La La Land (2017)

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Well, not for a long while have I been eagerly anticipating a movie like the release of this musical drama. Add on top the record-breaking Golden Globes haul then you have a very excited chap. For the most part this film delivers, it’s stylish, fun, heartfelt but I don’t agree with all the souped up hype it’s received.

After a minor amount of road-rage where aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz musician Seb (Ryan Gosling) cross paths, they end up bumping into each other again and again which leads to a romance through the year. As they try following their dreams in LA it becomes a harder challenge to keep the love alive.

I have to say that I absolutely adored the first half or so of this film. It harks back to that classic glitz and glamour of Hollywood old with a neat dose of a modern touch thanks to the musical and confident direction from Damien Chazelle. Just from the sweeping opening on a Los Angeles highway to the delicate changes in lighting, the songs and story begin with a bang.

It helps that we get brilliant performances and a clear chemistry between the two main characters but also the style adds a neat note to the song-sheet that is this feature. There’s times that it looks and sounds like a studio set production and you’d expect Fred Astaire to come tap dancing in. The writing by Chazelle, is for the most part a well handled story that lends a two-sided coin to the LA lifestyle but with an obvious landing on dreams to follow and achieve.

As I sat in my seat I found myself hooked and smiling along to a wonderful series of scenes but then annoyingly, there came a specific moment where I even felt myself disengaging and from then on, the writing becomes very generic and almost cliched. It drifts into a romantic plot you’d expect to find in every other manically churned out rom-com. This frustrated me because I was expecting it to keep going with the gleeful whizz of CinemaScope delight but instead…it wains.

It is almost saved as we get a short burst of style near the end showing a quick run of events. So yes I agree it’s a fantastically well made and enchanting film, it deserved 3 perhaps 4 of the Globes it picked up out of 7. This is obviously, as I realised as they were winning, a case of the voters loving films that celebrate America or the US saving the day -(note Argo winning Best Picture)

Song wise, ‘Another of Day of Sun’ is jolly, sun-drenched and a perfect, literally perfect way to start a film of this genre. ‘City of Stars’ is sung well and has a melancholy yet magical sound but I don’t see how that gets the attention when Stone’s ‘Audition’ song is better performed and has better lyrics. Though it’s naff for jazz and a typical Top 40’s track, John Legend’s performance of ‘Start a Fire’ works well in showcasing the path Seb is taking away from his dream.

I’m not a total grouch because I did enjoy the majority of the film, I just don’t feel it should have broke GG records and I hope the Oscars gives some variety because ‘La La Land’ does swerve into a nearly boring not great second half.

7/10

2016 Top Ten

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‘We are Number One.’…and two, three and four, five and so on. It’s belated but I’ve finally found time to notch up my favourite 10 movies from last year. Surprisingly this was easier because there weren’t too many great films released in 2016! You could say most were Rotten! Ahaha…moving quickly on then to number 10….

…but quickly before that, here’s a few films that almost made the grade…The Neon Demon, Deadpool, The Witch, Moana, The Invitation, Captain America: Civil War, Eddie the Eagle, Midnight Special, The Girl with all the Gifts, The Danish Girl, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping then The Little Prince and Hush would have been on the list but didn’t gain theatrical releases so sadly, I didn’t include them.

So, in at ten –

10) GREEN ROOM…AND NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

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Enter the Green Room, a nightmarish small space in a neo-Nazi skinhead filled club. This movie brilliantly delivers on unsettling tension and dark turns as a band are menaced and killed. Full Review. Similarly, Tom Ford’s stylish Nocturnal Animals gives tension to the nth degree, the gritty story-within-a-story standing out as the best thing.

9) THE JUNGLE BOOK

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I don’t dislike the original Walt cartoon from yesteryear, but The Jungle Book isn’t my go to animation from them…so I was pleasantly surprised by this movie which looks incredible, the CGI landscape and animals are epic, Sethi as Mowgli blends into the darkly presented story very well and it zips along nicely as a well modernised tale. You wanna read my review-oo-oo? I know you do-oo-oo. Jungle Book

8) ARRIVAL

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Clever, gorgeous, intellectual, timey-wimey, language and love co-exist but with aliens. The story is always engaging, Adams’ performance is natural and affecting in her story that just happens to feature hovering space crafts and circular lingo. Arrive at my review.

7) ZOOTROPOLIS

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Fun but also incredibly on point about the very real politics of stero-typing and racial prejudice, this fluffy family flick is more in depth and smartly told than you’d think. Don’t be a sloth, quickly click on my review for Zootropolis.

