Monday, 19 December 2016

La la land and more

La la land 

I absolutely loved whiplash back in 2014 so when I heard Damien Chazelle was making a musical in the style of the 70s I was unbelievably excited. Despite this, I did not anticipate just how much I would be blown away by this film.

The first two acts of the film beautifully plays homage to the beautiful musicals of the 70s. The music could not have captured this era more perfectly, though as a general rule, they are not as upbeat as one may expect (there is really only one number that I would describe at "catchy" because that is not what the film is aiming for). More often than not the early parts of the story are told through slow ballads or jazz instrumentals, which were extremely captivating but won't leave you coming out of the theatre singing the songs. As a musical style jazz (a dying art in and of itself) is an inspired choice of music for a film playing homage to a dying art.

The beautiful music is complimented by the film's beautiful look. The cinematography felt very personal, while leaving us a lot of room to breath. This helped me to stay truly invested in the characters without feeling trapped within their skin. This look is obviously aided brilliantly by the sets and costumes, which are build beautifully to often contrast the stunning bright optimism that the film is built on with sporadic dark backdrops. These often feel at once encouraging and romantic but also discouraged and frustrated. While my knowledge of dance is limited, the choreography appeared (at least to the untrained eye) to add work wonderfully with the aesthetic that Chazelle and his crew had created.

This is all exactly what I was expecting, a beautiful homage to a lost art that looks and sounds great. Having seen whiplash I was very confident Chazelle would be able to pull that off beautifully. What I didn't anticipate how it would completely transcend this to create real dramatic tension that offers one of the most optimistically heartbreaking final scenes of any movie I have ever seen. I really do not want to spoil it in case someone ever reads this review but seriously the final sequence in this movie is simply perfection. Between this and Whiplash, I must say Chazelle seriously knows how to end a film strongly. One of the final moments involves a simple smile from Ryan Gosling, which was so perfectly captured that you could feel every ounce of emotion running through the veins of his character.

Speaking of which, I could go on and on about the aesthetics of the film but it would be nothing without the fantastic central performances. Ryan Gosling gives probably his best performance I have ever seen as Sebastian, who is an obsessive jazz pianist. This is met wonderfully by the absolutely perfect Emma Stone as Mia, an LA waitress struggling to break through as an actress. Both sung beautifully (often live I believe) and managed to convey such emotion that you really believed these characters. Neither character felt a single bit one-dimensional (as musical characters often do) and they share an unbelievable amount of chemistry.

To sum up I absolutely adored this movie. I struggle to find any single aspect that was lacking. It sounded and looked great, the acting/ characters were phenomenal, the writing felt real and allowed for multi-dimensional character and the final act just seriously knocked it out of the park. No final scene has ever affected me as much as this one did. I will not forget this movie in a hurry!

Julieta (Spanish)

This is possibly the most real film of the year. The characters are all extremely well realized, albeit in an understated way and this allows for every single moment to be completely believable. Its a film predominantly about motherhood and relationships and it left me with a lot to think about and discuss in the context of a situation that seemed like it absolutely could have been real. Additionally the acting was all very good (especially Emma Suárez in the title role), the film both looked and sounded great and the plot was perfectly paced.

Life, Animated

A really wonderful documentary about an autistic boy (Owen) whose obsession with Disney movies allowed his parents to get through to him. As an adult he is a truly wonderful human being to see on screen and the director, Roger Ross Williams, brings handles the subject matter so delicately but truthfully that you really see Owen's personality shine. That is all I really want, its fantastic and definitely worth the watch.   

Suicide Squad

So director David Ayer is definitely a butt guy. The first thing I just cannot help but mention is how frustrating his obsession in with shots framed around Margot Robbie's butt as she walks. I guess he thinks "I find this butt sexy when it walks so despite the fact that someone is talking so it would make sense to face the camera at that person, I will just point the camera at this butt". Yeah, classy shit. But if you can get past that (I really can't, it makes the film nearly unwatchable) it is not a good movie anyway. They spend almost half the movie introducing the characters through a series of extremely contrived flashbacks that (I guess) were supposed to get us to relate to the characters but none of them felt the slightest bit authentic and they all went on way too long. Then once we have finally been over-introduced to these characters, they go in and unconvincingly fight some terrible looking CGI monsters and nothing that interesting really happens. Credit where its due, Margot Robbie is fantastic, but beyond her performance I really don't see any real reason to watch this movie (unless you really like butts).

Elle (French)

This film is dark, bizarre and kind of masterful. A film about sexual assault that doesn't shy away from occasional humor and moral ambiguity. I finished it with heaps to think and talk about (as I think is important for a good film). Isabelle Huppert is fantastic in the lead role and she is supported by a great ensemble of actors. It looks great (in a horrendous kind of way), it sounds great and it is ballsy enough to dive straight into complicated ethical situations where our lead character acts in ways that seem so illogical in the most human way. A worthy watch, but a very dark one that could be very divisive and is at times difficult to watch.

Rogue One

A very worthy addition to the star wars franchise. They bring together a diverse cast of really interesting characters to tell a basic and compelling story. I must not understate how great it is that Disney is choosing really diverse casts for these and actually turning them into fun characters. At the end of the day it is nothing more or less than a super fun ride with a bunch of fun folks. The visual effects (as you can imagine) are wonderful, blended with many practical effects. The original score is effective (even if it is just trying to mimick the sound of the original John Williams scores rather than being its own thing). If I have one complaint (it sounds minor but its actually very noticeable) its that they revived a bunch of characters from the original trilogy using CGI and you can tell immediately that its not real. But beyond that its a really fun distracting that will keep you engaged and interested throughout.