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Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Amazing, brutal tribute to a remarkable man.
Oscar winning director, Mel Gibson returns to the helm after a long ten years of not being behind a camera, Apocalypto being his last film back in 2006. Maybe due to too much shaky cam? No! Sorry. That was a cheap shot and I'm actually a massive fan of Gibson, he's still very much one of my favourites and I know he can take a joke.
Gibson is one of the few directors who can boast a long runtime and it not be a warning off- putter, though not as long as Braveheart, it's up there with this longest films with a runtime of 139mins, but you certainly don't notice it.
The film is based on the legendary WWII army medic, Pfc. Desmond Doss who enlisted but with an absolutely objection to firing a single bullet, not just during the war zone but during training also, who went on to serve regardless and saved of life's of approximately 75 soldiers under fire.
The film is in two parts. Firstly the background on Doss, his family, his love and the eventual training where he becomes branded a conscientious objector, bringing him a world of hurt and abuse from his fellow regiment and the military powers. It has to be mentioned, during this part Hugo Weaving gives an incredible performance as his drunken father clearly combating PTSD.
The second part of the film is the obvious, bloody assault on Hacksaw Ridge. The carnage of unforgiving violence that's gruesome yet captivating to watch. The brutal war scenes are loaded with exaggerated action for cinematographic purposes but is superbly executed with building tension and often gory outcomes.
Andrew Garfield takes the lead role of Pfc. Doss and does an amazing job. I can only believe he done the hero justice because the son was brought to tears during a screening. The supporting cast, including names Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer and Luke Bracey all give good strong performances. And apologies to Vince Vaughn because he's an actor I find difficult to take seriously. But he fills the Sargent's boots quite well, nearly bursting a blood vessel bellowing humorous insults at his subordinates. Unfortunately, scenes like that will always be compared to R. Lee Ermey's Sgt. Hartman in Full Metal Jacket, but Vaughn does an amazing job.
Gibson' direction, like most of his films, is quite symbolic with some stunning visual imagery. He doesn't shy away from the opposing side either. The war sequences are some of the best captured, striking a realism that Saving Private Ryan got respected for.
Rupert Gregson-Williams score replaces John Debney's rejected score, after he replaced the late James Horner. Gregson-Williams actually does a good score in honour of Horner, mimicking his style to a degree, just listening to "Okinawa Battlefield" has echoes of Horner.
Though the number of people saved are not wholly accurate, to say 75 people is actually an understatement, himself saying 50 on that particular bloody night, witnesses claim it to be 100, which could be a result of him treating 50 men up on the escarpment who made their own way back to camp. It's said that during his three week tour he rescued a number close to 300 souls.
Certainly succeeds in placing Desmond Doss in eternity, being an incredible, moving tribute to the hero about courage and belief to stand alone not just against adversity but against the common command of war. A remarkable story about an even more remarkable man.
Running Time: 9 The Cast: 9 Performance: 10 Direction: 10 Story: 9 Script: 10 Creativity: 10 Soundtrack: 8 Job Description: 10 The Extra Bonus Points: 10 for being an amazing tribute not just to Desmond Doss, but to all conscientious collaborators.
A great underkoala story! Great laugh out loud moments.
Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy director, Garth Jennings teams up with Despicable Me 2 story animator Christophe Lourdelet for Illumination's longest film, about a singing contest held in hope to help save the anthropomorphic city's Moon Theatre.
The theatre belonging to Buster Moon, a koala voiced superbly well by Matthew McConaughey. This being his second voice performance for an animated film, his first only being last year's Kubo and the Two Strings. His inherited and beloved theatre is in a dire situation, with failed productions after production putting Moon under financial strain and in a stroke of genius, he decides to host a contest that would hopefully turn the tables and rescue his theatre.
Interest spread far and wide, from the weird and wonderful characters voiced by some surprising actors. Most surprising being Seth MacFarlane as Mike the arrogant and self righteous mouse performance in style of Rat Packs era legends like Sinatra. I didn't even recognise Scarlett Johansson voice as punk rocker porcupine, Ash; and is there no limit to Taron Egerton's talents, first Kingsman, then Eddie The Eagle and now singing his heart out in this, playing Johnny the aspiring Gorilla trying to take a different path to his father's choice of being a criminal.
