturbed. I can’t say more than that.

This was not the greatest movie I’ve ever seen, but it was different.

Doctor Strange

So, Doctor Strange is about a surgeon who starts trying radical treatments after his hands are damaged in an accident, and the radical treatments eventually lead him to go to sorcerer training, where he learns to do spells and stuff.

I was confused about why that made him want to kill Batman, until I realized that Hugo Strange and Victor Strange are different people.

Anyway, this movie looks cool but the plot’s really boring. I dig that they straight-up admit this is sorcery, and don’t try to spin it as anything else but, aside from pure spectacle, it doesn’t have a lot to offer. It starts too early, Strange gets all the answers he’s seeking too easily, nobody has a personality, and I guess the Ancient One draws power from the dark side or something but I didn’t really care about that part.

I felt like maybe I would have liked it more if it were just some standalone movie about a guy who learns magic rather than a film that’s doggedly trying to tie itself into the Marvel universe. Also, why do all the dudes in these movies have exactly the same girlfriend, played by a host of A-list actresses who don’t get to do anything? Where’s the Black Widow origin story where Jared Leto is her boyfriend and he only has two scenes and he’s just like, “I believe in you, Natasha, you’re the best” before being imperilled somehow? WHERE’S THAT.

Captain America: Civil War

Speaking of boyfriends. Captain America: Civil War is clearly about how Captain America is in love with this dude named The Winter Soldier to the point where he’s willing to start a fight with all the other super heroes about it. It’s equally clear that the movie is afraid of that idea and wants to back away from it by giving Captain America a random female love interest, to prove he isn’t into dudes. I don’t know why. It’s really dumb.

Anyway, all the heroes from the previous movie fight with each other, and Spiderman’s there, too, and I want it to be meaningful, but it feels more like somebody just put their names in a hat to see who ended up on which side.

I don’t even remember how it ends. I think Iron Man eventually bests Captain America’s group, but then he changes his mind after it’s already too late, but then he changes his mind again, and then I actually might have stopped watching. Hold on.

Wikipedia says everyone just goes their separate ways or something. Whatever. I don’t care.

High-Rise

Speaking of whatever, I don’t care. High-Rise somehow manages to make class warfare super boring. Basically, it’s an apartment building that becomes its own society where, the richer you are, the higher your floor, and the bossier you are with shared amenities like the pool. Many characters live in the apartment building. Eventually, they all start fighting with each other. It’s set in the 70s, based on a novel written in the 70s, and moves with all the speed that you’d expect from a film made in the 70s, except that it was made now.

Image: Moana; Disney | June 16, 2017