6) 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

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Dropped on us from nowhere, the Cloverfield world is expanded with this shift of genre as we get a claustrophobic thriller centered on relationships, mystery and danger instead of the found footage device. It was such a surprise and a fantastic film to boot. Tension kicks into overdrive, music is used so well and Goodman is a scary monster. Cloverfield

5) KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS

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Laika have done it again by golly! This is such a rich and awesome stop-motion fantasy that goes over some very interesting and cultural textures whilst still featuring the humour and charm you’d expect. I want to see it again to just admire the work put into making this beautiful film. Kubo.

4) VICTORIA

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I am so so…so glad that I got to see this film. It isn’t just the sheer marvelling feature of shooting the entire movie in one-take but the performances are fascinating and believable, the story is engaging and you connect to the world as Victoria becomes involved more and more.

Well….we’ve reached the golden trio, the three musketeers, the tricycle of brilliance from last year. What’s in at number 3 then??

 

3) SING STREET

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Ah, what a charming and musically gorgeous film. The coming of age story is fun in itself but added with 80’s nostalgia, humour and songs, Sing Street becomes a movie to feel happy watching. I re-watched it recently and still found myself adoring every moment.

2) HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

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Ricky Baker. Ricky Baker. A hero for the ages. This is a gem of a film with bittersweet moments, heartfelt tenderness, sharp comedy, coming of age and bonding adventures, randomness, lush locations and the ever reliable brilliance of Taika Waititi behind it all. Hunt the Wilderpeople down now…it’s so worth it if you haven’t seen it.

It’s here, Bully’s special prize. Iiiiiiin 1 –

 

 

1) THE HATEFUL EIGHT

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It had to be, as a Tarantino fan there was almost no question that this movie would hit the heights but it’d still have to be a good film and gladly it is. Three acts that all soar with incredible cinematic talent both behind and in front of the camera. Morricone on board for the score ensures the sound is perfect. Seeing it in 70mm also helped elevate the special sweeping look of this western blood soaked Quentin extravaganza. Dialogue, violence, humour and details are as crisp as ever and I loved every second. 8

Til next year…maybe…let’s see what 2017 has to give us hey?!

Office Christmas Party (2016)

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Like mostly every other American outrageous comedy, this does nothing to break expectations apart from having tinsel and a Santa costume. A few moments of mild humour break through a overstuffed turkey of a plot but overall it’s a film void of laughter.

At Zenotek, Josh (Jason Bateman) is trying to keep the work staff together over Christmas whilst coming out of a recent divorce. As the jolly holiday nears, CEO Carol (Jennifer Aniston) threatens jobs and closure if her brother, the branch’s manager Clay (T.J. Miller) can’t win a lucrative deal. One desperate option is left and luckily for Clay it falls to throwing a huge office party in the hope of saving the day.

I’ll start by commenting that I’m no bah humbug but this movie could have come any time of the year making no differences, they just hurl the Xmas confetti over the narrative to fit it in hoping to cash in this time of the year. Generally speaking though the plot is messy and tries fitting in an awful lot of characters, backstories, developments, jokes and wrappings up but what we get is a sticky and badly tied together present that you’ll forget about come the new year.

Will Speck and Josh Gordon direct the film like the majority of loud US comedies, there’s no style or difference setting them apart and therefore you get a movie with the usual cliches and tired executions of sequences that do little to stir giggles let alone full belly laughs. It’s not only the direction, within the plot are boring ideas that they stretch out somehow thinking it’s amusing or just pop cultural references that will feel aged very soon.

To its credit, this festive feature has a group of actors who muster up energy and everything else to try and save the movie. There may be a lot of them and that is a weakness but a couple of them perform very well and give the movie a much needed sparkle to sit atop a browning dying tree. There is also some entertainment to be had in watching the madness unfold and marvelling at how quickly the party over spills and gets out of hand.

T. J. Miller is shouty and plays the nutty head honcho to a near annoying extreme but there are times that he softens the role and gives a nice emotion to the man trying to prove himself to a reliably bitchy Jennifer Aniston, working well again in that ‘Horrible Bosses’ cookie cutter character. Kate McKinnon seems to desperately save the movie with a role you wouldn’t blink at if on SNL, though she’s barmy and gets shafted with the most tired comedy tool ever…fart jokes. Jason Bateman is okay but has a dull typical white male problem character to tackle and he adds little to nothing to the growing craziness. Olivia Munn could have had more and gladly gets a slight depth in having reason to exist for the growth of the business and therefore film if not ending in such a predictable manner like the whole movie in fact does.

A few working lights add a muted enjoyable twinkle to the festive season but most of them are duds thanks to failed comedy and usual tired writing leaving you with a totally forgettable movie.

