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

Ten from the Bottom ’16

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Well thank goodness 2016 is nearly over. What an eventful year, iconic celebrities passing away, politics around the world going crazy, Stranger Things deservedly soaring, Trump undeservedly soaring and movies of the past 12 months missing the mark more than usual. It truly was a disappointing year for film with a lot of the feature’s I’d seen scoring average marks at best.

This easily could have been a Top 20 list…I’ve even had to be cheeky enough to tie a couple of films just to squeeze them into the running order. I’m also sick of this year and looking forward to a joyful experience of 2017 that here’s the bad movies that just missed out from pride of place in the final countdown:

Ghostbusters….The Legend of Tarzan….A Bigger Splash….Bad Neighbors 2….X-Men: Apocalypse….Office Christmas Party….Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children….The Big Short….Bad Moms….Keeping up with the Joneses….The Girl on the Train….Finding Dory….Passengers….The BFG and The Huntsman: Winters War. 

On with the main show then —

10) SUICIDE SQUAD…AND SAUSAGE PARTY

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Yes it’s cheating the system slightly but just call it the Troy Review Electoral College and this is why they both win (or lose by being in the list). Firstly with Suicide Squad, an eagerly awaiting fun looking film with a punchy trailer that actually had a poor script, poorer execution, a soundtrack like an epileptic record player and a bad Joker. Squad review.

Sausage Party had a good if not great premise but is such a film catered to guffawing teenagers with smut layered on every scene that eventually the sex jokes wear thin and there’s nothing left to offer…that food orgy scene is OTT, a lame sequel set up comes about and well…read more in my full review —> SP

9) ME BEFORE YOU

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Not my type of film anyway but on top of this is the near constant cheesiness involved. It’s also a film pushing into trying to be that sad movie that girls wipe away stains of mascara after watching it. More than this, the problem lies with the main disability and how forced it becomes. Me B4 U review

8) ALLIED

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The so-called passion between Cotillard and Pitt is more wet than a Christmassy brussel sprout fart, the story-line is absurdly dull with no clever turn and the boredom factor reaches near Spinal Tap levels of 11. Don’t be a traitor, read the full review here.

7) ZOOLANDER 2

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Fashion is danger! So is this ‘comedy’ sequel sprawling with celebrity cameos, a very shaky script and an overwhelming disappointing feeling you get by seeing it. It tries too hard and fails harder…check out how hot my review is right now.

6) FRIEND REQUEST…AND THE 5TH WAVE

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Let’s begin with Friend Request which is like an unwanted invite you get after seeing Unfriended. This sort of follow up/remake film is terrible. There’s lame jump scares, things become unintentionally funny and it feels similar but badly so to the visual flair of Unfriended. Delete now.

Chloe Grace Moretz in this shocking young adult science fiction attempt is okay but stares into the distance a lot, like I did trying to watch this film. Cheap effects and a terrible twist don’t help the movie along. Review.

Into the Top 5 we go –

5) AMERICAN PASTORAL

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The directorial debut from Ewan McGregor but not one to remember. The one word that would describe this movie is boring. It could have been way more interesting and powerful but it’s overly sentimental and hard to get through. American Bore

4) WARCRAFT

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So much going on and none if it really any good is this mostly boring fantasy flick from the brilliant director Duncan Jones…though you wouldn’t think it watching this. Long, silly and a titled beginning which hopefully has no middle or end to come. Borecraft.

3) BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

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Long. A ridiculous plot. Lex Luthor’s more ridiculous plan. Jesse Eisenberg’s even more ridiculous acting. Boring Cavill. Boring generally. MARTHA! Thank goodness for Batfleck. BvS review

2) WIENER-DOG

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A couple of laughs really really really don’t save this film. It’s dreary, striving to be artistic and/or pretentious. The comedy it does have becomes annoying as it gets drawn out to breaking point. The movie is disjointed and the ending of it all is so horrendous and of bad taste that it leaves the film with such a sour note making you hate it further. Wiener of a film

Well…after taking that depressing trip down movie memory lane, I’ve come to the end of the line. Numero uno, the big kahuna of bad…a film so utterly terrible, unfunny and disgraceful that I knew it would be the first placed worst movie as soon as I’d finished watching it, almost a year ago.

