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

The Nice Guys (2016)

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What a lark this film. Seriously, the buddy cop dynamic is on fire with these two at the wheel of the ship. It may be a film, that at times feels a bit long in getting to the point of the story and it goes annoyingly for broke with making funny but the pairing of Crowe and Gosling injects plenty of enjoyment into it.

After a porn star dies in a car crash, private investigator Holland March (Ryan Gosling) gets a case to find the dead star as her aunt believes she’s still alive, however it all points to Amelia (Margaret Qualley). Brutish hard-man Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is hired to scare March off Amelia’s scent but soon they’re both in it together as they uncover a dangerous set of connections.

Shane Black gives this vivid 70’s set cop comedy his usual stamp of buddy laughs, action fight scenes and of course there’s a Christmas moment in there too. He directs with enough flair that the sense of this era more than comes alive, every scene is colourful and loud as the pair try working out the mystery of Misty Mountains. The film certainly has energy if nothing else, the seriousness and interest of the case might get lost more than once as the screenplay gives more time in the silliness of March/Healy’s antics but visually the movie screams classic buddy crime genre.

It’s not like the screenplay by Black and Anthony Bagarozzi is lacking of the drama as there is scope for back-story with both leads and you engage with most characters, especially the cool smarts of March’s daughter Holly. I only feel that at times the screenplay isn’t present as Crowe and Gosling improv their way out of a paper bag to create comedy, which leads us on a winding road away from the central point of the story, therefore it seems to take forever to get to core moments of the crime actually getting tracked.

Comedy wise, this is a film that made me laugh…out loud, more than once, but when the entire movie is throwing it’s whole weight at jokes then it’s not much of a surprise. It’s as if they flung joke after joke at a target board hoping that some would stick and yes a lot do but some obviously fall short and make you realise how hard they’re trying to be funny. That’s not a big problem, it just detracts from the crime drama that takes a back-seat to the crazy chemistry between the two lead actors.

Russell Crowe brings his usual assured gruff nature to the role of Jackson Healy, but he displays a credible amount of comic timing and bounces off Gosling very well. Ryan Gosling himself is brilliant with his physical comedy, from rolling down hills, keeping a toilet door open and shaking in an elevator he triumphs as the star of comedy in this film. Angourie Rice, as mentioned is very cool as Holly. Margaret Qualley is a fireball of anti-fascist rage, her agenda hurtled in excellent fast paced delivery. Matt Bomer brings an electric cold feel to the latter part of the film as a stone faced killer.

This is a very over the top film with a lot of laughs and heck, for a film featuring death, crime and conspiracy it’s full of joy. It has a simmering of try hard but Black and a fantastic turn from Gosling make this an enjoyable absurd romp.

6.5/10

The Big Short (2016)

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5 Academy Award nominations and only one of those I see worthy, this comedy drama about the tumbling financial crisis in America seems to gloat with it’s overblown characters, in your face directing and Family Guy-esque cutaways. Saying all that there is some room for this film to succeed with some funny moments, an interesting summary by the end of the movie and the pacy nature involved.

The year is 2005 and Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is one of the first people to notice that the build up of the American housing market is very dodgy indeed. His quick thinking catches on with Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) who ends up working with Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his team in tackling this impending disaster.

I don’t know how to really go into the depth of this movie because it’s so bloated with insane blabber about the housing markets, banks, mortgages and the like that even if you know a little about what happened in 2008, you lose track of the dialogue because it’s stuffed to the rafters with technical babble meaning you can’t fully grip most of what’s going on. That could just be me, yes but I do feel that it could have been simplified instead of targeting Wall Street fat-cats but sounding exactly like one.

One of the main issues I found with this film is that it’s dealing with a very serious issue, not just within the States but something that affected countries over the world also. This story is something that suits a documentary style and though there are shaky camera shots and almost interviews with the characters as they break the fourth wall, it all feels like the movie is glossing over the seriousness with smug loudness. It would have been more understandable and perhaps more interesting if it was a documentary feature instead.

The only point where I really sat up and liked the film was in the last 15-20 minutes. This is where the heart-breaking reality of what has happened hits not just the characters we’ve heard but the huge population too. In fact the closing facts on the black screen give the most weight because it suddenly feels real and not like a cheesy montage of sound-bites and arrogant personas. 8 million just in America lost their jobs and as we see investors Charlie and Jamie step onto the empty Lehman Brothers trading floor, the movie finally feels tragic and echoes the greedy reality of what happened not long ago.

Adam McKay of comedy directing takes on this biographical movie as if he wants to show-boat a new sense of style. To be honest, this constant cutting back and forth and interspersing of stock footage becomes tired and more like a gimmick as it goes on. He does some interesting things in having a few characters look at the camera and spiel off some facts but that also gets stretched out as does the swiping to celebrities to try and explain financial facts to us. I don’t understand why he’s up for an award because it’s not original, it screams like a ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ copy but without the Scorsese class to be engaging.