5/10

Keeping Up with the Joneses

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The idea is great and the cast are greater but sadly it falls apart like some botched ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ mission thanks to a quite tame and laugh free screenplay.

Cul-de-sac parents Jeff (Zach Galifianakis) and Karen Gaffney (Isla Fisher) get more than they bargained for as apparent perfect neighbours Natalie (Gal Gadot) and Tim Jones (Jon Hamm) move in. Karen is suspicious and after some digging, she and her husband find out their next door folks are spies.

Greg Mottola who directed the still fantastically funny ‘Superbad’ displays a good hand at the action style drama blended in with the suburban set-up and though this mix of action and comedy sometimes works, Mottola cannot do much to save the day as the Joneses may have and that’s down to the writing.

Michael LeSieur seems to forget the cleverness of what a cool premise is on his hands and instead pratfalls, sex jokes and shrieking fill that missed gap. It’s not helped along by the fact this movie feels kind of long, which isn’t top stuff considering the zippy attempts at spy like frenzy produced on the screen. Where perhaps another writer or British studio would have gifted this plot some wit and smart humour, this film just feels like most other average American comedies that fit into a box and don’t even sniff of trying to break out of it.

Saying this, I found the office scene of texting instead of speaking mildly amusing, the smouldering tension between Gadot and Fisher as they meet in a mall changing room is written well to show off one half of the Jones’ power play. The car chase with the Gaffney’s aiding the escape does stretch to a near boring point but doses some nice adrenaline into the film. The odd yet out there snake restaurant was another neat touch giving Galifianakis lots of room to do his funny shtick.

Hamm and Gadot are the perfect good looking, tall and mysterious pair. They stare and smoulder with ease but don’t have much in the way of development even if the film thinks they’re giving them rounded personalities. Galifianakis gladly isn’t the Alan role here, he’s less weird and acts a helpful talkative man well. Fisher…well she’s just…impossibly forgetting the lingerie moment, she plays off Zach nicely and portrays some degree of strength in knowing people and has a chance to pull funny faces, scream and move through scenes in a way that’s put her Jacques Lecoq training to good use.

The whole suburbia thing of hum-drum people attempting to step out of their comfort zones to live a little is made no less predictable and less bland here.The story is not great and I didn’t laugh out loud but then I inwardly chuckled on occasions and found enough of the film enjoyable.

5.5/10

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

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Laugh inducing and off-beat, this adventure comedy from the zany mind behind the similarly brilliant ‘What We Do in the Shadows’, is a brilliant film with great performances and a welcome tone of heart and an affecting pairing charging the story forwards.

Young trouble-maker Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is offloaded to a couple out in the New Zealand bush. Not wanting to risk heading back into the arms of Child Protection he makes a break for it but ends up lost in the forests. He’s soon found by ‘uncle’ Hector (Sam Neill) and the pair of them have to stick together as the media begins hunting them in belief Hec has kidnapped the boy.

It’s an amazingly funny movie, if you’re not laughing you’re easily grinning from ear to ear at the splendid antics going on in front of you. It helps that the Kiwi accent adds a hilarious tone to the words being spoken, but of course it’s the script that ensures we get to watch an excellently paced movie with plenty of comical dialogue, farce and buddy-like adventure hyped up like a live-action ‘Up’.

Taika Waititi writes and directs this film with a great eye on the details of making the dynamics between Hec and Ricky an engaging thing to see play out. The lush greenery of the landscape they inhabit for the majority of the feature is both stunning yet it can also be alarming, as seen in the couple of well added moments of danger. Yet the way Waititi writes, with Ricky in particular, helps the movie bound along with an effortless energy and humour. Waititi also acts brilliantly in a small yet superb role as a confectionery jabbering minister.

It’s a blessing that you never really know where this film is going, or where it may end up. This unpredictably of circumstance and action helps keep the movie interesting. The film is made up of ten chapters and each one zips along nicely with the always guaranteed comedy but with the thankful addition of building the dramatic bond between the lad and his new uncle father figure. You really feel these two characters grow, change and learn and that’s a sign of a very well told story.

Sam Neill is so great in this, the gruff and bearded exterior is well performed as he demonstrates what a knack he has for the great outdoors but he gets to show a softer side, what with his relationship with the kid and his weakening side of being unable to read. Julian Dennison easily steals the show, his facial reactions in every scene are priceless and he walks with such a wannabe gangster swag that his character feels very much authentic. Rhys Darby shows off mega crazy very well as he dons a bush suit and conspiracy theories spew from his character. Rachel House deserves a mention too for her dead-pan serious portrayal of the stern Child Protection lady Paula, notably when appearing on a NZ morning TV show.

