‘La La Land’ Is Not Overrated Because You Hate It

la la land

La La Land, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling and directed by Whiplash director Damien Chazelle, is a clear frontrunner for Best Picture at the Oscars this year, and it will likely win. Weirdly enough, a lot of people across the filmgoing spectrum aren’t very happy about that.

The set up for the movie is deceptively simple: two dreamers living in present-day LA fall in love as they both struggle to accomplish their audacious creative goals. If that sounds a lot like Singin’ in the Rain, then you’re on the same page as the director. But as you watch the actual film, you’ll probably notice more material riffed from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) than anything else.

It’s a contemporary musical, essentially, with original music and some bold homage cinematography, especially toward the film’s vigorous “What if?” epilogue. And though many critics and audiences have gone head over heels for the film, myself included to an extent, there’s been a decisive backlash against the merits of La La Land and whether or not it deserves all the praise it gets.

Yes, people are calling it overrated, and these complaints will absolutely be exacerbated if the film continues to clean up this awards season, already cinching several key Golden Globes this past week.

Overrating is Overrated

la la land

Now, I’ve always been quite open about my stance on calling films “overrated,” in that I think it’s an empty criticism. For the most part, I’m reacting to the fact that I didn’t resonate with a movie that was demonstrably more effective for a wide group of people at a very specific time. That may not “last,” and the film may fade away despite its momentary fame (see films like Crash and Avatar). But that doesn’t invalidate the positive moviegoing experience genuinely had by many…even if some watchers cling to a popular opinion instead of what they they really think, which doesn’t mean a film is overrated. It’s just been overhyped. Propped up on what it represents rather than what it does.

You can make an argument, then, that La La Land is overhyped, but I would also disagree with that, as well. Though the film can be as negatively deconstructed as any other creative property, it’s still incredibly well-realized and well-made. Even if you disagree with some of its core messages and what the script intentionally tried to communicate.

From here on out, this post contains SPOILERS for La La Land

The Subtlety of Homage

la la land

Some of the criticisms of La La Land are definitely valid and meaningful observations. The idea that it might lift a bit too much material from movies like Umbrellas and Singin’ is a worthwhile concern, especially in how the final moments of the film are directly inspired by the former. Simply put, a film’s use of homage has to be backed up by originality and imagination in many other areas, which is where I think La La Land expertly makes up the difference.

See, the music of La La Land, while good, is not intended to be the film’s main hook. Sure, it’s catchy, but as you’ll notice, it’s not amazing. The singing and dancing portions aren’t perfect, and that’s sort of the point. Chazelle set out to present a fantasy movie with dreamy cinematography, noted by the very first scene/musical number, which is a literal dream sequence to kick things off. But a “dreamy” fantastical movie wouldn’t have worked without grounded, motivated characters.

The world of La La Land would have been a pretentious bore (much in the same way it’s wrongfully criticized) if the main leads were allowed flawless performances. The point isn’t to entertain with flashy perfection, but rather with likable showstoppers who suck us in to a believable world, a musical trick that’s a lot harder to pull off if you’re at all familiar with the legacy of Broadway.  La La Land presents a creative solution that might come off as sloppy work otherwise if you’re not already aware of the real talent from Stone and Gosling.

One example is when the two leads sing the reprise of “City of Stars,” and part of the way through, Mia messes up and laughs it off in the song. This one moment goes pretty far to encompass what La La Land is really prioritizing, and it’s not perfection.

Beginning and Ending

la la land

There’s also something to be said about how the film opens and how it ends: with a “Cinemascope” throwback and then a clear lift from Umbrellas, a timeless classic in the same celebratory vein. But this type of homage works because it fits the context of the movie, with aspiring talents who also compare themselves against the past. It makes perfect sense for someone like Sebastian (a movie buff established through his James Dean fixation) to fantasize his career, romance, and the struggle between the two within the backdrop of a familiar dream sequence.

When I first watched La La Land, I admit I was a bit cold from how the film transported Mia and Sebastian to their lives “five years later.” I found it quite convenient that both characters got exactly what they wanted, though the film presents it as a “Yeah, but at what cost?” By the end, both characters have given up their passionate, seasonal romance for their careers, and they seem bittersweet about it. But at first glance, it can be hard to reckon a message that suggests that giving up your love for others is what will lead to the exact success you want. It’s not very realistic, even for such a dreamy movie.

