Let the Holiday Season Begin: November 2016 Movie Preview (Part 1)

C: Oh, must we let it? I’ll admit, part of me longs for peppermint cocoa and Hallmark specials, but it still feels too early for holidays!

E: Definitely.  And yet, come the holidays will.  There’s a big entertainment upside, though, because many of the best reviewed movies of the year hit theaters in November and December.

M: We’re only going to let a little bit of it in, as we’re struggling to meet deadline, and will only have the first weekend up in this post.

C: But never fear, the second half of the post will be up soon! And there’s a lot to be excited about.

E: The remaining three quarters, you mean – but yes.  Lots to like and maybe even love.

M: Yeah, in many months out of the year we bemoan the dearth of good movies opening. Well, not so in November. Oscar contenders and blockbuster abound in this month’s slate!

C: It’s true — I expect I’ll be going out to the theaters twice to three times this month!

November 4 – Doctor Strange, Hacksaw Ridge, Trolls, Loving, Peter and the Farm

November 4 

Doctor Strange (wide)

C: This is one of the movies I’ll probably end up seeing, though I must admit the trailers and commercials have not grabbed me. But am I too far in with Marvel to say no?

M: Interesting… I’ll probably be heading to the theater for it, too, but your reticence leads to my first point. Marvel has been the absolute master of the box office pretty much since the release of Iron Man eight years ago. One of the things that has kept them there has been adapting some of their most iconic, but also some of their most relatable and, well, safest, works. This is probably the biggest limb they’ve gone out on since then, with the possible exception of Guardians of the Galaxy.

E: Oh, I disagree.  I don’t know much about the good (or weird) Doctor, but nothing I’ve seen in these trailers looks as odd as a talking raccoon or walking tree.

C: Or Ant Man! He leads an army of ants!

E: Definitely Ant Man.  How weird and not-obvious is that super power?

M: Shrinking and growing large? That’s pretty standard, actually.

E: You know that’s not what we meant.

M: True. 🙂 However, to answer for real, the difference is that Guardians was a lesser known title, released in August, and Ant Man came out right after Avengers 2 –both were considered almost throwaways: if they hit, the studio’d be happy, but neither was a tentpole for them. This is central to the next phase of the MCU. And, opening up the realm of Doctor Strange, the world of magic, and making it look like a cross between Inception and The Matrix? High risk, potentially very high reward.

E: I disagree again – they ran ads for Guardians during the Superbowl, and kept them going for the following seven months until the film opened.  That doesn’t say “not invested” to me.  I will agree, however, that the visuals of Strange are quite appealing.  Derivative, yes, but still unusual enough to look intriguing.

M: Totally. Having Benedict Cumberbatch do his very best Hugh Laurie/Gregory House impersonation in it? A little questionable, especially where his voice is one of his greatest strengths. Turning the reigns over to a little-accomplished horror writer/director? Potentially worrisome.

E: Hey, it worked with James Gunn and Peter Jackson.  It could work here.

M: Very fair point. White-washing The Ancient One? Not okay.

C: Ugh, yes. I’m so peeved. I mean, sure, I’m told it in the comics it’s a thoroughly generic, stereotypical role, but there are better ways to fix that then taking work away from an actor of color.

E: Yeah.  I mean, it’s cool that they went gender-blind, but STOP TAKING ASIANS OUT OF MOVIES, HOLLYWOOD!

M: Seriously! The Martian‘s Benedict Wong, who’s in the movie anyway, is awesome, why not him?

C: Well, if he’s in the movie anyway… as Aziz Ansari pointed out, how come “there can’t be two”?

M: Okay, how about the always great Michelle Yeoh, to keep with the gender-bending?

C: Sure, that would have been cool. The point is: do better, Hollywood.

E: Why is it so hard?  We could go on and on naming awesome actors.  It’s like producers or casting directors are working overtime to erase Asians just as the Chinese market for American film is exploding.  Wrong by itself and also financially baffling.