I can't fault any of the performances, but what is key here is the music, the film featuring more than 85 pop songs ranging from the 40s right up to today's music. All classic and recognisable tracks apart from the couple originally written for the film, namely Stevie Wonder and Ariana Grande's "Faith". There's actually moments of aww when hearing classic tracks from the recently departed Michael George, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen.
There's plenty of laugh-out-moments, especially the auditions in quick fire succession and when Buster Moon finally gets his shirt off, yes, that's right, McConaughey's character gets his shirt off but to hilarious comedy effect.
On the whole, it's great fun, super catchy and doesn't feel like the 110min runtime. It's an underkoala story with great feels at the end, that reminded me a little of Stepping Out. It's a worthy watch for the whole family. I've put this higher than Illumination's Secret Life of Pets.
Running Time: 8 The Cast: 9 Performance: 9 Direction: 8 Story: 7 Script: 7 Creativity: 8 Soundtrack: 9 Job Description: 8 The Extra Bonus Points: 0
An Incredible journey of rediscovery and the maternal, family spirit
TV and commercial director, Garth Davis gives an exceptional main feature debut with a touching true story about a young boy getting separated from his family and lost in Calcutta to then be adopted by a family in Australia at the tender age of five, who then has the sudden, obsessive urge to find his real family.
It's based on the published memoirs "A Long Way Home" by Saroo Brierley, the boy, now grown up man, who embarks on a mission to find the family he got lost from all those years ago. It tackles conflict of loyalty, love and determination, a truly heart-rending story, not just of Saroo, but of all involved.
It's superbly balanced, basically in two parts. Firstly the origin of separation, a Saroo at 5 years old going through a hellish ordeal of being completely lost, not understanding the language, hungry, tired and just wanting to get home. The second part being the adult Saroo, now fully integrated into Tasmanian society and surrogate family, leading a privileged life compared to the one he lost.
Young Saroo is played astonishingly by Sunny Pawar who manages to convey emotion and feeling with little dialogue. He's truly amazing, being totally believable and the chemistry he shares with the other actors is beyond incredible. He actually steals the show from the other leading actors, even though all give brilliant performances.
Dev Patel plays the adult Saroo, those emotional torment is different, it's still portrayed greatly, racked with guilt with a sense of possible betrayal for all involved. Not wanting to hurt anyone, but to fulfil his need to find his original family. Patel did a lot of research for his role, travelling to India to visit the orphanage and to ride the same train journey trying to imagine what nightmare it must have been for young Saroo.
Nicole Kidman was chosen by the real life Susan Brierley, the surrogate mother of Saroo and adopted brother Mantosh. Kidman and the film show just how remarkable the real Susan Brierley is, at first being kind and understanding beyond measure, brave and loving only to then become something greater when you discover her motives and reasoning. She's become an inspiration to myself.
Dustin O'Halloran and Volker Bertelmann, better known as Hauschka, compose a fitting score for the film, with strings conveying themes of loneliness, discovery and enlightenment in both child and adult. Sia's busy year of end credit songs doesn't end in 2016, providing another great track "Never Give Up" which includes ethnic music.
Davis does an exceptional job, directing names such as Kidman, Patel and Rooney Mara. He has a graceful, elegant style with brilliant use of light and composure. It's a tough story with perfect portrayals that embellishes the meaning of family, love and the maternal spirit. Really looking forward to see what Davis gives us next.
Running Time: 8 The Cast: 9 Performance: 10 Direction: 10 Story: 9 Script: 9 Creativity: 10 Soundtrack: 9 Job Description: 8 The Extra Bonus Points: 10 for Sunny Pawar's performance.
"A Brief Shining Moment"
Chilean director Pablo Larraín filming practically back to back with Naruda, filmed on his native country about another historical figure. It can't be easy to tackle such famous people as topics, possibly attacking viewers already made up opinions of them. But to do it twice at the same time, and to do it well is quite a feat for any director.
As a director, Larraín is quite political, coming from a political family that doesn't actually agree with his ideology. He short but impressive list of films are very political indeed, especially his most well known being his film, No. This is his first film made in English, and I had an intriguing question as to why a brilliant Chilean director would decide to direct a film about Jackie Kennedy.
He was approached by producer Darren Aronofsky after Larraín's film, The Club took the Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival in 2015 and though initially shocked at the idea, after some thought he was eager to make the film about the first most iconic and influential First Lady.