Thinking on this more, I’ve come to accept that La La Land traded its relatable character work in order to hammer the final message home more effectively, in that we would have missed Chazelle’s point if both or even one of the characters fell short of their goals. And the film’s more subtle explanation is that their amazing romance and support of each other is what pushed them through the impossible obstacles that kept them focused on getting what they each want.

Mia confronts Sebastian, for example, when he’s selling out his real dreams for momentary fame. If she hadn’t have done this, then perhaps the ending would have been more “believable” for us. Likewise, if Sebastian hadn’t traveled all the way to Nevada and demonstrated his love in the simple act of remembering even the obscure details of a girlfriend, Mia’s ending would have been the typical “I tried LA and failed” story.

Perhaps the movie makes you work a bit harder to accept all of that, but it hardly detracts from the film as a whole. If anything, it supports the case for La La Land being one of the more rewatch-able films of the year, despite the fact that it’s not even in my top 5, strangely enough. It’s still a movie I applaud, though, and will fondly revisit for years to come.

One last thing…

la la land

One frequent criticism of this movie that I do take umbrage with is the attempt to trivialize this story through a racial lens. That the movie is stuffed with “white entitlement” and “out of touch” elitism from Hollywood, which is supposedly why the movie is being so widely accepted by people in the industry.

My simple response to that is stop. I’m not white and I don’t live in LA, but I do have basic empathy. I can watch a movie with two leads who have harmless (and well-written) motivations that are shared by living breathing people in that very town, and I don’t have to cut down the purpose of this movie because it’s not something I directly relate with. For the same reason I can connect with Chiron in Moonlight through flawless filmmaking and writing, I can follow and hope for the best with Mia and Sebastian.

Is it so bad that Mia wants to become an actress? Should we stop making movies about people dreaming big and suffering to get it because of the connotations of appearance and privilege? Is it so bad that Sebastian wants to preserve music that’s quickly being forgotten, even if it’s not tied to him ethnically? The idea that he’s purported to be a white savior type suggests that his agenda is to “save jazz,” which is a projection of the critic, not something founded in the movie. Sebastian instead wants to celebrate a legacy in his own way, surrounded by others who do it justice and celebrate with him.

It’s just a shame that with a movie as technically impressive and crowd-pleasing as La La Land, we have to assign it so much baggage from other, lesser properties that actually commit these flaws, simply because we recognize a morsel of it and smell blood.

Wrapping Up

Despite my defense of La La Land, it isn’t among my favorite movies of 2016, though it lands in the top 10. It works the whole way through and has some tremendous moments, and I do want to shine a light on the great ideas here, rather than shout it down for its popularity. For many fans of musicals and movies in general, La La Land really is a must-see film.

Grade: A

Thanks for reading this. Seriously. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. 

Or just say hello on Twitter: @JonNegroni

Review: ‘Star Trek: Beyond’ Is Short on Ideas, Big on Silly Action

star trek beyond review

The appeal of Star Trek as a franchise of movies, TV shows, books and more has always varied depending on the time of release, the exact story in question, and the ensemble of characters.

The early run of Roddenberry’s Trek, for example, was very much a series about perplexing puzzles, intriguing ideas, and the sheer wonder of an unexplored frontier, coming out at a time when mankind was only just beginning to put a man on the moon.

Later iterations of the Star Trek sandbox have rightly experimented with new ways to tell new stories, while always falling back on at least one aspect of what made the original run so compelling in the first place. And when the original TV show became a continuity-bending reboot in Star Trek (2009), we were granted one of the most brazen attempts to make a genuinely fascinating lore and universe more appealing for larger audiences.

It’s strange, then, that the third movie of this “requel” trilogy, Star Trek: Beyond, essentially reverts to the barebones formula of classic Star Trek. The characters trade one-liners every minute, the stakes are muted, everyone’s story arc kicks off only to be barely mentioned again until wrapping up nicely in the end, and the overall adventure is isolated to one main location. So to compare Beyond to an actual episode of Star Trek with a huge budget and a longer running time is extremely fair.

star trek beyond review

And for a lot of Star Trek fans, that’s plenty good reason to enjoy every second of Beyond, despite it losing the rejuvenation of the ’09 version and even the beautiful, yet flawed Into Darkness. Both of these movies pushed the universe of Star Trek in new directions, while still using familiar tropes to keep the concept grounded. The sets and costume design were given more edge, the pacing and energy matched the panic of space, and ultimately, you felt like you were watching a brand new spin on Star Trek.

