La La Land (2017)

1

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

The Light Between Oceans (2016)

light-between-oceans-2

There’s no denying that this romantically toned period drama looks effortlessly beautiful. The location greatly encapsulates both the sheer wonder of an island but the brute reality it provides also. Aside from the look and performances in this film, I found portions of the story wavering and slow.

WW1 soldier Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) gets himself a temporary position as a lighthouse keeper and soon gets the permanent role. Away from Janus island he falls for Isabel (Alicia Vikander) who shares this feeling of affection and togetherness. Staying together on Janus as husband and wife they think life is bliss but soon it fractures and a boat washes up offering them a risky opportunity at happiness.

Now knowing that this movie was directed by Derek Cianfrance, who was at the wheel of ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’, it’s clear to see the parallels in style. Both films look and flow very well but seem to lose interest by the last third, this 2016 release may not lose interest as possibilities of crime heat up but the way it’s directed doesn’t build up any gripping connection which is a shame, because the way we fall into the romance of Tom and Isabel before this is done so well.

Cianfrance also wrote the screenplay and again, it’s the last third where everything becomes so tinged with niceties that it almost threatens to bore you. More often than not, this film goes along trying to make you cry or at least engage in a sad manner to what we’re seeing, sometimes it works thanks to the performances but the majority of it starts souring because it feels like it’s shooting for the Academy’s attention.

Michael Fassbender delicately places the almost silent and war-torn Tom, clearly racked with past sins and now performing nicely, this new guilt and sense of right and wrong. Alicia Vikander powers through with gusto and raw emotion when it’s called for but has a chance for a softer smiley side near the beginning. The two of them together and enthralling and their real life connection obviously shines through. Rachel Weisz is great in this too, arriving late but making her mark as Hannah, a woman ridden with grief and loss.

The emotion it strives for isn’t as wrenching as it should be and it all feels like a tame melodrama by the end but a trio of fantastic acting, Desplat’s score and the cinematography help retain it’s cinematic romance.

6/10

No Stranger Than Love (2015)

no-stranger-than-love

Wow, after seeing the copious amounts of negative reviews for this apparently “disappointingly bland” romantic comedy movie, I expected something tiresome and bad. Instead I got something that however lacking of succeeding it’s aim, was still watchable and interesting.

Art teacher Lucy Sherrington (Alison Brie) is super sweet and nice, all the men in the town love her even if they don’t know her that well. Lucy shares a secret with gym teacher Clint Coburn (Colin Hanks). Together they declare strong feelings for one another which leads to a deep repercussion.

Without going into the aftermath of what saying “I love you” has in store for them both, I can say because I didn’t glance at the plot summary I’m glad I wasn’t in the know. Likewise I shall not say here what happens in case people reading haven’t seen the bio for what this movie is about, that way it won’t spoil what I thought was a unique and clever surprise.

Nick Wernham directs this sickly rom-com with a few neat shots and the capturing of this small town is done well. It feels like a place we all know from movies where everyone knows other people’s business or would like to. Having the character of Lucy not just a plain easy nice gal makes her more engaging, even if she isn’t stretched further in terms of characteristics. Wernham manages to land this film a quirky tone in the most part which does help.

Even if I don’t fully agree with the bad reviews, I must say that the film didn’t go anywhere once the thing that happens…happened. A shady character becomes boring as he goes on and the oddness of the town feels ever fainter as the plot progresses. It does then sadly become a usual suspect of the rom-com genre with cliches, lovey dovey writing and a wishy washy ending. Though I did like the admittedly pretentious poem recited on the hill before the credits hit.

Maybe it’s just my sort of thing, a weird premise and a kooky look at love but I quite enjoyed this movie and didn’t find it that terrible. It doesn’t work when trying to script the whole frailty of life, the workings of the human heart and love but it’s a cute indie film that delivered a cool surprise, a few laughs and a shot at affirming subtext. Also having Alison Brie in it probably helped too.

Speaking of which, Brie is captivating but doesn’t have much material to cope with aside from the Annie ‘Community’ appeal of being kind and objected. She plays the romantic interest to everybody well and you do feel for her as she tries coping with the fact she’s done something wrong. Colin Hanks utilises his voice well, in a way that makes him increasingly annoying which is just right for the development of this story. Justin Chatwin is an interesting man as Rydell. He’s clearly motivated and leering but there’s a well performed soft side to him as he opens up about his past.