It's covers the following week from the tragic assassination, ignoring very much of the main man himself and being totally focused on the titular First Lady. It displays her courage and vanity, whilst channeling not just hers, but the nation's and beyond's grief for the lost of a great man and husband. Seeing her not just as the First Lady, but as a wife, a widow, and a grieving mother, who, at that moment of grief had to more from the White House, their home, console their two children and organise a funeral worthy of her Husband's legacy showing her love and devotion to her late husband. All of this while dealing with the new and all too eager Lyndon B. Johnson administration and the rest of Kennedy's grieving family, namely Bobby Kennedy played by Peter Sarsgaard.
Were introduced right at the time after the assassination, with who I can only imagine is LIFE magazine's journalist Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup who interviewed Mrs Kennedy at this different time. Larraín brilliantly fleshes out the story with balanced flashbacks of the tragic, horrid moment and Mrs Kennedy's vintage tour of the White House before the event which displays the importance of public image and relations, her fashion and her flamboyant taste and style which done with strong expressionism, using vibrant colour yet still retaining maximum authenticity.
Madeline Fontaine, costume design certain deserves the nomination at the very least, the production as a whole is amazingly executed and put together. Even Mica Levi resonating score is masterful, being quite different, or unexpected, being both sinister and beautiful at the same time using a glissando. Another well deserved Oscar nomination and hopefully a win on both counts.
The casting of Natalie Portman as Jackie was actually a demanded condition of Larraín when accepting to direct the film, and you can see why. Larraín stating that they had to look like the prominent lady. Portman is simply incredible, would be very surprised if she does not receive the Oscar for best leading actress. You can tell she's done her homework studying what footage must have been available to her, giving a performance showing an unknown humanity, a sternness and vanity of Jackie Kennedy.
It does question the state of today's States but without getting political. It's not going to be to everyone's taste, being captivating but not necessarily a riveting drama, however what must be appreciated about this film is the craftsmanship, a visual masterpiece from Larraín coupled with Levi's score and Portman's incredible performance.
The American Camelot: "a brief shining moment."
Mention John Hurt
Running Time: 7 The Cast: 9 Performance: 10 Direction: 10 Story: 8 Script: 9 Creativity: 10 Soundtrack: 10 Job Description: 8 The Extra Bonus Points: 0
xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017)
Kicked a** and looked dope while doing it.
It's fifteen years on since Xander Cage bounced, slid and x-gamed across the big screens, one year after the success of the first Fast and Furious instalment with same director Rob Cohen. And according to the storyline, Xander Cage has been successfully playing dead for all those years.
D.J. Caruso takes the helm, who's never had any major blockbusters, but the man behind not- terrible films like I Am Number 4, Disturbia and my personal favourite of his, being Two For The Money.
Vin Diesel doesn't come alone this time round, forging a team out of international, Expendable rejects, but it's quite a team of recognisable faces. Game of Thrones' Hound, Rory McCann plays a stunt driver, Orange is The New Black star Ruby Rose plays a keen sniper, and I don't understand the purpose or need for Korean popstar, Kris Wu's character, I honestly think they just added him in purely for fun.
On the opposing side is Donnie Yen who replaces Jet Li. Possibly a much welcomed addition after his increased success and popularity with last month's Rogue One. Ong Bak star, Tony Jaa joins the frail as an overactive, over-excited action junkie and Bollywood superstar Deepika Padukone makes her Hollywood debut here, after not being able to commit to the Fast and Furious franchise. Though she might not be known to the wider audience, she certainly makes her presence known here.
What's great about Caruso's xXx is that he allowed the characters/actors to be themselves, encouraging them to express their real accents instead of having false ones which could have offended an audience.
It's loaded with heavy hitting cameos too, UFC fighters and an international football star. (Don't ask me who, I don't follow football) but what is does lack is a good soundtrack like the first xXx, tracks from Soil, Drowning Pool and of course, Rammstein impressively performing Feuer Frei for the film. But there is none of that on this one apart from a couple of scratches on some decks.
Everything else about the film is ridiculous and totally unbelievable, having a rehashed plot with little intelligence and pointless characters. However, the action is good, even if outrageously silly with plenty of "oh come on" moments, it looks pretty and is entertaining, almost farcical. Donnie Yen delivers the punches (and kicks) superbly so fans shouldn't be disappointed but the grand finale lets the rest of the movie down, almost as if it's run out of juice. The ending is partly reminiscent of a Star Wars battle, band of misfit rebels fight down below on the ground trying to secure communications while Xander battles for survival and humanity up on the Death Star.