1) DIRTY GRANDPA

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What do you want?? Read my review. I don’t wish to waste time writing more about this film. Go away…see you (hopefully) in 2017!

Snowden (2016)

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With a neat common theme of modern like gloss layered over this political drama it’s hard not to feel some moments are heightened for cinematic effect, but the true life and accounts its portraying are truly interesting, thrilling and I liked the film quite a lot.

After being ruled out of the U.S Army, Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) explores his passion for computers and joins the CIA impressing Corbin (Rhys Ifans). At the same time, Snowden is developing a connection with photographer and liberal Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). As his roles develop, Edward Snowden questions the ideas of these huge government groups and winds up releasing date about American security reviling him as the notorious whistleblower.

I do find that with these type of films, there is never a running jump as to who the director wants to place their chips with, leaving us to walk out mulling over our own thoughts. That for me is something annoying and at least here, director Oliver Stone makes it clear that he’s on Snowden’s side. Of course that gives this movie an obvious bias but he’s having the confidence to put his foot down and direct his own mind.

Edward Snowden was someone I’d always heard of, knew of the whistle blowing status and what he had done to a small degree, but this movie explores a lot more which is great. I liked what the whole feature had to say, as it doesn’t just shed light on this man and how not only his work changed his decisions and therefore life but gives us enough to make an opinion even if Stone is leaning us to the fact that what he did was a necessary thing to kick-start a change in American surveillance.

I too will stake my place and agree that what Snowden was for the benefit of a hopeful world, with big countries needing to be more open about their spying on everyday people. The opposite side is agreeable too, concerning how he definitely threatened pivotal date to possible terrorists and stole information but then this is why I liked the film because there’s a huge meaty conversation starter to be had about the actions of an ethical and technological 29 year old.

Structurally the movie is done as you’d imagine, starting at the most recent point in his timeline as he’s about to leak the information before jumping back every now and then with the the newest 2013 scenes interspersed from time to time. It’s never confusing or muddled and sometimes the scenes blend nicely together. There are some beautiful little touches, for example the kaleidoscope hotel corridor as Snowden walks along, almost a visual parallel to the different stands of his career.

What hit me most is when we watch him use a program that hops from a tracked person if interest and links him/her to contacts they have, then contacts those people have and so on and so on. That was an alarming realisation that I’d just ignorantly never thought to think about and it really demonstrates how mostly innocent people are being watched constantly. It’s all cleverly awash with a neon blue and ends on a graphic circle melding into a shot of Snowden’s eye before pulling out and seeing Edward watch that program unfold.

Gordon-Levitt is great, the change to his voice matches the sound of Snowden very well and he looks remarkably like him as the stubble appears. Woodley is radiant as the antithesis to her partner, she acts playfully but shows emotion too as his commitment to work affects their relationship. Rhys Ifans is a sort of formidable character, on the brink of villainy because of what he knows, this characteristic is illuminated further as his faces looms over Snowden on a screen through a Facetime call. Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto and Tom Wilkinson aren’t in it too much but do enough to become believable intrepid allies to the cause and likewise Nicolas Cage has little screen-time but is a friendly if typically Cage-like role helping Edward out.

The very biased construction of the film, shining Snowden in a radiant light might be off-putting to some, but he is an icon whichever way you look at him. There’s plenty to think about after seeing this and for me that just outweighs the idealistic siding they’ve taken to their own hero.

7/10

Sully (2016)

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Soaring heights and then crashing back to Earth very quickly, is this safe biographical drama that is interesting, good but an overall un-amazing feature that feels as if it’s hovering calmly over the water never daring to pull up or take the plunge.

In early January, Captain Sully (Tom Hanks) is boarding a flight from LaGuardia in New York to Charlotte in North Carolina, but he and First Officer Jeffrey (Aaron Eckhart) literally fly into trouble as a flock of birds damage their engines. In that quickening scenario of danger Sully manages to land the plane on the Hudson but this leads to many eyes determining whether he made a bad decision.

