Holidays 2016 Pop Culture Roundup

I'm wrapping up a two-week long vacation. It has been busy - moving from Germany back to the States, celebrating holidays and my own birthday, taking all my worldly possessions from a storage unit to some form of organization in a new apartment. But don't worry - I still had plenty of time to watch way too many movies. About twenty, actually. Plus the released episodes of This is Us and more Sopranos episodes than I'm willing to admit. In my defense, most of these popped up on my 24-hour travel extravaganza across the Atlanta or my movie marathon with my mom on NYE. Warning - some of these just arrived in the new releases and others are just new to me. Here we go!

Grab a seat.

Grab a seat.

Short Term 12. This has been on my 'to watch' list for literally years. After an impassioned plea from my brother, Mom and I finally got around to it on NYE. Should have watched it years ago when I first put it on my list, honestly. Plot summary: Brie Larson and a pre-Mr. Robot Rami Malek are counselors at a group home for troubled teens. Brie lives with her boyfriend, another counselor at the home. She discovers she's pregnant. This, along with a new teen at the home, makes her encounter parts of her past she has tried to avoid. That's a terrible summary but the film has an honest, lived-in feel with intimate portrayals from the actors. Warning: it made me cry. A lot. That being said, it's excellent and should be seen. Brie Larson is the actress and person that Jennifer Lawrence tries so hard to be and I can't wait to see what she does in the future. I'm glad Room has brought her so much success and fame but she probably should have gotten there sooner.

The Invitation. This was a movie I had added to my Netflix Watchlist at the recommendation of several internet friends that I trusted. And for the first half of the movie, I had no idea why. An ex-husband is invited to a dinner party by his ex. There's obviously something weird going on but, aside from the husband repeatedly saying something weird is going on and a few very odd cult videos the hosts make everyone watch, there's nothing particularly interesting about the film. There are a few hints at what the couple really has in mind and when it does start to happen, the only thing that's surprising is how violent it gets. But the last half hour or so? Awesome, especially the final scene, which blew me away and which I keep thinking about. There's a good, maybe great movie, in the ideas of the film. It just sucks at bringing them to fruition. I honestly hope the filmmakers, or some filmmakers, take a 10 Cloverfield Lane approach here and tell another story set on that night. In summary, check the thing out but be very, very patient. Or just fast forward.

Dear Zachary. I'm super behind on this one. Summary of the documentary: a guy puts together a video to tell his friend's story following the murder of said friend by his ex-girlfriend. Following the murder, the girlfriend discovers she's pregnant. Then things get really dark and twisted and heartbreaking. Get ready to feel sadness, despair, anger, frustration, and shock. Canada isn't as awesome as we thought! I recommend checking out this movie, absolutely. If you're a parent, I can't imagine how difficult this would be to watch, especially the middle of the documentary, when the grandparents must spend time with their son's killer to see their grandson. Just heartbreaking and a reminder of how shitty our justice system can be.

Wishful Drinking. To be honest, if Carrie Fisher hadn't died I probably wouldn't have gotten around to this. But Mom and I needed something funny on while we played games on NYE. And this was perfect. Entertaining and a reminder that Carrie Fisher was much, much more than just Princess Leia.

When Harry Met Sally. Another NYE pick. Yes, it also stars Carrie Fisher (and her character's romantic stories are probably worthy of their own film as well) but it's a great movie to watch during the holidays, as major chunks take place at Christmas and NYE. It's also a great film to watch in the fall - Central Park and other NYC landmarks are captured in the beautiful autumnal colors. This is one of my favorite movies, maybe even at the number one spot. I can watch it anytime, any place, but it's especially poignant this time of year. If you haven't seen it, what the hell are you waiting for?

Amanda Knox. Netflix's new documentary is the latest piece on the Kercher murder and Knox's arrest. I've also seen the Lifetime movie version starring Hayden Panettiere, which was mostly the extent of what I knew going into this. If you're looking for a deep dive into the murder and the facts and evidence of the case, you should probably look elsewhere. At just an hour and a half, the documentary is light on details but does a good job on summarizing the case and spends most of its focus on the trial, how it was prosecuted, and how it was portrayed in the media. Knox herself features heavily in the documentary, giving it a general lean towards her perspective. Still, it's an interesting case and the documentary deserves a view. And the Knox story, as the girl herself puts it at the beginning, really comes down one of two things - you either see a total sociopath or you have to wonder, what if this happened to you.

Hush. A nice little horror film. Much better than the others in this list. It's an interesting and unique idea - a murderer realizes his victim's neighbor is deaf and takes advantage. Our hearing-impaired heroine behaves in a satisfying way and I was on the edge of my seat for a good chunk of the film.