Its stupid, but it doesn't pretend to be otherwise, and really, what are we expecting? and with films like Lion, Jackie, Silence and Manchester By The Sea being out, this actually comes as a refreshing, brainless actioner that is just good ol' cheesy fun. It does kick some a*s, and it does look dope while doing it.
Oh, Xander's jacket has grown since his last film! Really needs some grooming!
Running Time: 7 The Cast: 7 Performance: 7 Direction: 6 Story: 3 Script: 4 Creativity: 7 Soundtrack: 3 Job Description: 6 The Extra Bonus Points: 0
Shyamafans will love it, haters gonna hate it & non-fans will miss the point.
M. Night Shyamalan has fast become one of those Marmite directors, dividing people into two camps of love him/hate him. Myself being a big fan of his earlier films like Unbreakable and Signs, yet I could appreciate the criticism The Sixth Sense received from people who figured it out. But what I really like about Shyamalan work is his love for his art, his passion reminding myself very much of my own. He's a fanboy who watched films as a child and wanted to do nothing else but make movies, and that admiration and influences can be clearly seen. So regardless whether you like his films or not, no one can question his dedication and the fact he is a very good, and well respected filmmaker. Yes, some of his recently catalogue is questionable with films like The Last Airbender, The Happening and After Earth, but still his understanding and use of the moving image has always be exceptional. I have yet to watch The Visit.
This time round, he could safely hide behind the outstanding performance of James McAvoy's multiple characters causing quite the stir among critics and viewers alike, you could almost forget you're watching a Shyamalan film until the very end, which might be lost on audiences not familiar with his films. It is interesting to know that Joaquin Phoenix was originally casted to play the multitude of characters, especially seeing the viewers reactions to McAvoy's impressive range. Makes anyone wonder how this portrayal might have been with Phoenix instead.
The film is about McAvoy's team of personalities, that abduct three teenage girls and hold them captive for reasons unclear. We get to meet a few of McAvoy's 23 characters each with their own agendas, mannerisms and behaviours. There's inner conflict and potential betrayal, some characters being under "house" arrest simply for not agreeing with the other personalities. It's truly astonishing to watch McAvoy and I don't think I could ever watch him again the same way.
It's good to see Anya Taylor-Joy so soon after Morgan and The Witch, wondering if she's go for something completely different like her co-star Haley Lu Richardson, who in last year's Edge Of Seventeen. It's Jessica Sula that doesn't quite sell it for me. Taylor-Joy is brilliant as the introverted, unpopular girl with something to hide. Betty Buckley reunites with Shyamalan and plays a superb Doctor who is possibly the closest thing McAvoy has as a friend, and instead of treating him, she's mostly encouraging him to explore his personalities.
I think Shyamalan missed a trick and I know audiences would be demanding answers if I did it my way, but maybe we would be better not knowing what happens to the girls, though the full reasons as to why is left totally unexplained. But instead of what I consider a cheap shot, I think a more intriguing hint would have been more effective.
West Dylan Thordson replaces Shyamalan's regular composer James Newton Howard and gives us something quite sinister and very different. Different, probably to try to emphasise the various characters of McAvoy, but the score does cover a board range, the looming, low hums being what I remember most.
Shyamalan has stated this to be his most challenging and longest film to date, and while it shows McAvoy's amazing talent, I wouldn't place this as this finest, it's not anticlimactic, but I was excepting something, stronger? More horrifying than what was presented. Still, fans should love the ending, haters gonna hate and non-fans unfamiliar with Shyamalan are going to wonder what all the fuss is about.
Running Time: 8 The Cast: 9 Performance: 9 Direction: 8 Story: 8 Script: 7 Creativity: 6 Soundtrack: 6 Job Description: 7 The Extra Bonus Points: 5 just for the surprise ending, I'm a fan so it worked on me.
Live by Night (2016)
Starts off amazingly well over to drift off.
Ben Affleck has a pretty impressive directorial catalogue already, with Gone Baby Gone, The Town and the Oscar winning Argo. All films I consider of good calibre, slick and riveting. Now, he points the camera at a period gangster piece set mostly in the southern state of Florida during the prohibition of America.
