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

Moana (2016)

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It’s the 53rd animated release from those Disney titans and this time we get a great new world and culture, a head-strong non princess type princess and that same old pleasurable House of Mouse fun for all the family.

On the island of Motunui, lives Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) who is the chief’s daughter. She dreams of what lies beyond the reef and wishes to explore the ocean. She finally gets her chance when a blight hits her home and a tale of ancestors and thievery drives her to find Maui (Dwayne Johnson), a demi-god and have him deliver a powerful stone back to its rightful place.

What is most enjoyable about this feature is the dimensions of character and the interesting Polynesian backdrop. The beautiful world we get to inhabit for an hour and 40 minutes is new and feels rich. It certainly helps that the creators make Moana a character with lots to do, say and she isn’t at all two-dimensional. The island villagers and the culture looks impressive and it’s this different setting and tone that gladly takes us away from the usual Disney saccharin vibes.

The music again is stepped up, like the Mickey Mouse maestros know to keep one step ahead when conjuring up the sound of their movies. Here they employ the help of Hamilton acclaimed Lin-Manuel Miranda who writes the songs with Opetaia Foa’i. There’s such a delicious texture to the songs, echoing with a sound that feels perfect for the setting. An Innocent Warrior raises hairs and sounds amazing in the cinema over the scenery. Where You Are is a jovial and tropical start to the introduction of the sunny island. How Far I’ll Go is the clear front-runner for Academy attention and is gorgeous to listen to. The less said about Shiny the better.

Ron Clements and John Musker are together again and this is their first CGI Disney film. They direct a stunning film about myth, mischief and might. They utilise a brilliant team of animators who have created a lush world to truly marvel at, not only is there the 3D styling, we get a fabric felt looking portion of animation during a song and the tattoo 2D moments featured on the torso of Maui.

I only have one big problem with the film and that is the story structure. The opening is exciting and the latter part is engaging, slightly dark and filled with eventual obvious hope and happiness. Annoyingly a large section of the middle is slow and drifts like Moana’s canoe into the land of boredom. As we settle in with Moana and Maui it’s like the plot sags into an attempt at a road-trip discovery without any of the perky coming of age drama. Also the chicken is not only the dumbest character in Disney history but the most pointless, the pig is severely underused and that makes me sad.

Overlooking the typical fairly tedious journey of ‘finding yourself’ that Disney love, this is a refreshing animated turn with a great soundtrack, a confident and interesting female protagonist and some stunning scenes that will delight many of varying ages.

7/10

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

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Coming up to being 20 years old, this Disney classic features some heavy adult ideas mixed with some uneven story choices but at the end of it all, the key theme of acceptance is well animated and a likable hero in the unlikely appearance of the bell ringer emerges.

After chasing down a gypsy mother, Judge Claude Frollo (Tony Jay) goes to rid her hideous baby but thankfully the Notre Dame Archdeacon makes him rectify his sin by keeping the boy alive. Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) is banished to the church belfry where he spends his days looking down at the Parisian courtyards wishing to be with the people and the beautiful gypsy dancer Esmeralda (Demi Moore).

Clearly the story is all about acceptance and having a message about acting with people the same no matter how they look. Here they have a perfect tool for that idea by Quasimodo being a deformed and hunchbacked individual. His soul and thoughts may be kind but sadly the people of Paris don’t look past the bulging eyes and stooped spine. It’s a great family film to have children learning early about the importance of treating others how you’d wish to be treated. Along the way, side stories of unrequited romance and comedy almost unravel the strong message but by the end, Quasimodo has become the symbol of good we’d expected he would.

The animation itself is rather good, the sweeping pass through the city in the opening gives good details to the stony buildings and the busy civilians. The grey and Gothic atmosphere is truly felt with the many scenes set around and in Notre Dame and there’s a lovely amount of colour to combat the tiredness of slates of grey, especially in the Festival of Fools sequence. There is a common feel of darkness amongst most of the story, the church, the fires and the secluded environment Quasi has to grow up in, it’s an almost Cinderella like slave space that helps us root for him and really dislike the equally spiteful villain.

Musically, the 34th animated Disney movie triumphs in including grand adult ideals of fate, religion and tolerance/intolerance to difference. Alan Menken conducts a deep score that emanates like the bells themselves. The music swells and really dramatically adds to the seriousness of some of these songs, no more can that be found than in Frollo’s passionate ‘Hellfire’ track. With Menken is Stephen Schwartz who pens some amazingly rich lyrics that resonate about sin and the belief of good in the eyes of God. ‘Hellfire’ once again is a perfect example of power in what Frollo as a character believes. Also this review wouldn’t be worthwhile without commenting that the opening jester story, ‘The Bells of Notre Dame’ which is sung to us and some kiddies is engaging and brilliant.

I hadn’t seen this film for a very long time but always remembered most of the visuals and story points and that sticks as a great lasting impression a film can have on me. It’s broody with Frollo yet mischievous with Esmeralda, it’s beautiful in drawing and important for themes, so even though there’s talking gargoyles I’m sure Victor Hugo would have liked what this animation did to his novel. Tony Jay is a great vocal star as Frollo who is the great opposite to Hulce’s tortured admiration of a world that doesn’t see him as equal.

There’s joy at the end but Disney were brave in picking to transform such a religiously rooted story with a dark hopeless thread of love and acceptance. The bells and I ring out in admiration and enjoyment for this film.

7/10

Danny Collins (2015)

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Solidly delivering laughs in equal measure with more grounded thoughts on the topic of redemption, this comedy drama is great in taking into account; lessons of life, the big what if of how things may have been and Pacino with a thick tan.