Perhaps it isn’t a fantastic movie in terms of writing or directing, but I stand by the fact I liked it and what it tried to pull off.

6/10

Sleeping with Other People (2015)

A fantastically likable romantic comedy with fresh and engaging characters, empathy and sympathy for both the guy and the girl, a huge dose of sexual sprinkles but it does become flat not running free from the genre I hoped it would have broken the mould for.

During 2003, a chance encounter happens between Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Elaine/Lainey (Alison Brie). Shifting into present day, they happen to meet again, realising their lives are kind of similar in their lack of being able to settle down. Jake is a womaniser and Lainey is a cheater, through each other they learn a thing or two and develop that undeniable attraction from the first time they met.

Let me start with the writing, which is served up by Leslye Headland. She brings something much better than her play/film ‘Bachelorette’, crikey I seriously disliked that film. Everything that was so wrong in that 2012 flick is rectified here, with characters you can understand and like, scenarios that are believable and a running theme of being smart. The writing here might not be exactly on the clever tracks of screenplays but it’s going the right way, the dialogue can be very sharp and snappy, the changes out of comedy hit well in the emotional zone and it goes a good way a lot of the time in trying to do something different with the rom-com shtick.

Sadly that statement can’t be 100% guaranteed as a fair portion of this movie suffers by following the romantic comedy rule book. There’s a certain scene and action where it leaves you wanting the attraction to happen and it goes away from there. This brilliance should have been the end or a set up for another similar ending but without spoiling proceedings, you know from the film that it’s going to finish up as you’d expect, not as you’d wish just as you always knew it would. I was hugely hoping the great characters and moments would be enveloped by a similar breaking of the genre but they don’t get that joy.

The direction from Headland is smooth and comes with cool little quirks, the social media aspect is a trend we’ve seen and can expect to see for a long time now, but having the texts appear on screen doesn’t feel cliched here and one message thread is delivered on screen by the sender which is both funny and original. There’s degrees of slow motion, which aren’t Michael Bayed, they come sparingly and add a dramatic tinge to that slowed action. It’s a fast flowing movie and the neat shots of New York add to that rush of struggling romance. It also helps that I’m writing this review from the Big Apple and saw places in the film that I’ve now seen for real and one scene was shot on the street I’m staying at! I’m going off on a tangent, sorry, but yes, the city aspect is shot very well and feels very right for this story.

Alison Brie is a dynamic actress, she shows she can do comedy and the cutie pie routine in most of the films/TV roles she’s done but here she adds weight in some pretty emotive scenes. They come like firecrackers of despair after comedic moments that shoot fast and long. One of the break-ups is done in a funny way but she follows that with a pang of brutal self loathing that Brie truly makes feel real. Jason Sudeikis is an actor that hits or misses, I get his typical act but sometimes it feels too smarmy, here though it’s present but not annoying, he’s likable and you can see his stuttering when it comes to his thoughts on Lainey. The pair of them are charismatic and you do buy into their blossoming best friend journey. Also, great kudos to Andrea Savage and Jason Mantzoukas who bring some of the best lines to the movie and work brilliantly well as the married couple still down with being hip or at least wanting to be.

It may not be constantly funny or even genuinely sad all the way through, it also lacks a great premise to fully shatter the rom-com guidelines. Though even saying/writing this film is a delightful watch, it makes you smile and comes with charming performances helping the movie feel sexy, touching and enjoyable.

6.5/10

Say When (2014)

laggies2

This romantic comedy, titled for American audiences as the more awfully funky ‘Laggies’ is a so-so film. I mean this in the sense that it’s neither bad or great, it does as any expected film of this genre does and with a good enough direction from Lynn Shelton there’s the required amount of love and laughs for the desired audience member.

28 years old and still stuck with old school friends and her prom sweetheart, Megan (Keira Knightley) is taken aback when her boyfriend Anthony (Mark Webber) proposes to her. In her still childish ways of not taking responsibilities or growing up she decides to go away for a week to try and fathom this big news. On the way, Megan crosses paths and buys booze for underage kids led by Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz) who she soon becomes a friend of, leading her to meet Annika’s dad Craig (Sam Rockwell) where the option of facing adulthood and a future could be more real.

I doubt it’s any massive spoiler to say that it’s pretty clear what direction Megan ends up in, when faced with a new hunky figure and the old squeeze tying her down to past school memories. As I mentioned in the opening, there’s enough to keep the target audience satisfied, I am not in that demographic and so I can quite boldly say I wasn’t satisfied. A few moments make you smile and I cannot deny the empathy for Megan is there but it’s nothing special, a standard rom-com with no flair or huge comedy to tide you over.