It's based of a novel by Dennis Lehane, a criminal thriller mastermind who also penned The Drop, Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island and my personal favourite, Mystic River. So, we can expect a good level of thoughtful drama, especially when throwing in the mob.
Affleck takes the lead as Joe Coughlin, a part Leonardo DiCaprio was original considered to play but dropped to producer only. Coughlin, a judicious and often deceitful small time criminal undertaking heists and robberies in 1920's Boston. Trying to carve something of his own after fighting in the war, he instead comes home to get caught up in a very different war, between the Italian mafioso and the Irish mob.
But it doesn't stay in Boston very long and business ends up going south where he makes new alliances and foes, and this is where the story goes from gangland to romance and politics. It's starts off notoriously well and sets you up for something greater only to fall short towards the end.
The performances are good but I found Affleck to be the weakest of them all, it's not his best out of his recent pictures. I don't think he was cruel enough, he wasn't as menacing and calculating as I might imagine, but then, maybe that's just it and he nailed it. It's Chris Cooper that's steals the show with a strong emotional performance as not-so-corrupt police chief Figgis.
It's well shot and has some great camera work but there's nothing outstanding apart from the Boston takedown. The finale was a let down for me, I was expecting more, like a shoot-out similar to The Untouchables. It does in fact, whilst being fairly original, shares some attractive characteristics from other stories like Scarface, and I couldn't help but think there's a strong Count of Monte Cristo feel to the story.
The other key elements of the film is brilliant, the sets and locations, especially the vintage Boston arenas and the automobiles, the costume design and Harry Gregson-Williams' score is of a high standard, however, on the soundtrack, nothing outstanding or memorable.
Unfortunately, it's a story that starts off so well, teasing to lead on to something great but slopes down to romance and business deals that falls flat at the very end. Not saying it's a bad film, because it isn't, but I found the character of Coughlin, much like the last half of the film, very underwhelming. It's certainly not Affleck's best work in my opinion. I would much rather rewatch The Town and Agro over this.
Running Time: 7 The Cast: 8 Performance: 8 Direction: 8 Story: 7 Script: 7 Creativity: 8 Soundtrack: 6 Job Description: 6 The Extra Bonus Points: 0
Underworld: Blood Wars (2016)
Borderline spoof, super rushed.
Now, I'm familiar with the first two films, but I'll be honest, all that I can remember well is Kate Beckinsale in tightly cladded, black leather, looking like a hotter CatWoman, but in fact, she's a blood sucking bat woman. I didn't even know there was another two films! Rise of Lycans that was without Beckinsale (that might have something to do with it) and Awakening which did have Beckinsale.
TV director and cinematographer, Anna Foerster makes this her big screen debut, but it's not a good start. It's not horrendous and is properly a good opportunity out of a bad situation, however this unfortunately puts doubts in my mind about her Source Code 2 that's in currently in development.
I'm not sure what I missed but there appears to be a lot of back stabbing, characters defecting or returning for redemption. For someone who has skipped the previous two, it didn't really make much sense with the flashbacks but it's not really hard to figure out and follow.
It's unfortunately a messy and poorly scripted story, drowning in borrowed elements from other films, making it awfully predictable where it tries to be clever. One scene in particular immediately reminded me the battle at Helm's Deep in LotRs Two Towers. It's very rushed and it progresses faster than their superhuman healing powers. One minute they're on a train, then they're riding horses across a snow plain to all of sudden scaling a cliffside. Just seemed utterly pointless and stupid. There are characters and story elements that get introduced but are quickly pushed to one side to make way for more plot lines or twists, the side characters especially are not developed enough.
Beckinsale fits into her right leather comfortably but she isn't in the film as much as I was expecting, giving some of the story to Theo James' David. Again, because of this rushed though balanced storyline, you never feel like you're getting the full picture and being a fan of James, I believe he's capable of giving so much more. I want to see how he does on the frontline, they should give him a superhero tryout.
The action was as expected, decent enough to be entertaining but the bullet dodging makes it borderline spoof; and what's with all the grunting during the dramatic stand off scenes!? David grunts cuts to Marius grunting back, David grunts some more, Marius I think sighs and grunts at the same time, only more intense. This goes on for what feels like a good thirty seconds!