Don't Breathe. A bad little horror film. In keeping with the subgenre of horror films with the physically impaired, this one features a group of teens who rob a blind vet's home because he supposedly has a couple hundred thousand bucks lying around. Here is my problem with the film - everyone is really, really stupid. The vet, who keeps the money in his house even though it is widely reported that he has the money and also does really dumb stuff once he realizes he has intruders. The teens, who make big mistake after big mistake. Even the safe makers are dumb - who the hell displays the code? It's somewhat entertaining and if you're desperate, sure, give it a try. For a good horror movie, look elsewhere.

Bad Moms. This is exactly what you think it is. And that's fine. I recommend it for airplanes or other situations where you just need something to kill time. Or, I guess, if you're a suburban mom looking for some outlet.

The Visit. This isn't The Shining but it's a serviceable, not-too-scary suspense/horror film. You will probably spot the twist about twenty minutes into the movie, but if you want a scary film without any trouble sleeping, this is it.

Me Before You. About what you'd expect. Emilia Clarke continues to be an eyebrow inspiration.

Passengers. Probably should have seen Arrival instead. I read the screenplay a few months ago and that had a better handle on the ethical dilemma of Pratt's decision and also a better whack at the ending (not that it was in itself good). The movie is just kind of a mess and wastes an opportunity to make the viewer ask what they would do in this situation. That being said, the ship's design is pretty and Michael Sheen is having a good time.

Ghostbusters. Not my favorite. I'm totally on the Kate McKinnon bandwagon, but I wasn't really a fan of the original so this is probably not for me. I did highly enjoy Chris Hemsworth, both as eye candy and occasional hilarious villain.

Zootopia. A typically great Disney animated film, with a side of racism allegory. Something for everyone! Seriously, it's a well-done cartoon to entertain kids and adults.

Suicide Squad. I tried watching this on the plane a couple of times and just kept falling asleep. Maybe it was the wine with lunch or the time difference or the stress of moving.  But it was probably just a crappy movie.

Ides of March. I really enjoy this movie. When it came out in 2011, I saw it at the theater and bought it as soon as it came out in Target. It helped me survive the 2012 election and was my go-to movie when I needed a distraction from the real-life drama. Watching it on the plane in our current state was much less enjoyable. But I'm still putting it on my list for when I'm really struggling with President Cheeto. Also, it's a crime that Phillip Seymour Hoffman didn't get to play Bannon. And if nothing else, this movie is a reminder of the Gosling golden years because, right now, Gosling affection is at an all-time high thanks to...

La La Land. First, a PSA in the Gosling vein: Go see The Nice Guys. That out of the way, this is such a love letter of a film, to Los Angeles and fulfilling your dreams and film musicals from fifty years ago. Visually, the film is great with colors that pop and fun gags, like the faux streets of Paris. The music and dancing isn't some belting showstopper but much more intimate; I'll be listening to "City of Stars" for days. The final fifteen minutes of the film are a dream, as we share in the lovers' beautiful version of What If. I don't know if it's the best film of the year (I haven't seen enough to make that call) but I'm looking forward to watching it again once I've had time to ruminate.

Moana. My first thought upon seeing this: it's not The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast. Afterwards, chatting with my brother, he brought up his thoughts upon a recent rewatch of the former: damn, that was fast. And it's true - looking back at the plotting and time of these Disney Renaissance films, shit happens quickly. And so maybe my first statement is really just a testament to the love and nostalgia I have for these late eighties/early nineties films. Because every milestone, every conflict, in Moana seemed to materialize and then be overcome way too quickly. And while my love for Hamilton and its writer knows no bounds, the songs weren't perfect. There wasn't a "Be Our Guest" or "Poor, Unfortunate Souls" or "Be Prepared." Here is where I also note that Disney villains get the best songs and Moana really didn't have a villain. Maybe that would have helped? But I still hope LMM gets his EGOT this year ("City of Stars" is beautiful but I've been humming "You're Welcome" and "Shiny" nonstop). I think Moana accomplished what Brave meant to. I enjoyed the mythology and the lack of romance. It's great, honestly. And it will, over time, probably earn its spot among the greats. I prefer Tangled, probably, but we can all agree: way better than Frozen. And more earning of that film's praise.

This Is Us. Need a good cry? Watch literally any episode of this series. Seriously. You can feel the emotional manipulation but that doesn't keep it from being effective. Mostly, I'm happy to see that guy from the O.J. series get good work.