M: That issue aside, I’m really interested to see which way this film falls. I really think it could be great, but I also think it could fail miserably. If I had to guess right now, I’d side with great, given Marvel’s track record and the cast, which in addition to Cumberbatch and the talented but extremely white Tilda Swinton, also includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bond villain Mads Mikkelson, Rachel McAdams, Wong and Benjamin Bratt.

E: Every time I think Marvel will let me down, they don’t. But despite that, and despite the cast, I really need to see the reviews and hear word of mouth before I get excited about this one.

C: Those are good people. I don’t know why I feel so blah about the whole thing… maybe because it just doesn’t seem like we’ve been given any indication of compelling story or character yet, just spectacle. I know people adore Cumberbatch, and I like him too, but I already had to sit through him punching Kirk and Spock forever in elaborate CGI scenery, and I’m all set with the whole “white guy needs the mystical powers of the Orient to save everyone” recurring story theme. I do want this to pleasantly surprise me, though.

E: Right.  It’s an origin story, in a form that feels extremely familiar, even if the trappings of it don’t.

M: I guess I’ve seen enough of the “surgeon who gets in an accident and now his life-saving hands don’t work” aspect from the trailer to buy in more than you.

C: That is pretty similar to the premise of the classic British comedy series Doc Martin

"Why has the Ancient One never approached me??"

“Why has the Ancient One never approached me??”

Hacksaw Ridge (wide)

M: This is a very different kind of high risk-high reward proposition. Last month, when discussing Birth of a Nation, we talked about a movie trying to navigate finding an audience despite it’s director’s unpopular personal past. Well, unless you’re talking about Roman Polanski, a director’s past doesn’t get much more unpopular than Mel Gibson’s.

C: *coughwoodyallencough*

E: Ha!  Good one, C.

M: Well, Woody’s in the conversation, but Hollywood has never wavered in its love and support for him, even though they should have. Of course, Woody is reliably liberal, and Mel is not. So it’s Gibson’s directorial past, which is SOOOOO good, that wins him a lot of — if not forgiveness — then at least, willingness to look past things.

E: Oh, M.  Moving on without a political fight…

M: …because you can’t defend the indefensible….

E: … because it’s not worth debating when nobody’s going to really listen to the other side.  I did notice that the trailer tells you that a film is made by the Oscar-winning director of Braveheart, and fails to mention who that actually is. They’re apparently hoping people will think “ooh, I liked Braveheart” and not associate it with the hugely popular actor/director who turned out to be a bigoted wacko. Walking a weird, fine line.

M: Very fine indeed.

C: Especially since the first thing anyone associates with Braveheart has got to be Mel Gibson’s blue face…

M: …and him yelling “FREEDOM!!!”…

C: …you may well have forgotten he directed it though, like me.

E: Oh, okay, that’s good to know.

M: And disappointing.

E: I suppose there are lots of younger people who wouldn’t have ever known that.

M: Just to note, some of the TV spots mention Gibson by name. Now, add to the weird fine line that this movie, at least from the trailers, looks like an absolute classic, the kind of picture that (back when the Academy awarded movies people actually saw) could have swept the Oscars. Hollywood does love a good redemption story, too.

C: The commercials are certainly all about that: “the best war film since Saving Private Ryan,” et cetera.

M: If you’ve watched the longer trailers, you get more understanding as to why. And it supposedly got a ten-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival.

C: Wow! That’s pretty dang promising!

M: Agreed. As for the movie itself, it’s been at the top of my list to see since I saw said trailer. Based on a little-known true story, it tells the tale of a young Christian pacifist who signed up for World War II to try to save lives, not take them. He battles for his right to go unarmed into combat, faces the scorn of his fellow soldiers, and eventually does what he set out to do, saves lives on the battlefield.

E: He’s a medic, right?

M: Sort of. He enlists as a medic, but has no medical background.

E: They had plenty of training you could do, though — and plenty of people who learned on the job.

M: And seriously, I practically cry when I watch the trailer, especially at the line “with the world so set on tearing itself apart, doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to me to want to put a little bit of it back together,” which still rings so true today, and the final “help me get one more.”

C: I really like the idea of honoring a pacifist with a story like that, since in the macho genre of the war story they too often get dumped on as cowardly.