Beyond does, in fact, rely on those familiar tropes just as much. The villain, Idris Elba in layers of makeup, boils down to yet another revenge-seeking, Starfleet-hating general, about as insidious as Nero and Khan in the last two movies. His arc is delayed until the third act, so it’s difficult to sympathize with his motivations, as unclear as they are, when you’re in the mode to finish an episode of television, not a compact experience.

It also doesn’t help that this is easily the most visually unimpressive Star Trek of the series, with most of the sharp detail of the last two films appearing to have been gutted due to budget cuts. An even likelier explanation is that we’ve simply been spoiled over the last seven years, and Paramount just hasn’t caught up.

That said, there are certainly some intriguing ideas and set ups offered by Beyond, mainly with Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) at the forefront. After years of helming the Enterprise, Kirk has become disillusioned about their mission to explore an endless space, trying to help civilizations that don’t seem to need their help much (a conceit that the movie sparsely addresses again until the very end). And Spock struggles with the progeny of his dying race, the Vulcans, and if his time would be better served leading his own people.

star trek beyond review

Unlike Kirk, Spock’s story here seems to affect almost everything he does in Beyond, thanks mostly to the decision to pair him with Bones (Karl Urban) for most of the movie, giving both characters ample opportunities to play off each other in amusing, often heartfelt ways. This is certainly at least one aspect of the original Star Trek that deserved to be maintained.

When Beyond is at its best, the crew of the Enterprise scrambles to solve impossible problems with ingenious solutions, all while bickering with each other in the process. At its worst, Beyond is mind-numbingly mediocre and middling, setting up huge action pieces with silly vehicles, shaky fight choreography, and serviceable side characters, rather than bold ideas and moments of surprise and wonder you’d expect by the third movie.

Grade: C+

Extra Credits:

  • This one’s for Anton and Leonard.
  • Despite the grade, I do expect fans of Star Trek to absolutely love this movie. But will they remember it for years? Will they cherish it for boldly going where no film has gone before? I don’t see how that’s the case.
  • Great credits sequence if you’re watching in 3D.
  • Produced by J.J. Abrams, but co-written by Simon Pegg and directed Justin Lin from the Fast and Furious movies. Despite all that, this seriously feels like Pegg’s movie.
  • Speaking of Simon Pegg, there was just maybe a…little too much Simon Pegg.
  • I didn’t really speak on the mountains of plot clichés and contrivances, which ultimately brought the grade down to “C” territory. This won’t surprise a lot of people after watching the 2009 movie, where Kirk lands on a planet and just magically runs into Leonard Nimoy.
  • I was pretty disappointed with Uhura and Sulu this time around. Their characters were given very little to do, and their personalities felt incredibly one-note.

    I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni


Review: ‘Captain America: Civil War’ Is a New Kind of Marvel Movie

review captain america civil war

The villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have always struggled, with few exceptions, to entertain on the same level as the heroes. Most of the time, the antagonists are simply bigger, less interesting versions of the hero, complete with a similar skill set. Iron Man set this off with Obadiah Stain, followed by Hulk’s Rampage, Ant-Man’s Yellowjacket, and others.

Civil War has its own uninteresting villain in Daniel Bruhl’s anarchist take on Baron Zemo, but he’s about as central to this film’s emotional center as Ant-Man. His side-villainy aside, Civil War shines because there is no clear antagonist, except for the one Captain America and Iron Man see in each other.

This is a tricky line to balance for plots such as this, because both sides of the conflict require convincing arguments to split audiences believably. For some, it will be irresistible to root for the pragmatic “fall in line” philosophy Tony Stark has grown into since 2008, and it’s one of the most impressive multi-film story arcs of all time considering its movement over the years.

review captain america civil war

While others will see Captain America’s “choice at all costs” dogma to be the more appealing, mostly because his rebellion against Stark and others is what drives the film’s story (it’s his name in the title, after all).

