Monthly Archives: January 2017

Review – La La Land (12a) [2017]

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Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

Damien Chazelle announced himself to the world two years ago with aplomb. Since Whiplash left cinemas, viewers have waited patiently to see what he would do next. Well, now, Chazelle has returned with La La Land and it is another masterpiece.

Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, working as a barista in between auditions at a coffee shop along the Hollywood boulevard.

Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, working as a barista in between auditions at a coffee shop along the Hollywood boulevard.

La La Land is predominantly about Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). Both live in Hollywood and are struggling to make their dreams come true. She is an aspiring actress, working as a barista to pay bills; and he is a jazz piano player, doing the odd gig here and there to make ends meet. They bump into each other a few times and a romantic relationship blossoms. But is their relationship compatible with their careers?

  La La Land is a delightful musical drama. It is an unashamed throwback to Hollywood’s lost golden era and it is full of radiant joy. Everyone is happy and they frequently break into song and dance to show the world how happy they are. (If anything, the characters are too happy and this grates on the nerves. Nothing is seriously wrong in their lives and money is never a problem, even though both of the main characters lack funds.)

Bill (JK Simmons), the owner of a restaurant, telling Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) to just play Christmas themed piano pieces and not the jazz tunes that Sebastian likes to play.

Bill (JK Simmons), the owner of a restaurant, telling Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) to just play Christmas themed piano pieces and not the jazz tunes that Sebastian likes to play.

In many ways, La La Land is the polar opposite of Whiplash. Whereas Whiplash was intense, with the passion and pace of a boxing thriller, La La Land is laid back and blissful. Yet, it shares the jazzy elements of Whiplash as well as the desire of its characters to fulfill their ambitions, regardless of the price. The issue of compromise is key throughout both films, and it is interesting to see which direction the characters decide to go in La La Land when they are confronted with the junction of their careers on the one hand and their relationship on the other.

The reasons we have no idea which way the characters will go is, one, because of the tone of the film; and, two, because of the acting and chemistry of the two main characters: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. The good-looking pair have worked well together before in Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad, but La La Land is undoubtedly their best collaboration to date. Their characters are clichéd, but Emma Stone shows a solid range of emotional skills and also that she can sing decently too (Gosling less so).

However, the two real stars of La La Land are Justin Hurwitz and Damien Chazelle. First, hats off to Hurwitz: his score is wondrous. The music he created for Whiplash was terrific, but this is another level; especially, as the range of jazz in La La Land is extraordinary. Even if one does not like jazz in general, one will love it in this film thanks to Hurwitz.

Sebastian and Mia happily dancing (as everyone is wont to do in La La Land), while looking lovingly into each other's eyes.

Sebastian and Mia happily dancing (as everyone is wont to do in La La Land), while looking lovingly into each other’s eyes.

And then there is director Chazelle. What can one say? He is proving himself to be quite a talent. His understanding of directing, editing, cinematography and choreography is exemplary. He also seems to love what he does and this shines through in every scene. Long may it continue!

Over-all, La La Land is a spell-binding musical drama. It is happy-clappy, but it is charming and its two leads perform really well together. Additionally, the music is gorgeous. Nevertheless, it is Damien Chazelle who steals the limelight. More than anything, he proves with La La Land that Whiplash was not a one-off marvel and that, at the tender age of 32, he is on the right road to a distinguished career.

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Review – Assassin’s Creed (12a) [2016]

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Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Justin Kurzel – The Snowtown Murders, Macbeth, Haven

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Jed Kurzel – The Snowtown MurdersThe BabadookSlow West, Alien: Covenant

Films based on video games have not been well received, historically. Super Mario Bros, House of the Dead and BloodRayne were atrocious; Street Fighter was rubbish, even if it had moments of unintentional hilarity; while Warcraft was bad, but tolerable mainly due to the visuals. This raises two questions: one, can video games be successfully adapted into movies? And, two, could Justin Kurzel, reuniting with his Macbeth co-stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, buck the trend of bad video game adaptations with Assassin’s Creed?