Though maybe there’s some funny in there somewhere, as the screen I shared with a mere other two, cracked up on multiple occasions. I seriously don’t know what they found so funny about a floating turtle but by heck did those two girls laugh enough to make it seem like there was more people watching the film. This movie’s saving grace is Sam Rockwell who just owns that look on his face that makes you prepare to bust your guts laughing, you don’t but he’s got that cool quirky single dad down to a T and he’s both funny and adorable as a loner left by ‘Boardwalk Empire’s’ Gretchen Mol.

There’s sadly nothing outstanding or even plainly interesting in the film, the music by Benjamin Gibbard is already forgotten, the attempts at laugh out loud moments never really fly, most are in fact pretty cringe; wedding dance or Knightley sign flipper dancing jump to mind as awkward moments. It would have been alright if the end had differed from the usual cliched romantic comedy story arcs but alas. All I ask is for a film in this category to come along and do something hugely significant to make the genre fresh and exciting.

Keira Knightley is not an actress I’m a fan of anyway, but even I can appreciate she does a fine job of the slacker role needed in her character, to be honest I can even comment that she’s an actress I’m surprised took on this script considering how mediocre and plodding it is. Her high pitched accent doesn’t grate and works to an advantage in selling dumb layabout Megan more. Sam Rockwell is the spotlight and gem of the piece even without too much to do, he made me feel less terrible about coming out of seeing this movie. Chloe Grace Moretz has proved on more than one occasion that she has something, that spark, but Annika is not a character with much intrigue or substance for her to shine in.

Every now and then a shred of charm bounds onto the screen, a cool shiny modern art hanging fits the frame with a brilliant touch or the script begins floating towards something attention grabbing but on the most part this film is predictable tedium without any attempt to re-write the rom-com book. A lagging movie.

5/10

Horns (2014)

Horns-Main-Poster-final

Entertaining enough and welcomingly demonic in its grand designs for a ‘moral compass’ right and wrong storytelling arc but it falls to the wayside quick and horrendously by the final act, making you feel like what came before was not as good as you thought it may have been. There’s a healthy dose of twisted humour to be had and the thriller aspect is evident, if only that’s the style they’d stuck with.

Ig (Daniel Radcliffe) truly and madly loves his girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple), but one night she is raped and murdered and the townspeople treat him as the most likely suspect. In his quest to try and prove his innocence and find the possible killer he develops devilish horns in mirroring of him being treated like the devil by society. It’s soon only Ig and these helpful growths that may lead him to the answer he’s hoping for.

It has to be said that this film succeeds in it’s out there originality and the fun sadist turns in the plot keep you guessing as to who may be linked to Merrin’s demise but little aspects of the script can bug, i.e, brushing asides of plot hole drama and more than this the last segment of the movie. The developing dramatic rise of Ig and his revenge conclusion is so devastatingly awful that it’s laugh out loud funny. The final act should be clever or engaging but it becomes so ridden with outlandish CGI and elevated Satanic madness that it kind of ruins the rest of the movie. I was hoping for a much better ending, something more ambiguous or less clash heavy would have served the plot in a finer way I think.

The script by Keith Bunin and I’m guessing the black tone of the source material by Joe Hill works a lot in its favour, with the rise of the curled horns making people around Ig spill all their thoughts and inner desires. There is plenty of great humour in the way people act around him and as he starts to relish the odd power he has it’s cool. The newscaster fight is brilliantly set up, the snakes work for a moment of freakish horror in the confines of a car and it’s great to see that Potter still has the knack of Parseltongue in his new face.

I truly liked seeing the thriller mystery aspect of the narrative play out, I think that is this films strongest quality. Trying to work out the unknown killer or sit back and let the unfolding drama of who killed Merrin is the best thing it has going for it. You sort of constantly question whether Ig is innocent or not and other characters come and go as possible targets or red herrings. The pay off, I think is good, not outstanding but it works and its delivered very well.

Daniel Radcliffe is convincing in his maddening descending of Ig. The accent is believable enough, well at least for a non-American watcher/listener. He hits the emotional tracks with gusto and his smirky foray into the darker side of the horny influence never feels forced or pathetic. Juno Temple is a radiant actress with a look and emotional weight that makes you buy into Merrin, even if her character appears quite sparsely. The character background and secret she holds is very powerful and hers and Radcliffe’s scene in the aptly named Eve’s Diner is excellent. Heather Graham is a cool tiny addition to the cast, delivering wide eyed crazy as a waitress and vanity obsessed fame hunter, chucking in lies about Ig to try and get on the news.