Civil War is the definition of a film that relies on its franchise nature to deliver its most resonant messages. The loneliness Steve Rogers carries as a man out of time is what justifies a frankly stupefying mission to save a man who doesn’t appear to be worth the trouble. But Bucky Barnes (AKA Winter Soldier) is the only connection Rogers has left to his old life, though he admits that even in those days, he couldn’t seem to fit in. And the events of Winter Soldier have already proven to Rogers that answering to a bureaucratic authority is how true empires (like Hydra) are formed.

This is all undercut by Tony Stark’s march against the threats that have popped up time and time again during the course of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As Vision coldly reasons at one point, “Our strength invites challenge.”

review captain america civil war

And this is a movie where that strength is seen ten-fold, quite literally. The titular face-off is as satisfying as the marketing has been trying to sell you on, thanks to Marvel’s willingness to weave in a large number of subplots that any normal screenwriter would weep at the sight of. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo are complemented well by screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and they successfully make Civil War feel just as much a natural progression of the Captain America movies as it does a true Avengers sequel. And for some, it will be the Avengers sequel they expected from last year’s Age of Ultron.

The action itself is superb, in that it’s plainly obvious that the characters’ abilities were consistently considered when these scenes were written and directed. Captain America uses his shield in inventive ways, but Black Panther and Winter Soldier use vibranium in fighting styles that are unique to them. Spider-Man is a youthful powerhouse who stops often to chat, and Ant-Man lets himself get shot through the air on one of Hawkeye’s arrows.

These moments of simple creativity are what spark life into the long running time, in between moments of intense parkour and admittedly overlong fight sequences that have predictable outcomes. The script itself is tight, save for a few editing tricks that keep the laws of physics glossy, and almost none of the CGI is noticeable enough to lower the stakes of each set piece.

review captain america civil war

All this said, Civil War doesn’t expand the storytelling of the MCU in new ways, but it is a new kind of Marvel movie, in that balances subplots and seeds for future movies in a more graceful way than ever, forcing the viewer to catch up instead of the other way around (exactly like a comic book).

This works in Civil War because it also builds upon what people already love about these characters, their personalities, and how these movies hold them all together. And if that’s the only criteria in which you’re judging the film, then you’ll walk away thinking it’s about perfect.

Grade: A-

Extra Credits:

  • Tom Holland and Chadwick Boseman pull off something amazing by making both Spider-Man and Black Panther so instantly lovable. Their solo movies can’t come fast enough.
  • Which side are you on? Personally, I’m team Cap all the way, which is apparently the wrong side if you ask anyone else I saw this movie with.
  • I love this movie, but not quite as much as the first Avengers. But I can certainly see many people calling this one their favorite of the MCU for years to come.
  • This movie is very similar to Age of Ultron, actually, which I graded the same. Because like UltronCivil War refines the established strengths of its predecessor (Winter Soldier in this case) and gives us more to love based on what already worked before. Heck, I actually gave Winter Soldier an A- as well.
  • I was disappointed by Don Cheadle’s limited screen time this time around, especially compared to some of the other main Avengers. That said, I can’t say that about anyone else in this movie, which is an achievement all in itself.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

Review: For Some, ‘Demolition’ Will Be a Revelation

demolition review

Demolition, directed by Jean-Marc Vallèe, is a movie about brokenness, and if you think that’s a little obvious from the title, then you’re already one step ahead of this review.

“Everything’s a metaphor,” cites Davis Mitchell, an upper class Wall Street broker played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who finds himself in an existential crisis after his wife is tragically killed in a car accident that he witnessed firsthand.

Yet his crisis of identity has little to do with his wife or grief over her death. Demolition is an unconventional dramedy that explores the callous nature of a man who feels nothing when his wife dies, revealing to him and the audience that we’re seeing someone on the screen with almost no likable qualities.