I didn't feel anything with the bad guys, in fact, I felt little for any of the characters. Marius, played by Tobias Menzies, wasn't really bad enough, don't know what to make of him. And Lara Pulver's Semira just appeared to be a cheap version of most of Eva Green's nasties.
I can't speak for the previous sequels but the first film boasted a decent soundtrack with tracks from Bowie, A Perfect Circle and Amy Lee from Evanescence, something that's the expected from this sub-genre of movies. Michael Wandmacher composes a fitting score but nothing memorable, and all sounds very much the same throughout.
It appears I don't have anything good to say about this movie, however, if I was of a younger generation of movie-goer, I might enjoy this as a brainless action fantasy flick. But I ended up laughing at a lot of it, especially the bullet dodging. It's not worthy of the big ticket price and it really doesn't urge me to watch the rest of franchise.
Running Time: 5 The Cast: 6 Performance: 6 Direction: 5 Story: 2 Script: 2 Creativity: 3 Soundtrack: 3 Job Description: 2 The Extra Bonus Points: 0
Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Caffleck is outstanding! His greatest performance to date.
Screenplay/Scriptwriter Kenneth Lonergan directs his third film about family responsibility, grief and tragedy, possibly not know for writing films like Analyse This and That and Gangs of New York. Even though he's credited as the writer as well as director, which he is, the original idea wasn't his but belongs to John Krasinski and Matt Damon.
I don't believe Krasinski is as famous over here in the U.K. than he is in his native states, but you might know him from Away We Go, last year's incredible 13 Hours or the American version of The Office, plus being the husband to one lovely Emily Blunt. He discussed the idea with Damon whilst on set with The Adjustment Bureau who then, both pitched to Lonergan to write, with Damon set to make his directorial debut and star.
Lonergan during this time was having court issues with his previous and second feature Margaret, which delayed the writing, and once he had completed the screenplay, Damon was too tied up with scheduling conflicts he dropped out of directing and starring to produce only, Krasinski himself becoming an executive producer, putting Lonergan at the helm.
Not trying to take anything away from Lonergan, it's his screenplay and more his film than anyone else, with his directing style, he gives quite a bleak, realistic impression. His camera work is brilliant using distance to create that bystander viewpoint.
I don't want to give anything away, but the subject matter is harsh and traumatic as we watch Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) deal with his return from isolation, racked with remorse. A family tragedy results in him returning to his small-town-mentality home of Manchester By The Sea to watch over his nephew, both against his own choices but is obligated to do so.
Casey Affleck is certainly coming into his own and I don't mean to knock his past performances, not at all. His Gone Baby Gone I think was his killer role, remembering him from Ocean's 11, Good Will Hunting and last year's Finest Hour, but this is definitely his most powerful and stand out performance.
And he's not alone, Lucas Hedges who plays the nephew, Patrick is outstanding also, being his first major role to play and provides quite a bit of comedy relief. He does extremely well up against Affleck as the stubborn teenager who just wants to get on with his usual life of girls and ice hockey.
Can't say remember or even noticed Lesley Barber's score but listening to it in isolation, there's some nice pieces of music, using a minimalistic range of choral, strings and piano. What does stand out is the brilliant use of classical music in parts of the film, especially the scene with Albinoni's Adagio, one of my personal favourites.
It's quite a story, very believable, emotional and can only try to imagine parents would find this heartbreaking. It's a tough and shocking story but it doesn't appear to have a proper ending, however, I'm not sure how they could have ended it and maybe that was the best option out of many other ends. You're lead on a path wondering what the outcome will be and then it just ends with with a final conclusion but thinking about it, it was actually quite refreshing.
It's a good strong film about guilt, responsibility and forgiveness with a brilliant performance from Affleck, but the ending is weak. Certainly worth a watch just for the performance alone.
Running Time: 8 The Cast: 9 Performance: 9 Direction: 9 Story: 9 Script: 9 Creativity: 8 Soundtrack: 7 Job Description: 8 The Extra Bonus Points: 5 for Affleck's performance.
La La Land (2016)
Get swept off your feet with a dazzling masterpiece of cinema.
There is so much to say about this movie musical, even without giving anything away. Just looking at my after notes, it's already loaded with comments and details telling me this is going to be a larger than normal post. (Possibly exceeding the IMDb word count of a thousand) let's see.