Clint Eastwood directs this inspiring story about a brave yet everyday hero in a similarly painted-by-numbers manner that he did with ‘Jersey Boys’. It all feels like it’s conforming to a pedestrian telling of a real life event. So considering the life-threatening drama involved it is a film that never comes across as something incredible, rather you’re faced with a good but wholly simple movie.

I couldn’t say I dislike the film though, it’s made efficiently enough and captures that work-like nature of a man in crisis with ease. The differing points of view that come throughout sees the landing from both sides and builds a good narrative, but they get slightly drawn aback by two pretty pointless flashbacks that show younger Sully’s through his work progression, they hardly warrant involvement in the actual finalised release.

The words plane and disaster are ones you never want to hear spoken together, so the few times we see Sully’s nightmarish visions of a plane smashing into a NYC building conjures up jangling nerves and a 9/11 horror. Though the twinkling Christmas-esque music over the passengers being saved is cliched it does help create a miraculous aura over the triumph of many people being helped by others.

Tom Hanks is, as you’d imagine, a fine solid lead playing a capable and charmingly knowledgeable hero, on the flip-side though you know it’s Hanks all the way through and you never lose yourself into his performance enough to buy into it 100%. Aaron Eckhart gets a few good quips and does well in helpfully rooting for Sully but is mostly lost to the wayside.

‘Sully’ flies effectively yet super calmly to the screen as a biopic like nearly every other biopic that gets released during this point of the film calendar. It does the job as Sully himself did but it’s a quiet and average film.

6/10

Victoria (2016)

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Hurrah, I have finally got around to seeing this film and by golly it didn’t disappoint after a near 8 month wait. The technical achievement itself is enough to love the movie but then you get an engaging story and deep performances to solidify this as a brilliant complex drama.

Leaving a club in Berlin is Victoria (Laia Costa) who winds up cycling home with a group of loud and rule-breaking men. There’s an immediate connection between her and Sonne (Frederick Lau) and a fun escapade onto an apartment roof furthers her unique night. However, Victoria ends up spending her time in a much more dangerous manner than she could expect as Sonne and his mates need to do something for a man named Andi.

Just having the idea of a continuous shot for an entire movie is brave but then to not only carry it out but do it very well is an astonishing feat. The one take movement of the movie certainly does a lot to help you step into the world of the film and become a voyeuristic character as the plot unfolds.

Sebastian Schipper directs with a confident touch, the way he commands for scenes to stay still and the camera rest as dialogue spills out are great moments to sit back, honestly after watching the whole thing it feels like you’ve been on a night out because you get so wrapped up in the story and Schipper ensures that the careful placements and movements of the camera aids this interesting immersive story. Obviously Sturla Brandth Grovlen deserves a continuous standing ovation for his stunning work on the continuous take.

Also, the lighting is incredible, whether strobe pulses in the club or natural lampposts at night, the wash of blues and yellows over a majority of scenes gives this film an impressive look that works over the gradually growing grittiness of the thriller narrative. The music too is well selected, drowning out diegetic sounds with a piano melody that raises chills and also connects nicely to the instrumental talents of Victoria.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and felt like I was there every step of the way. The one-take is masterful and it’s just so good that the writing of the story matched the clever way of telling it. My heart was sat in my mouth at one moment as Victoria tries starting a car, an empty car park filled with weapon wielding men is a kick-starter of tension and a soft lighted scene in a cafe is actually very romantic, cute and believably funny between a pair suddenly attracted to one another.

Laia Costa is a perfect vehicle to lead us around the unwinding plot. She delivers a wonderfully infectious smile but counter balances her energetic nature with a raw emotion that overflows with tears as she gets caught up in the world of Sonne and the others. Frederick Lau is so great, the way he tos and fros trying to be confident and then having nervous stalls in his mannerisms or speech is wonderful and together with Costa they run with the story like a new Bonnie and Clyde.

The one-take execution is phenomenal but you do forget that and become one with a detailed and impacting drama thriller which grips you by the collar and won’t shake you loose until the camera finally cuts to black.