Rikkin (Jeremy Irons, left) telling Cal (Michael Fassbender) about the purpose of his institution.

Rikkin (Jeremy Irons, left) telling Cal (Michael Fassbender) about the purpose of his institution.

Assassin’s Creed is based on the video game franchise of the same name. The film goes back and forth between fifteenth-century Spain and the present day. Cal (Michael Fassbender) is a descendent of Aguilar de Nerha, an assassin in 1492. He is recruited by a scientist, called Sofia (Marion Cotillard), who needs him to go into a machine and become his ancestor. That way, they can discover what happened to the Apple of Eden. For the Apple was the source of sin in the world and, with it, Sofia and her father, Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), can rid the world of evil. The only problem is that the Knight’s Templars stand in their way…

Assassin’s Creed has a lot going for it. The CGI is very good. Justin Kurzel has done his homework with regards to what Spanish cities looked like in 1492, so the art and architecture are fantastic. Michael Fassbender puts in an admirable, physically-demanding performance that Jason Bourne would be proud of. And the film is full of fight scenes and action sequences that are well choreographed.

Yet, for all the above, Assassin’s Creed is boring and head-bangingly silly. The storyline makes no sense (not that it was ever meant to) and the movie has a superfluous amount of overly long (and amateurishly sped up) fight scenes. Indeed, the film has so much action, one wonders if the fleeting bits of (incoherent) dialogue are sprinkled in here and there to give viewers respite before the next action sequence begins.

Cal in the machine that connects him to his ancestor, Aguilar.

Cal in the machine that connects him to his ancestor, Aguilar.

Furthermore, the performances of Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons leave a lot to be desired and both deserve their Golden Raspberry nominations. Cotillard, at least, looks like she is trying (at times), only to be let down by the nonsensical script. Irons, on the other hand, is just going through the motions. His laziness is on a par with Liam Neeson in Battleship, which means Irons is in Assassin’s Creed solely to pick up the cheque and visit some historic locations while he’s at it. (Come on, Irons, you can do better than this. You have won an Oscar, voiced Scar with banal menace, and earned yourself a golden globe nomination for your portrayal of Pope Alexander VI as recently as 2012. Put in some effort for heaven’s sake.)

Nevertheless, as bad as Irons’ acting is, Jed Kurzel’s music is worse. God knows why, but he decided against using Assassin’s Creed’s awesome video game theme tune for the film. (Seriously, it is so awesome DB Weisz and David Benioff used it as background music for the second trailer for Game of Thrones, Season Five.) No, instead, Jed Kurzel has written an awful score that is so loud it cannot be heard and gives one a thumping headache. Plus, what was Jed Kurzel thinking when he decided to use loud, electric guitars to be at the heart of his score for the Medieval/Renaissance Spain scenes? It simply does not work!

Aguilar the Assassin fighting men of the Knight's Templar.

Aguilar the Assassin fighting men of the Knight’s Templar.

Over-all, Assassin’s Creed is a shambles of a film, but it is not an atrocity to cinema. Sure, it is dull; the script and the dialogue are incomprehensible; some of the acting reeks of a disinterest; and the music is horrible. But the movie also has several positive elements, such as the CGI, cinematography and Michael Fassbender’s acting. These give the film cre(e)dence and make it marginally watchable.

But does Assassin’s Creed buck the trend of bad video game adaptations? Not really. And if a video game adaptation with as much talent as Assassin’s Creed cannot turn the tide in the right direction, perhaps video games should remain on their consoles rather than be adapted for the big screen.

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Review – A Monster Calls (12a) [2017]

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Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • JA Bayona – The Orphanage, The Impossible, Untitled Jurassic World Sequel

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Fernando Velázquez – The Orphanage, The Impossible, Mama, Crimson Peak, The Invisible Guest

In medieval and early modern times a series of fairy tales came to the fore in European folklore. Based on true or quasi-mythical events, fantastical stories like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Little Mermaid taught children simple, moral lessons that could be adapted to all eras to help them deal with their problems. JA Boyena’s brilliant, A Monster Calls has a similar moral to its tale.