But Demolition gets to the heart of why we find it so alarming when characters in movies don’t align with our expectations of what’s normal and acceptable. This trope works well in shows like The Office, when Michael Scott is only as horrifying as he is affectionate with the people around him. In Demolition, audiences are forced to pay attention to a character they have no reason to feel sympathy for, despite the film asking them to feel sympathy for that character. And for some people, this works well thanks to Gyllenhaal’s performance.

demolition review

The script is very quirky for the subject material presented, as Davis finds himself in a surprising correspondence with a vending machine customer service rep named Karen, played by Naomi Watts. Davis becomes immediately obsessed with Karen and her rebellious son, Chris, but the script is much too afraid of crossing into “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” territory to let their relationship play out as you’d expect. And this is probably for the best.

Their connection will likely divide audiences, but it feels far more authentic than similar personal journey movies like Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown. More importantly, Davis himself reads a lot like the type of people you’ve come across in your life who seem to have everything, despite living on autopilot. Whether you are that person or you’re used to dealing with that person, Demolition could be a revelation for understanding what makes apathetic people of privilege tick when they break down mentally.

If you can grapple with some of Demolition’s more brazen themes (he literally hits the nail on the head at one point), such as an ongoing reliance on taking things apart to put them back together again, you’ll find yourself charmed by Davis’s antics, which range from nihilism on par with his character in Nightcrawler, all the way to his more upbeat performances in films like Love and Other Drugs and even October Sky to an extent. His range here is very satisfying, if not a little sappy by the final act.

demolition review

Demolition also has several moments of near brilliance, when the soundtrack and moving narration come together and stick the landing. It’s even quite funny from time to time. But many of the moving parts between Davis, Karen, Chris, and the father-in-law (Chris Cooper, who balances a logical character mixed with tyrannical aggression), ultimately fail to amount to much when held together. Demolition operates on a very specific level that asks a lot of its audience, but if you’re willing, it can be a very affecting experience.

Grade: B


I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

Review: ‘Hardcore Henry’ Lives Up to Its Name, But Not to Its Promise

hardcore henry review

Hardcore Henry is a film shot entirely in first-person view, from the perspective of a silent protagonist. If this sounds a lot like a video game, then you’re on the right track to understanding the appeal — and limitations — of this thoroughly brazen action film.

The plot is especially ripped out of a fun hybrid between Call of Duty and Dead Rising (if only for the amount of gore), as it follows a day in the life of a newborn cyborg in search of his captive wife, who happens to be the one who put him together.

Throughout the film, you never hear or see Henry himself, save for shots of his tattooed arm and clothed body, which both work to hide the stunt actor portraying him and preserve a semblance of identity that the viewer can shift themselves into. To mix up the narrative, Henry frequently comes across eccentric characters meant to counteract his stoic bravado.

hardcore henry review

Sharlto Copley plays Jimmy, a rogue spy who helps Henry get up to speed on his capabilities and drives most of the early plot points. But his memorable performance is rivaled by Akan, the film’s telekinetic Russian bad guy with red-stained eyes and pale-white hair. Because Henry is such an intentional blank slate, the other key players in this film are far more interesting to watch, making every scene they’re not in noticeably lacking.

Hardcore Henry has a lot of excellent features that help it stand out. The premise is a valid, even admirable attempt at innovating the action genre with massively entertaining pyrotechnics and stunt work. The soundtrack carries a lot of the film’s biggest moments, including Henry himself. Though it makes no sense when you think about it hard enough, the music in Henry’s head is our only real glimpse into what his character is thinking, and that’s probably as novel as shooting this entire film facing forward.

Unfortunately, Hardcore Henry also stumbles as much as it runs. The film borrows a little too much from the video games that inspire it, but also not enough. Unlike a video game, this film lacks any sort of interactivity or sense of discovery that makes the first-person perspective so immersive. Worse, it follows a repetitive narrative that doesn’t deviate much from running to checkpoints and hearing exposition while incapacitated.

hardcore henry review

The same story beats happen so often — yet in such diverse locations — that Hardcore Henry feels more like an extended tutorial to a better movie, rather than a thrilling adventure. This could be easier to forgive if these sequences were at least a little more watchable, but more than half of what you see in Hardcore Henry is either a blur or riddled with insufferable, jerky, shaky cam that would make the Bourne movies shake their head in disapproval.

While the movie has plenty of strong moments, too many of them are crammed in between practically unwatchable action scenes that make you want to turn away from the good content that is sitting right in front of you. All this and a pretty mundane story are just a few reasons why only the most hardcore action fans will enjoy viewing Hardcore Henry, at least on the big screen.

