Moana, a new and improved Disney

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I saw a number of things at the theater when I went there on Wednesday: there was a trailer for a Beauty and the Beast remake (which looked about as uncomfortable and undesirable as possible), a trailer for Hidden Figures (which looks spectacular), and there was Moana.

Holy shit I really liked Moana. It somehow feels old (in a good way) despite the fact that I don’t think Disney has done anything like it anytime recently. In some ways, they’ve never done anything like it at all; a female main character who goes on a mythic quest and succeeds without being disempowered, sidelined, or told that she must be a man.

I also felt like the movie’s depictions of human beings was simply far better than many previous Disney movies’ had been. The characters felt believably human, honest to themselves and their own desires from the audience’s perspective (even if they weren’t really emotionally honest with themselves if you know what I mean). I have a hard time thinking of which other Disney movies are operating on the same level. If you like watching animated kids movies now, this one should be at the top of your list. If you have fond memories of animated kids movies but aren’t sure whether you’d still like them, watch this one. It’s worth it. Yeah, some of it seems like it’s an obvious product of modern sensibilities, but is that always so bad?

Speaking of which, why the hell are they remaking Beauty and the Beast? The trailer made it look like they were reprising basically everything from their 1991 version… but doing it in live action with huge heaps of CGI. Blatantly cashing in on nostalgia is hardly an admirable starting point, and doing that with a story that portrays creepy manipulative abusive behavior as not only normal but romantic without doing anything to comment on that is extremely objectionable. How about them modern sensibilities.

Oh, and as for Hidden Figures, it tells the story of three women of color working for NASA leading up to John Glenn’s orbit in 1962, with Janelle Monae, Octavia Spencer, and Taraji Henson. Yes, that Janelle Monae. I’m very excited.

Pain & Gain: Avarice at its best / worst

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Muscles, money, melanoma. What more could you want?

For some reason, Michael Bay decided to make a Fargo-esque movie about a real storyPain & Gain is the “true crime” tale of three mid-90s Miami weightlifters who are too set on absolute success to realize that they’ve fucked up beyond their worst nightmares.

Unlike his film’s narrators, Bay seems to have succeeded.

Maybe he succeeded because there aren’t any giant robots, or maybe it’s because truth is stranger than fiction and this story is already good enough.  Or maybe it was because he got Mark WahlbergDwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Anthony Mackie to play his barely clued-in protago-villains (“Don’t worry, I’ve watched a lot of movies,” says Walhberg’s character on the topic of kidnapping, “I know what I’m doing.”), and then convinced Ed Harris and Tony Shalhoub to round out his cast.

I’m not saying that this movie is exceptionally good or a critical success.  I’m saying that it wildly exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations.  The movie flunks the Bechdel test, sidelining the few female characters involved in favor of focusing on a plethora of detestable assholes who feel like they came straight out of a game of Fiasco.  Their fluctuating connection to reality coupled with the greedy entitlement of Wahlberg’s character pulls the movie along like a freight train, complete with ensuing train wreck.  Their musclebound, idiotically-genius antics exemplify the phrase “hot mess.”

More specifics after the break.

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