Overall the characters seem to get lost in the language and chaos of time moving forwards. It does feel like at any moment Ron Burgundy will walk in and make light of the situation with a quotable retort and flute solo. It’s not an awful film just one that seems to me to be getting attention because it’s an American tale about Americans being smart and trying to save the day. Even Margot Robbie in a bubblebath cannot distract me from seeing how baffling and shallow the film comes across. It’s a shame because even though I wasn’t expecting to like it I thought I’d find it interesting but that only happened at the end.

Steve Carell for me stands out with the most development, his morals becoming clearer and his emotion making one character feel 3-dimensional amongst the sprawling ensemble involved. Christian Bale is good as he is in most things but the only interest is because he has a glass eye and doesn’t wear shoes, aside from that and his good hearted side I don’t see why Bale is up for Supporting Actor. Ryan Gosling smirks and preens his way along in a fun smarmy role, helped by a thick coating of fake tan he stands out as the Jordan Belfort figure. Brad Pitt seems to be left dangling with no true intentions of why he’s aiding the investors and risking his wanted safe life and seeds. It’s not anything challenging for him lets say. I may have to award the film something extra for the joyful surprise of Karen Gillan being in it, though her tiny part adds nothing at all. Then you have talented performers Rafe Spall, Finn Wittrock, Marisa Tomei, Max Greenfield and um…Selena Gomez providing more confusion as we try to grasp more characters.

It’s a movie that feels tonally absurd, vaulting from comedic arrogance to serious truth without notice. ‘The Big Short’ is certainly zippy and sharp in places but aside from noticeably great editing, the film feels like another injustice to the ordinary folk that were dealt with blows by the bankers this movie is trying to blame.

5.5/10

Lost River (2014)

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Tying in drama, fantasy, darkness and suburban American life, Ryan Gosling’s feature as debut director is a far cry from the interesting piece it could have been. It received both a chorus of cheers and boos when it premiered at Cannes and it isn’t difficult to see why. It has some neat moments but comes to a sticky mess of ideas that feel majorly pretentious.

In a neighbourhood losing houses fast and emptying of folk lives single mum Billy (Christina Hendricks) who is trying her best to keep her home and raise her boys. Bones (Ian  De Caestecker) is the eldest who learns from Rat (Saoirse Ronan) that the town is cursed and a beasts head must be removed to stop it. Against shady bankers and twisted criminals, ‘Lost River’ is a place in dire need of saving and fast.

You instantly get that feeling from this film that Ryan Gosling has picked up some mannerisms from ‘Drive’ mentor Nicolas Winding Refn. The surreal and mostly slow pace to the film builds that dream like sense that both ‘Drive’ and ‘Only God Forgives’ had. Though this fantastical tale sadly falls into the weird and not wonderful category that ‘Only God Forgives’ is in. It’s a bit too much of all things and though the style is there, it over runs substance or can even feel indulgent.

Great shots and interesting cinematography stop you completely nodding off in this obscene dream landscape and some frankly odd neon set ups showcase that Gosling has some potential in crafting some different to the norm, but I believe it’s something that needs a lot of honing because even for the off circuit festivals and art house places this movie suffers from being less than subtle and disturbing in the story it’s telling.

Ryan Gosling also writes, showing he really means it when he wants to step down from the acting lark he was involved in. He is truly a better director than writer. The script incorporates a lot of themes and ideas that feel like an acid Alice in Wonderland style trip, character names are the least obvious trait that this film will take you somewhere unexpected. A nightclub portraying bloody acts, underwater towns and a Miss Havisham granny play their parts in this mix of nightmares.

The music, I must mention is top notch listening. He’s clearly picked up a knack of hearing fine electronic sounds that wash nicely into your ears, tunes that gently provide that backdrop for a cool nighttime drive. Of course it pales in comparison to the vibe of ‘Drive’ and that soundtrack but Johnny Jewel’s score helps the film stun the senses.

Christina Hendricks is a fine actress, getting the emotional mother role to play, she becomes stronger as she falls further down the rabbit hole. Saoirse Ronan is masterful in everything I’ve seen her in. A beautiful young actress who gives this Rat character guts, fear, intrigue and kindness that feels the most real amongst the other characters. Ian De Caestecker doesn’t do much for me here, it’s a good enough role but not enough to break the mould I see of him from ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’. Ben Mendelsohn rises up here in a thoroughly creepy portrayal as no nonsense Dave. The almost still facial expression and slither of his push towards Billy is gross and Mendelsohn can rival Oscar Isaac’s dance from ‘Ex Machina’ with the moves he puts on show in this film. Matt Smith shaves his hair, buffs up and plays a nasty bully aptly named Bully. It’s a panto sort of role but he does sell this villainous crime lord well.