8.5/10

Allied (2016)

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Robert Zemeckis, Brad Pitt and even Marion Cotillard cannot save this film from falling short of the romantic sweeping wartime drama it aspires to be. There’s good performances and a vague sense of spy-like apprehension but on the whole this feels like a bland affair and you’d wish for more gusto.

After teaming up in Casablanca and working on an assassination, Max (Brad Pitt) and Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) fall for each other and marry in London. It’s only once settling down and keeping out of the war action that Max learns his love may not be who she says she is, throwing him back into action as he tries to find the truth.

Robert Zemeckis is and will always be a director with great films and fun visionary ideas to his name, his collection of movies spanning genres but with his latest outgoings espicially it seems that he’s foregoing interest of story for the shiny spectacle of how it looks. As in ‘The Walk’, any trepidation or unnerving sense of doom was lost because everything felt like a Chaplin adventure with extra sheen. This new release has a similar gloss that even makes the Blitz over London look like a page from a magazine.

It’s this way of heightening the scenery and not the story that lost me and took me right out of what could have been a grittier more engaging wartime drama. It’s like he tried stepping into the Hollywood glitz of ‘Casablanca’ but too hard and therefore it suffers. Steven Knight also comes under my general fire because his writing of the plot is lagging and no true suspense is offered, even some exchanges of dialogue sound forced or dumb earlier on in the film as they chat over tables in French Morocco.

There may be a slightly unexpected end and everything is shot or framed greatly but aside from this, some mildly memorable music and Cotillard trying to sustain the movie, everything begins cracking. Even the so-called hot chemistry between Pitt and Cotillard fizzles without trace, I never felt amazingly connected by their connection. Just in general I didn’t ever become interested or connected to the movie which is a shame considering the story and talent involved.

Everything just felt lacking and leads to a movie that from start to finish is empty of any gripping emotion or dramatic tension and toil. It’s a typical WW2 bait film throwing back to the Hollywoodland heyday that I almost wished I could throwback out of my memory.

5.5/10

American Pastoral (2016)

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Attempting to show the decline of happiness and that big ol’ American Dream ideal is this so-called crime drama which is dramatic in more than a few places but the crime aspect is sorely missed and overall it feels like a bland film.

Meeting at a reunion, Nathan (David Strathairn) is told about the crumbling life of high school star Swede aka Seymour (Ewan McGregor). Seymour has a beautiful wife in Dawn (Jennifer Connelly) and a daughter who may stutter but has a motivated attitude in life. It’s this that leads Merry (Dakota Fanning) to have possibly set off a bomb and killed someone and all Seymour wants is to know the truth and get his girl back.

It’s a directorial debut for Ewan McGregor and he does at least know how to capture that period style, the slow moving sense of building our view on the family to see the cracks appearing as more prominent and tragic but the entire subject matter of Lyndon B. Johnson era politics, protests and family failure seems to evade his management and he loses a grip on what could have been a more gripping story.

Everything does look right, costuming and locations put us in a believable time and espicially when we see Merry masked up and wandering through dingy homeless filled streets, that’s the nervous unfolding of drama I’d wished to have seen more often. The plot follows Seymour way too often, from glove factory boredom to odd hotel encounters whereas I’d rather witnessed Merry’s journey and what she did, it may have lost the mystery crime aspect but it could have lifted the interest of the picture.

The heartfelt and probable emotional ties I think this movie was going for never connected with me, I looked at my phone time a couple of times thanks to the tedious slow moving pace and I left feeling underwhelmed and unattached. Considering the real power and trauma I imagine America went through post Vietnam and people rising up against the government, I didn’t ever grasp that power in the movie, it felt too sentimental and the silly last scene at a cemetery did little to rid that notion.

McGregor brings a steady stern and a reliable frown as he tries uncovering where Merry is and what his daughter may have actually done but he’s never more than just a journeying father. Connelly seems left behind as she hopes to change herself after Merry leaves. Fanning delivers a convincing stutter but is also left with little to do as her character is left to be found by Seymour.

Nothing about this drama is special or different, like a paint by numbers book that you give up on after 1 page, not even Desplat on music or a trying McGregor can save this stodgy bore.

4/10