The truth of life and the way the world works for people and espicially this child Ricky is done extremely well. The mixture of cracking comedy, investing emotion and charming wackiness makes for a wonderful thing.

8/10

Turbo Kid (2015)

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As if ‘Mad Max’ has electrically melded with ‘Kung Fury’, this apocalyptic adventure flick is a gloriously fun watch. The story is engaging, the comedy works and the action is smart and the right amount of bloody.

Set in a dystopian 1997, where water is difficult to come by lives comic book fan The Kid (Munro Chambers) who ends up getting accompanied by chatty Apple (Laurence Leboeuf). At a pool party event, they stir up the wrath of overlord Zeus (Michael Ironside) who wants them found and killed.

The whole look of this film is brilliant, the scrapheap chic works very well for the whole dystopian vibe, flashes of colour from The Kid’s Turbo Rider discovery to Apple’s entire get up help make the movie exciting and set it apart from just another dirty, sandy wasteland. On top of this you get the joy of bike riding, which becomes the go to mode of transport in dangerous chases yet somehow still fun as if watching a crazier E.T.

Jean-Philippe Bernier and Jean-Nicolas Leupi bring this movie some spectacular music. A very expected but hugely welcome and perfect 80’s reel of tracks come with the scenes and lift the action even higher. The writing is sharp and ideas are neatly executed, ensuring we keep interest and laugh at the right moments, for example a man preparing to fight and tripping into his own weapon.

Death wise, this film is worth the watch alone, just to see all the ways guards and bikers are offed by the main characters. Guts, skulls and bodies are mowed down with gleeful abandon in such a way that it never feels sick or overly gory but fun and silly. I admit for a portion of the feature I found the character Apple annoying and hard to keep on side with but as her story develops it’s cleared up and I was happier.

It’s a movie that carries you along on a effective nostalgia trip, there’s nice effects, a simple but well told story and the always reliable synth to provide a great soundtrack. A huge smile was left on my face and I’d watch it again right now.

7.5/10

Sausage Party (2016)

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Sizzling with offensive gags aplenty, this animated creation from the minds of Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Jonah Hill has a fun colourful look taking a nice punt at the world of Disney characters, there’s a fair amount of laughs too but for me I felt this film was hardly memorable and insanely dumb.

Living in the supermarket Shopwell’s are a packet of sausages, one of these hot-dogs is Frank (Rogen) who only has eyes for bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) as they hope to picked and taken to the Great Beyond; a magical place where human shoppers carry them off to. Soon Frank begins a quest to seek the truth and find out if people aren’t nice and really do eat them but he’s hunted down by a pumped up douche (Nick Kroll) that makes travelling the shop harder.

Story wise, there is a reasonable plot to follow, as easy to watch as you’d expect from the folk behind ‘This Is The End’ and ‘Bad Neighbours’. It begins interesting and a fun concept as we see the food living in joy but really blind to the fact that we human beings buy, cut, cook and devour them. The journey story isn’t new and annoyingly isn’t done in any exciting way, which is a trend this film goes on making me think the whole picture was a rather disengaging product.

Considering the amount of colour, music and visual madness, that’s an odd thing to be almost forgettable and faintly gripping. The whole villain arc of the juiced douche is increasingly vulgar and I even forgot he was an antagonist until he came back into a scene later in the movie. There are some fun scenes; like the food war-zone after a trolley crash, the last hurrah as the food tries fighting and the moment they travel into what could be a dimensional shift and sequel.

A food filled sex orgy is stupidly excessive, amusing at times just to see the amount of detail going into bagels fornicating with a lavash or a taco going down on a bun, but it’s this type of over the top behaviour that makes the film less than out there shocking but tiresomely juvenile. Sex jokes, food themed racism and bad language are heavily dolloped on the menu and only a small amount of the time did it make me chuckle, asking me the question to why everyone around me was cackling so hard.

Seth Rogen is an alright meaty front man but at the same time Frank feels very thin and I couldn’t care for any of the characters, I know it’s a silly mature film about talking food but any good film just bring into effect the art of sympathy, empathy, interest or all three. Kristen Wiig brings Brenda some suitable sass and grounded debate when she finds herself on a different ideal to Frank. Scott Underwood gives a fun voice as the sweetly camp Twinkie. Edward Norton nails a Woody Allen impression as his Jewish bagel whilst Salma Hayek adds her expected sensual tones to a made-up taco with a lesbian tendency.

Instead of skewing anything smart or political like it could or thinks it’s doing, this ‘party’ is less healthy than a tower of junk food, leaving a calorific dose of E numbers as it’s Excessively Exaggerates and leaves an Empty taste, with only a few good moments preventing it from being a brain-dead comedy.

5.5/10