M: I know, right? They even call him “Doss the coward” in the trailer. The cast is stellar as well, with Andrew Garfield potentially in line for a Best Actor nomination, supported by Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington.

E: Well, I’m not sure I’d go that far.  He’s young for a lead nomination — and perhaps more to the point, good-looking in a way that will count against him.

C: Snort. What a ridiculous double standard to have to base predictions on.

M: Right? Ahhh, tolerant, progressive Hollywood!

E: That’s just the causes they donate to, not the example they set.  As we discuss every month with the exclusion of women and minorities, the glorification and simplification of violence, etc…

C: Well said. That’s an important distinction to make.

M: Utter hypocrisy aside, I’ve read a bunch of things saying he may get the nom, with no shot of the win. However, I trust E’s predictions more than any other.

E: He’s certainly on the short list, but further down from the older and less pretty Joel Edgerton (see below), who may not make the top five either.  It’ll depend on how the film does with critics and at the box office; if it’s huge, that could carry him through.

C: Anyway, I’m dubious about your suggestion that Vince Vaughan and Sam Worthington are good dramatic actors, but I’m really interested to hear people’s reactions to this film.

M: Okay, “stellar” may have been a bit much, but Hugo Weaving…

C: I hated his joyless, shouty Elrond. There, I said it.

M: Whoa. Seems like an appropriate moment to transition to……

Trolls (wide)

M: Sorry, couldn’t resist. Now, you know that Justin Timberlake song Can’t Stop The Feeling? The one that you’ve been hearing non-stop on the radio since, like, May? Well, that’s actually from this movie, so get ready to start hearing it again!

E: That is totally my jam.  I love that song.

M: Despite not particularly being a fan of JT, I do too.

C: Wow. I literally haven’t heard the radio since May, I guess.

M: I am SHOCKED that you’ve somehow avoided that song. You really should check it out, it’s just fun.

C: Okay, now that I listen, I’ve definitely heard it once or twice, but didn’t know what it was.

E: We just listen to it on Youtube or iTunes easily five times a day.  So when I’m dragged to this glitter covered day-glo extravaganza, at least there will be that…

M: As for the movie itself, it look like a decent enough, if vapid, animated feature.

C: Decent enough? By what standard of decency?!

M: The “it looks better than the Disney Channel ‘original’ movies (or worse) that E’s and my younger daughters force us to watch” standard.

C: Okay, that’s both fair and sad.

M: Yes and yes.

E: I would take the Descendants over this a hundred times.

M: As for the plot, it’s about (stop me if you’ve heard this before) a bunch of small creatures who get attacked by a big, bad bully and then have to fight back to save their way of life. Hooray.

E: Oh, but wait.  You’re forgetting that a chirpy girl-troll and a cynical boy troll must band together to defeat the large monsters that threaten their species.  Optimists converting pessimists for the win!

M: My bad, how could I forget that never-before-seen aspect of the plot!

C: Yeah well… if I see a children’s movie this month, it will definitely be Moana.


E: My two youngest are already obsessed with this, so I fear I will have to see this one as well.

Loving (limited)

M: While in prior years, and with less Mel Gibson-y issues, Hacksaw Ridge would have been an obvious Oscar contender, Loving is 100% one now. Also based on real life, this is the story of an interracial couple, Richard and Mildred Loving (making the title more clever) who married in Virginia in 1958, and fought for years against bigotry and the law, fighting all the way to the Supreme Court.

C: I mean, I feel like the fact that that really was their name is just remarkable and well worthy of title-punning.

E: It’s almost too good to be true, isn’t it?  The first time I heard of the Supreme Court decision (Loving versus the State of Virginia) I thought it was a joke.

M: Totally. But back to the film itself: powerful performances by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are at the center of this terrific-looking telling.

E: M is totally on target with this one. Assuming it lives up to lofty expectations, the Girl in the Flowered Dress from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could be looking at an Oscar nomination. It’s not a guarantee — she’d have to beat out Meryl Streep (who’s gone at least a year without a nod, when she averages one nomination every two years), Annette Bening, and Jessica Chastain, among others — but it’s definitely possible.  The movie has a great shot for Edgerton and an even better shot at a Best Picture nod.