Conor (Lewis MacDougall) looking at the old yew tree in the distance, which is fabled to be a tree that can cure people.

Conor (Lewis MacDougall) looking at the old yew tree in the distance, which is fabled to be a tree that can cure people.

The film is based on the book by Patrick Ness, which itself was inspired by an idea by Siobhan Dowd. The movie centres round lonely, 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall). His mother (Felicity Jones) is suffering from a terminal illness and he is being bullied at school. With so much going on in his life, Conor needs to find an outlet. One night, while at drawing at his desk, the old yew tree near his house comes alive (voiced by Liam Neeson) and advises him on how to deal with his problems.

A Monster Calls is a wonderful, yet heart-breaking fantasy drama. It is a folktale in all but name, since it handles very real issues and enables our protagonist to confront the unfairness of his situation in a constructive and tender way. Also, narratively, the movie links every element of the story together. By the end, viewers understand why Conor sees this particular monster, why the Monster has its voice, and the significance of the Monster’s advice, among others. This makes A Monster Calls all the more moving to watch.

Conor with his ailing mother (Felicity Jones), who is trying to reassure Conor that she will be all right.

Conor with his ailing mother (Felicity Jones), who is trying to reassure Conor that she will be all right.

The movie is delivered with great sensitivity. JA Bayona’s directing is top class and the fantasy parts of the film are always appropriate and never over the top. The script is down to earth and delivered with the right amount of anger, compassion, and bluntness, depending upon the scene. The cast must be commended for this; especially, young Lewis MacDougall. He spends much time on screen alone (or with a CGI monster) and he manages to hold the audience’s attention due to the strength of his acting. This is no easy feat (one need only watch Jayden Smith’s awful performance in After Earth to realise how talented an actor must be to keep viewers interested when he/she is alone on screen). If he continues to perform so well in the future, MacDougall will be a star.

But MacDougall is not the only one who shines. Felicity Jones gives a genuine and heart-felt performance, putting a good spin on her diagnosis for her son despite looking worryingly worse as the film progresses. Similarly, Sigourney Weaver performs splendidly as a grandmother locked in a bygone era, trying to come to terms with losing her daughter and having to look after her grandson. Toby Kebbell, too, does a good job as a man who is not the sharpest pencil in the packet academically, but has emotional intelligence and is trying to do his best for Conor, in spite of his character’s impossible predicament.

If the circumstances aren’t enough to touch people, Fernando Velázquez’s music will do enough to induce lumps in viewers’ throats. His score is subtle and tugs at the heart, thereby giving an added dimension to the pain that our protagonists are suffering, particularly Conor.

Conor facing the (Liam Neeson-voiced) Monster, which looks like a cross between Treebeard from Lord of the Rings and Arnie's terminator, urging it to save his mother.

Conor facing the (Liam Neeson-voiced) Monster, which looks like a cross between Treebeard from Lord of the Rings and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, urging the Monster to save his mother.

Nevertheless, what is it that Conor is actually suffering from? If A Monster Calls has a flaw, it is that the film vocalises Conor’s pain. This comes across as tell-heavy and unnecessary. Just as the timeless fairy tales did not spell out the moral message of their stories, the movie would have been better served if it would have let audiences infer its message. Yet, this is nip-picking as the film should be enjoyed for the wonder that it is.

All-in-all, A Monster Calls is a fabulous, tear-jerking movie. It has a splendid plot, a cast that fulfil their roles superbly, and it finely blends reality and fantasy. What’s more, A Monster Calls has a strong moral message. This is what makes it a twenty-first century fairy tale, comparable to the classic folklore stories. The film offers children a coping mechanism for when they are confronted with a horrible reality.

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