Damien Chazelle does it again, firstly where he bashed my head in with a drumstick or two with 2014's Whiplash, which was so intense, it had me sweating in the cinema. Twice. I had to watch it again the very next day and wasn't any less sweaty the second time round. An absolute masterpiece.
Chazelle again, displays his absolutely, stunning, visual brilliance whilst tilting the hat to classic cinema and musicals like Casablanca, Funny Face and The Red Balloon. Having been to L.A. countless of times, I find it to be my less favourite of the American cities I've been to, but, Chazelle manages to add a glossy, vibrant veil over the top that's inspired me with a new appreciation for the city. I still find it incredible and slightly unbelievable, but in a good way, that he's managed to take a modern, bustling and dirty city and still make it feel retro and vintage using abstract cinematography, like creating its very own time zone altogether. He even opens using the original 20th Century Fox logo and the fade out focuses make you feel like you're watching a theatre play.
There's a long list of scenes that stay with you because of this style and of course, being a musical, Chazelle honours the classic musical methods with astonishing and exuberant long takes that makes your smile stretch from seat 1 to 20. The opening scene alone is a tremendous feat with epic cinematography and beautiful imagery. I could dissect the whole movie, recounting each joyful and pleasant scene by scene, but it's truly something that has to be marvelled at by seeing and not reading.
The story is about a turbulent romance between Seb, (Ryan Gosling), a confident, proud and passionate pianist those ambitions sits with having his very own jazz club; and Mia, (Emma Stone) a struggling, aspiring actress trying to make her way in the superficial Hollywood. The cars they drive is a sweet analogy of their characters in way, Seb driving a classic '82 Buick Riviera and Mia driving a Prius. It must be familiar ground for both, playing aspiring performing artists such as they are in real life. Apparently the auditioning scenes which are torturous, were drawn from both star's actually experiences in auditioning.
The chemistry between the two is as always, perfect. This being their third outing after Gangster Squad and Stupid Crazy Love. Gosling oozes a certain coolness but with quite the finazz of confident arrogance. Whilst Stone appears vulnerable, reserved and bashful but what's simmering is an audacious, creative and inspiring woman. It's so well balanced and enriched by both, you could be forgiven for forgetting John Legend is in the movie.
Chazelle and Hurwitz love of Jazz shines through just like it did with Whiplash, now I know I keep referencing Whiplash, but please note, these are two very different films, which make this all the more impressive. It's the similarities such as the music being very much a subject matter to both films. I'm no expert but I'm a lover of Jazz too, and this soundtrack itself is utterly amazing, infectious and makes the heart glow with instantly recognisable tracks like "Someone In The Crowd", "City of Stars" and "A Lovely Night." Justin Hurwitz composes a mesmerising, enchanting musical that reminds me of sitting in Ronnie Scott's and has me weaving in and out of traffic whilst listening to the songs in the car.
Gosling and Stone perform the songs and dances excellently, displaying a gracefulness that would make any non-musical fan a lover and a dancer. The choreography is majestic throughout, especially the two scenes at Griffin Park/Observatory, the tap dancing in particular. Gosling actually learning to play the piano for his parts entirely says a lot about him as a star and as an actor, getting the emotion to come through.
The whole production is flawless and as I've said before, this zesty imagery is made up dazzling costume designs, great atmospheric sets and masterful use of lighting. The dresses Mia wears set against the plots she's on is just eye-candy and Seb's shoes! I want a pair of those shoes!
Have you ever watched a film and thought it was a personally message to you, sent from the cosmos, whether it be a dig or a reminder. The conclusion certainly hit a few chords on my heartstrings, bringing a tear to my eye, it's the perfect ending to a glorious movie. It's only shame is not having enough song and dance, but it a good thing to leave wanting more, and the film already has a runtime of 128mins.
As always, I haven't read any reviews but from what I can gather from the quotable taglines they are awarding the film with, they're absolutely right, it really is what everyone is saying. A dazzling, delightful masterpiece, that's amazingly good for the soul, heartfelt and a prefect blend of modern and vintage style. Being nominated for 14 Oscars, 11 BAFTA awards and won 7 Golden Globes should speaks volumes. I was totally swept off my feet and urge everyone to watch this film, at least twice.
Running Time: 9 The Cast: 10 Performance: 9 Direction: 10 Story: 10 Script: 10 Creativity: 10 Soundtrack: 10 Job Description: 10 The Extra Bonus Points: 10