Grade: C+

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

Unopinionated: ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ Is Better Than What You May Remember

dark knight rises unpopular opinion

Every week, readers send me their unpopular opinions, and on Unopinionated, I explain why they’re unpopular in the first place.

From my inbox: “Sad to see you hating Batman v Superman, when The Dark Knight Rises has to be one of the worst Batman films of all time. That’s not an unpopular opinion, it’s just fact.” – Cheyenne

It’s interesting how quickly some have turned on The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR), a powerfully ambitious film that is quite easy to unpack for various flaws and plot holes that we’ve all come to expect from Christopher Nolan’s brand of filmmaking.

Not that this is an excuse. TDKR is absolutely a flawed movie. Part of that might have to do with how it is justifiably compared to its predecessor, The Dark Knight, which has cemented itself as a lasting future classic within the pantheon of superhero movies (despite the fact that it is far removed from what constitutes a typical superhero film).

dark knight rises unpopular opinion

Expectations were always going to be lopsided with TDKR, so it was surprising to see mostly positive reviews surface as the movie was released. As the years have gone on, however, there’s been a quiet movement to shift the consensus of that film to something much less grandiose than the two Batman films it wrapped up.

And I’m among the fans of this movie who wished for a more cohesive film, structurally. TDKR has not one, but two “rebirth” narratives it forces its Bruce Wayne to endure. Multiple time skips, an overabundance of key players, and some familiar beats from TDR are just a few complaints that weaken the overall product of this film, but they don’t even come close to undercutting how potent this conclusion truly was.

You don’t owe these people any more. You’ve given them everything. – Selina Kyle

What the film does spectacularly is stay on target with what Batman Begins set out to do in the first place (and what TDK carried on so superbly). That is, these movies have always been about holding a mirror up to the deepest fears we have about the post-9/11 millennium — the deconstruction of American capitalism through outside forces, terrorist attacks based in nihilism, and highly invasive government tactics — only to show us how ludicrous it is for us to think that one man can save us all.

Of course, we root for him anyway.

dark knight rises unpopular opinion

TDK played with this direct parallel by pitting the “clean” politician, Harvey Dent, against the vigilante secretly known as Bruce Wayne in a love triangle, of all constructs. By TDKR, audiences are convinced that no one man can save Gotham, but perhaps everyone can unite in righteous fear against a force they don’t understand. This, of course, speaks more relevantly to current events of 2016 even more than 2012, when Barack Obama was poised to win his re-election and the Occupy movement was in full swing.

TDKR makes it clear that violence always has a purpose, whether it’s for the sake of violence as illustrated in TDK, or to be a forced resurrection through the events of Batman Begins. There’s a reason Nolan chose to end this trilogy on the shoulders of the League of Assassins, whose seemingly anarchistic goals are based in some eerily sound logic carried over from the first film.

The film actually begins during a time of peace, eight years after the events of TDK. This peace, of course, is based on the lie that Harvey Dent (and his morals) survived his own death. The white knight was chosen over the dark knight, except the dark knight is the one who made this choice possible.

Speak of the devil and he shall appear. – Bane

Forced into exile, Bruce Wayne has spent this time letting others run the city, and even his company, believing once and for all that the city no longer needs a “Batman.” Meanwhile, a new threat named Bane has set a plan into motion that couldn’t be more ambitious: an actual takeover of Gotham City, effectively making it the hostage of a rogue network of fascist mercenaries.

dark knight rises unpopular opinion

Three new faces enter Wayne’s life as this plan takes off, and they couldn’t be more dissimilar. A young cop named John Blake represents the faith Wayne once had in the Batman role. Miranda Tate, a board member of Wayne Enterprises, helps Wayne enact a new plan to create sustainable and clean energy for Gotham. And the wildcard is Selina Kyle, a thief who shifts between wanting to save the world or giving up to profit off of the chaos.

A good part of the film is used exploring what these new characters mean to Bruce Wayne as he embarks on a war against Bane, but also against his own uncertainty and entanglement with the darkness that he hasn’t been able to shake since the Joker came around.

