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

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Selma (2015)

Selma_UKPoster

I got the pleasure of seeing this at the third Odeon Screen Unseen night and it’s a powerful and utterly poignant story, in its dramatic relevance to topics going on in the world. and more specifically America today. Driven by an inspirational directing touch and a thundering presence of its lead actor ‘Selma’ is an impressive biographical feat that informs as well as engages.

This account sees Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) campaigning in his peaceful way to win votes for black people. He and his group of advisories stop on Selma, Alabama as the perfect place to rally a protest march to raise awareness of the mistreatment of blacks in America. President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) isn’t a road block but also doesn’t help King as much as he could and thanks to racist beliefs held by George Wallace (Tim Roth), King has a lot of trouble to face on the march to overcome prejudice.

Firstly, I must begin with the unbelievable snub that has befallen on director Ava DuVernay. The way she captures the trials and terrors of this man’s journey for equality is gripping and touching too. Bennett Miller of ‘Foxcatcher’ land, however who has spilled out a paint by numbers bio-pic that bores more than enthralls is somehow up for Best Director while DuVernay isn’t. The decision to include slow motion in this movie isn’t stupid or jarring, it in fact reinforces the horrific trauma of these people and heightens the brutality of their oppressors. The wide shots at times are well placed to breathe in the large amounts of people rallying together for King’s dream and it’s all constructed together in a neat manner to feel at once like a political thriller but also a Civil Rights drama of hope.

A few niggles are in some slow moments that rely on heavy conversations of tactics or quibbles between leading men, but then on the other hand, you could look at these scenes at constructions of character and they make the more dramatic moments of clashes that more impacting. Also, the end facts that normally come with bio-pics are not done over black screen but layered over shots of the end speech delivered by King. Which is exciting and awakening to what happened to true life people but then the speech is lost as you read what’s on screen. These are honestly the only issues I could think of and they’re minor at best.

The way each and every speech and march presented in this film is brilliant. They’re tingled with the fear of the unknown and the dread of what these innocent people are facing day in and day out. The expected retaliation is tense when it needs to be and as King and his followers rise over the Edmund Pettus bridge you really feel the apprehension of what the whites could do. While on this bridge, I must say that the way the struggles are shown is shocking. For the certification there’s a lot more brutal imagery to be seen, not visceral I must say, just chilling to see the onslaught of beatings. This is provoking though for good reasons as DuVernay doesn’t shy away from the necessity of reminding us of the equality barrier.

If there’s one certainty, it’s that this film has to pick up the Oscar for Original Song. Common and John Legend come together to write electrifying lyrics for ‘Glory’. The words are deep and resonate for the subject matter of the film but sentences in there also highlight the atrocities against black members of society nowadays. The film couldn’t come at a more relevant time in relation to the appalling treatment in Ferguson and ‘Glory’ is perfectly executed as they march, inter-cut with actual footage of the demonstration too.

David Oyelowo is a hugely stirring force in this movie. He too has been snubbed while Cumberbatch sits pretty playing a typically Cumbersome role in ‘The Imitation Game’. The mannerisms and motivating tone he delivers his lines are special to witness. He brings calm and passion to Martin Luther King, Jr and there’s a warm balance of emotion to his plight too as he sees innocents murdered for his cause, it’s also nice to see the subtle flickers of not being all perfect as he’s questioned by his wife. Oyelowo plays this silent and pause heavy scene very well.

‘Selma’ is a must see if you want to watch the test of the racial movement done in a moving way. It’s not patronising or shoving intent down the audience’s throats, the message is displayed in an artful, powerful and enlightening manner.

7.5/10