It might seem unfair to call it a mess because it does have some magical imagery and cool ideas but it’s not something that evoked any strong desires to watch it again, think of it other than to write this up or recommend it to anyone else. I can say I’m glad I saw it to witness Gosling’s clear knowledge of building atmosphere and lucid fairy-tale points and that’s about that.

4.5/10

The Guest (2014)

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Boldly striking in style and content, ‘The Guest’ comes knocking at your door with electronic tunes, breakneck editing and a tour de force performance from Dan Stevens. It’s a clever mash-up of genres that somehow blend together nicely to tell, perhaps not a grand scale story but an enjoyable, dark and tense one nonetheless. 

The Peterson family are trying to deal with the news that Caleb, their son/brother has died at war, it seems that a mysterious and unreadable arrival to their house who knew Caleb could help them through this tough time. This guest’s name is David (Dan Stevens) and it isn’t long until his presence in the house draws in interest from bullied Luke (Brendan Meyer) and parent oppressed Anna (Maika Monroe).

Firstly, the look of this film is incredible, it never feels like it’s trying desperately to come across as stylishly as it does, but yet it does. It’s an environment that lets David breathe and do his thing. From snappy cuts to longer more moody wide shots there’s a lot helping this film run quickly along, especially in the latter half of the movie. This moody wide shots as I call them are done a few times as they pan round to let us see David just staring into the middle distance, not a flicker of any emotion to be had across his face. The shots arrive after something cut together faster so this sudden slowing in movement jolts us into feeling that undeniable worry of who is this man in their house. Going back to the style of the film and its impact, there is an excellent, rattling ride of fun and terror in the final act, it may be an over the top setting but it works in the horror/thriller genre fantastically and…wow, is it ever a final act to take glee in watching unfold. 

Directed and edited by Adam Wingard, who was on directing duty for the horror ‘You’re Next’ brings that know how into this film, it’s toned down slightly but there’s no questioning that some horror tropes are used to great effect in ‘The Guest’. It’s an almost roller-coaster ride from drama, war grief melodrama, bubbling tension and sexual tension, high school life, action, thriller, mystery and horror. This last one is unexpected, I never expected what I saw in the film when I viewed the trailer and that’s no negative point, it’s in fact a welcomed positive to have expectations flipped on their head. The horror thread starts becoming a thicker more prominent stitch in the tapestry of this film as it goes on and it isn’t long until knives, blood and suspenseful music are drawn landing us in some resemblance of horror territory. It’s never actually a full blown horror though, just like everything else mirroring David, there’s aspects of different moods in this movie. 

The film has a brilliant soundtrack which I’m sure will be listened to by many upon hearing it in the movie. A lot of it is instrumental which leaves no vocal distractions to the backing of the scene being played out. It has electronic echoes of ‘Drive’ which help the film build that tension of character as David becomes a sort of Gosling like figure that speaks minimally, looks threatening but has a twinkle in his eye. This soundtrack is clever in linking up to Anna’s character and helps the final act with a neat addition of her mix CD being used to rack up the audible and visual suspense. 

Dan Stevens, who I’ve never seen in anything else, I only know of his ‘Downton Abbey’ roots makes this film what it is in a lot of ways and if he doesn’t become some Hollywood heartthrob or at least the next leading male star to look out for then I don’t what went wrong. To play a cold yet warm character such as this David takes a difficult amount of acting. He’s distant yet charming, alarming yet approachable and a plethora of other antithesis examples. He carries a swag and smirk near constantly that is at once cool and inviting but also unnerving. It’s a blank slate that he makes his own and by the end he’s some good bad guy with a Michael Myers vibe going on. Maika Monroe can easily be the rising star of film if this film is anything to go by. She plays the 20 year old Anna with doubt and confidence of her character with leaps and bounds and provides a more human angle to the show as it plays out, she looks like Kate Hudson and Amber Heard combined with her own thing too, a good looking and talented young actress to keep an eye on. Brendan Meyer, who looks like Chloe Grace Moretz with a wig brings another viewpoint of more human qualities as the tormented kid at school. He has a weird yet interesting rise to overcome his troubles with the help of Steven’s David. 

There’s a few odd things such as how Luke doesn’t care one iota who David is and what goes on concerning him, the mother too makes a jarring stupid decision near the end and the actual truth of who David is can be slightly silly but that’s all part of the fun this film provides. There’s a deathly amount of black comedy that had the screen I was in laughing along at some pretty darkly delivered humour. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and you can tell, it’s having bundles of joy letting David worm his way into the Peterson family and so too do we in seeing it happen.

Slick, funny, dark and brilliantly crafted in creating a thriller/horror hybrid that makes a charismatic steely star out of Dan Stevens. So cool and so good, possible candidate for film of the year because it’s entertaining and seemingly came out of nowhere. 

8.5/10