M: Okay, Streep and Chastain are always great, but what is the obsession with Annette Bening? I cannot stand her, and can’t think of a single character I’ve seen her play that I liked, or ever saw past it being Annette Bening. It’s like that famous Harrison Ford quote about the producer who saw Tony Curtis playing a grocery boy and said ‘That’s a movie star,’ to which Ford replied ‘Weren’t you supposed to say ‘That’s a delivery boy’?’ Play the character! Sorry, rant over.

E: I don’t know.  I’m not sure I’d call it an obsession, and I haven’t seen her movie yet, obviously, but she does pull out a super high profile performance once every 7 years or so (which results in an Oscar nomination, which she typically loses to Hilary Swank).

M: High profile, sure. But no thanks.

E: I will say it’s nice that a woman over the age of 50 (who is not Judi or Meryl or Helen) still gets enough great roles for that to be true.

M: Okay, I’ll give you that.

C: Anyway, I’m really looking forward to seeing Loving and checking out the buzzy performance by Negga. And oh my gosh Spell Check, no, just NO, how is that in your dictionary.

E: Excuse me, WHAT?  I think I get what you’re not saying, and that’s unbelievable.

M: AGH! Mine did the same thing. WHAT THE HECK! Side note, my phone spell check recently changed something (that started with a “B”) to “Hitler”.  I feel like Hitler is something it should automatically change you off of, and you have to specifically hit the accept feature for it to use, not something it should sub in automatically. What it’s trying to put in for Negga’s name is a different level entirely.

E: Okay, that’s weird and horrifying.  Quickly back to this film: it’s hard to imagine how recently (in the scheme of things) this fight took place, isn’t it?

M: Insanely so.

C: Oh this is completely unrelated, but recently I had cause to look up when women were allowed to serve on juries. It was changed state by state, and the last one to allow it was in freaking 1968. AND, in some, it was still optional to require women to serve until 1979!!

M: WHAT?!?!

C: I realize this is totally a privileged (and age-based) perspective, but sometimes I really cannot wrap my mind around how not long ago this kind of basic garbage was the law.

Peter and the Farm (limited)

M: If you watched the trailer for Trolls and though “that might be my favorite movie ever,” this documentary about a Vermont farmer probably won’t be for you.

C: I’m sure there are some people out there with extremely catholic tastes who might love both… and probably a lot more people who will never see either.

M: A documentary crew follows Peter, who has been running a farm his whole life, spanning three marriages and four kids, all of whom are gone, into our current hostile economic times for a small farmer. A very raw and real look, that apparently includes his bouts not only with loneliness, but with depression and suicidal thoughts.

E: So, no glitter or outlandish, body-length hair, is that what you’re saying?

M: There might be outlandish, body-length beard. Does that count?

E: It IS a prodigious beard, though it’s definitely not body-length.  (For the record, a commercial for Trolls played before this preview when I watched it on YouTube.  I can not escape that blasted movie…)

C: Ha! Ad targeting fail. Or not, since you’re going to pay to see Trolls


E: Uuuuuugh.  I’m not sure how I feel about the heavy soundtrack use in the trailers for this — it gives a real feeling that Winona Ryder’s MTV trained, aspiring documentarian in Reality Bites made this movie once she got her life sorted out — but wow, listening to farmer Peter Dunning growl about organic farming driving him insane definitely feels raw.

C: Raw… organic… oh wait, not an appropriate joking matter, is it.

M: No, but pulling out a random Reality Bites reference is. I agree about the music, though, very strange feel.

E: It seems like it could be a pretty amazing, well-made movie about a difficult man and his difficult life, although I’m not sure it’s one I’d ever be in the mood to watch. If you are so inclined, it not only premieres in theaters today, it’s also available On Demand, and through Amazon and iTunes.

M: This is the age we’re living in. A strange mix of awesome and sad. And that’s it for now folks, in this abbreviated edition of the November preview. We’ll be back with more next week!




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