I don’t know why you took the fall for Dent’s murder, but I’m still a believer in the Batman. – John Blake

But it’s truly the more established cast that helps make the spectacle of TDKR worth caring about. Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman all return to reprise their roles as a shade of Bruce Wayne’s standalone mentor. And Christian Bale himself delivers a more compelling, pain-stricken Wayne than even the TDK, but mostly because that movie did the work to set him up.

Dark Knight Rises unpopular opinion

And that’s the biggest advantage TDKR has, and it’s what helps it overcome its various shortcomings. The film is improved by what came before it, and it also improves them, as well. While franchise blockbusters like The Avengers are to be commended for their commitment to world-building, TDKR is to be celebrated for how complete its story is across its three offerings.

Nolan does a splendid job balancing energetic set pieces (the opening hijack scene is a highlight) with what would descend into mindless fantasy, otherwise. And they save TDKR from being devoid of any fun or awe considering how lacking this film actually is of Batman himself.

A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young boy’s shoulders to let him know that the world hadn’t ended. – Batman

But when viewed as a continuation, not a standalone film, these flaws suddenly become less entrenched with the film itself. From start to finish, TDKR works more as an honorable resolution, rather than a climactic high achieved by TDK. Perhaps we wanted something more groundbreaking, or even faithful to the comics that founded this character and how his story ends in our own imaginations. Our expectations aside, TDKR still delivers something that makes sense within itself.

Grade: B+

Do you have an unpopular opinion you want challenged? Let me know in the comments and I’ll take it on in a future Unopinionated article. Or you can email nowconspiring@gmail.com

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

Retronalysis: ‘Dazed and Confused’ Ruined Teen Comedies in the Best Way Possible

dazed and confused

Before there was boyhood, Richard Linklater was dazed and confused, transplanting his own experiences as an angsty teenager growing up in 1976 onto the big screen.

So what works in Dazed in Confused has a lot more to do with Linklater himself than the admirable cast, as it was the 90s comedy that undermined all of the others that came after it (peaking at Can’t Hardly Wait and perhaps Not Another Teen Movie). Dazed dashed the plot heavy drama-fests of the 80s and replaced them with a heart even Breakfast Club would fist bump, cementing itself as one of the first true cult classics of its decade.

That’s not to say people were ready for this movie in 1993. Though it captures many of the typical aesthetics that accompanied teen comedies at the time, Dazed approached both the spiritual highs and lows of being a kid during that era, or any era if you grew up with a good taste in music and loved to wander around without a GPS.

The film centers around a group of seniors on their last day of high school; going to parties, pool halls, and overall just getting into trouble. The movie addresses the fact that while these many teenagers we see engage in obvious behavior (sex, drugs, and rock and roll), not much of what they say or do actually means anything.

dazed and confused

And most of them seem to honestly get that. It’s one of the most honest coming of age films of all time, if only for addressing just how empty adolescence can feel when you’re trying to reflect back on it, putting your hopes and wishes onto the relationships that were either forced by proximity or brought on by a mixture of hormones and chemical substances.

…if I ever say these were the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself.

– Pink

Rather than place the weight of its characterization on massive set pieces, such as a sudden tragedy, failed romance, or name your trope, Dazed hedged its emotion on small moments of dialogue between relatable characters. Is it any wonder that a 90s stoner movie centered around 70s in-jokes strikes a chord with everyone else?

Amidst all of its disheartening observations on life is some fun, though. The humor of Dazed is competent enough to lend weight to its softer touches. Wooderson (played by a young Matthew McConaughey), is probably the film’s most humorous character, while also the most pathetic — being a guy in his 20s who still hangs out with high schoolers.

He’s also one of the few characters who doesn’t go through his own rite of passage (and for good reason). Throughout the film, we observe how each character either wins or loses based on some arbitrary contests that range from freshmen hazing to full-on brawls. Wooderson is the only character who sees through their prideful bragging. As a surrogate for Linklater himself, Wooderson understands how always wanting what’s next (more girls, leaving high school, etc.) is almost as unsatisfying as actually getting it.

Grade: A-

Everybody Wants Some, Richard Linklater’s spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused, opens in limited release this weekend. It’s set in Austin, Texas like Dazed, but this time focusing on college students in the early 80s. It will hit wide release on April 15th.

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