It’s a stylish film that hits great strides of darkness, whether in flashes of a scary morphed face of Lucifer or in the trippy journey Ig’s brother heads on under the influence of a whole stack of varying drugs. It’s just a film that stretches longer than it needs to and begins to feel long by the very silly ending.

The large mix of genres doesn’t entirely work in the movies favour and the ending seems to make the story feel like it’s at a loss of substantial ideas. Apart from that the acting is fun, the black horror comedy lands and the visuals work more than they don’t.

6/10

Not Another Happy Ending (2013)

happy_poster

It’s almost unfair to label this rom-com as terrible because it doesn’t truly re-write the laws of the romantic comedy genre, and that’s what it’s attempting here, but it’s not great either. It’s cheesy in a few places, predictable and feels long but it’s by no means wholly unwatchable and some fresh performances from some of the main players alongside a couple of cool moments makes it okay.

This film sees a novelist; Jane Lockhart (Karen Gillan) finally getting a break by the hands of a struggling publication company. The head/editor of this business called Tom Duvall (Stanley Weber) sees some potential in Jane and signs her to a 2 book contract, though after the success of her first book she cannot find a way to finish the second and the resurfacing of a person close to her could only distract her further.

Amongst all these writing, non writing lark there of course is the core of a love story, though not an overly stuffed down your throat one to begin with, however clearly they set up the mutual attraction Jane and Tom have for one another. It is a little cheesy through a certain sequence where they have the lives of the two mirror and all their quaint editing meetings lead to a path signed ‘falling in love’. It’s just a bit rushed and from that point on whatever obstacles land in their way you just know it will all be alright. Aside from that major predictability which leaves near to no room for exciting uncertainty in plot development, the two characters are made for each other in their own way and so that’s sweet I guess.

The music helps the film an awful lot, as I guess most films do, but here you only feel the emotions thanks to the soundtrack which feels like aural manipulation and perhaps with a less obvious song or nothing at all the impact may have been nonexistent. In the case of a scene that did feel kind of sad we have Emeli Sande to credit for giving us that goosebump layer over the action.

Considering this is a movie all about an author and her issues with carrying on writing, you’d think the script would be tighter or at least fresh in a sense. It doesn’t do anything of major note to re sculpt the rom-com genre and that’s a shame. The idea of Tom trying and failing to make Jane unhappy because he feels that’s how she writes best is a neat trick but after one plan that’s dropped to make room for the more soppy factor of his discovery that he’s in love with her. The best writing inclusion was a cool and surprising addition concerning a recurring character in Jane’s mind. I really liked that part. The whole dad/daughter dynamic felt cliched to stir up family drama and the inevitable romance bangs away in the front of your mind throughout the whole film as you wait for it to just happen already.

On the plus side, I liked the style of the film. It’s presented in a quirky cool way. A fashionable film if nothing else anyway. From the image of the cast to the settings and locations, they do well to make both the characters and Scotland look different and trendy. The clutter and uneven mess of Tom’s company looks the part to tell us from the outset that this place looks in a state. Jane’s apartment is cleanliness personified and that works to show how she occupies her time doing everything including naked baking to try and get her novelist mind working. The costuming department can be proud in the design of Jane who looks proper cute and polished in her buttoned up shirts, hats and twee trousers. A character with lots to like and potential to burn from her great author sounding name to her look.

I liked moments of the comedy attempts to. A good number of lines made me smile and the film works on that level of feeling homely, it possesses that sharp British/Scottish quality. The witticisms do land more than they crash and that’s good to notice, though after a while it feels like the comedy wains to let the romantic story blossom, yawn.

My biggest problem with the film is that it reverted to having a happy ending and the entire time I was praying that for a British made film it would come up with a clever and un-Hollywood ending but alas. Especially given the name of the movie I was expecting, not a twist but a unique or intelligent close that could be interpreted different ways and at one specific moment I felt happy because I thought the filmmakers had done it with a somber graveside scene which falls apart pretty quickly.

It’s just not a resoundingly fantastic or even great movie because the script feels long and unshined, which is ironic due to the film being about the whole journey of writing. Gillan, Iain De Caestaecker and a couple of good jokes are only gems in this otherwise uninteresting film.

5/10