A musical star now in his olden years without any original material recieves a possible life changing present on his birthday. Danny Collins (Al Pacino) cannot believe a letter penned by John Lennon was sent to him and now he starts trying to redo mistakes of his life, including his music and long lost son Tom (Bobby Cannavale).

This is a heartfelt movie more often than I expected, I knew the plot basis and guessed at it being a comedy, which it is with great success but it is rounded off with increased sentiment and emotion of rediscovery in a new chapter of someone’s life. The ageing figure is nothing fresh but this film gives it more heart and really gets you on Danny’s side that you will him to make these changes but still not lose who he is inside. It’s a clear note that this film packs a punch of family matters lessons of life, the central father-son bond is fraught but believable and it goes an obvious but nonetheless stirring way.

Dan Fogelman takes on directorial and scripting duties and succeeds in both departments. Considering this was his directing debut, Fogelman has a lot to be proud of. It’s a brilliant film with shine in all the right places and grounded character problems in between. The journey of the central mister is great, almost like a bio-pic of this Collins guy but with enough gloss that you know it isn’t. It’s a movie with heartfelt themes coursing through the veins, it may be leaning towards going down that road too much but I can forgive it for the fun it musters up too.

The script based on a real account of a folk singer named Steve Tilston getting the same positive type of letter from Lennon and Yoko Ono is fascinating and it really gets you thinking about what you yourself may have done differently if knowing something new. It’s obviously quite an important subject matter of how moments could have differed but on the flip side it shows how not to overthink things, change what you can now when your eyes are opened but don’t live in the past. Danny Collins is a flawed and broken man but his heart is present as Frank says to Tom.

The strongest aspect of this film was the appropriate balance between Danny’s new fixation in Hilton hotel manager Mary. The writing or perhaps improv between Pacino and Bening is spectacular. It’s involving patter that brings a genuine smile to the face. There’s smart one liners and funny back and forth material that gives depth and sparkle to this possible relationship.

The music, mostly songs by Lennon are apt for the certain scenes but ones actually concerning Collins as a movie character are a journey too. His style in the opening concert is rock and roll but dated like Daniel O’Donnell/Barry Manilow cheese suitable for the golden girls seen in the front row. By the time he’s changing his ways and living out of a hotel room, his first new song tinkling on the piano is gentle, poetic and beautiful. It also serves as a great musical cinematic tool of gripping the audience in a decision needed to be made by Collins.

Al Pacino is in fine form as the prominent figure, he moves about with hammy actions but has a cheeky grin and investing flirty manner that sucks you in. He can deliver those necessary flecks of worry and emotion too though, so it is a fantastic performance, one that is needed for Pacino’s run of latest films. Annette Bening soars as the fun and quick-witted partner of Pacino’s flirting. She also has the wonder of being a love interest without giving too much away and being easy to get. Jennifer Garner is the soft yet cool pregnant daughter in law and has sharp moments when first meeting Danny. Bobby Cannavale brings back ‘Boardwalk Empire’ levels of acting talent to his role as unsure Tom. The way he wants to do right but has a devastating secret makes for a quite powerful take on the distance he wants to give to his selfish father.

A fine watch with a winning set of performances. It’s a film that does light hearted fun well and then goes on a turn to serious redemption factors that can become heavy handed but still hold you in the palm of its hand like a Baby Doll singing Danny Collins.

7/10

Home (2015)

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DreamWorks has a very uneven record, reveling in the swamp with Shrek and flying high with Hiccup and Toothless to racing snails and talking bees, it can’t be denied that they’re good animators and have peaks but ‘Home’ is not one of those. Catering much more so for the very young children of its audience, this movie fails to be stand out or impressive.

Doing what they do best, the Boov race escape the Gorgs to settle on the planet Earth. Once there, their leader Smek (Steve Martin) moves the humans Down Under so his kind can live in hopeful peace on our world. Though bumbling and much disliked Oh (Jim Parsons) quickly ruins that ideal and becomes a fugitive where he runs into left behind girl Tip (Rihanna). They must put aside their opposites to save Earth and find a feeling of family.

It really is more suited towards the kids and anyone over an age of double figures would surely predict pretty much everything that happens in this film. All good family films should have something for grown ups, subtle adult jokes or clever visual gags but this feature is devoid of those qualities. Silly is the main word to describe the movie, a huge amount of slapstick drives the plot and Oh’s impact on things around him. Dumb and colourful is how to sum up the film if it was a one sentence review.

The animation itself is actually really good, the bouncing curls of Tip’s hair, the many bubbles, the destruction of Earth, the Gorg ship and the scope of this buddy narrative is large and well put across. The slushious car is inventive and fun, the popping bubbles motif to serve as flashback is neat and as mentioned it’s a very colourful film, ever changing Boov skin to the wild journey these mismatched characters go on is packed with loud palettes and rainbow like distractions for the little ones.

Idea wise, this film isn’t majorly creative, the key themes of friendship, diversity and hope are done an awful lot and this film does them well but just doesn’t do anything grandly spectacular with a plot that could have been more surprising. The characterisation of the Boov aliens are something that infuriates from the trailer alone so watching their muddled sentences and lack of human understanding over 94 minutes threatens you to take your ears off. Kids may find it funny and cute but it grows tiresome darn fast.

The music is a big part of the film, sounding like it’s attempting to go for chart success with kiddy boppers wanting to hear the poppy tunes again and again. Obviously having modern icon Rihanna in your film calls on you to utilise her vocals but it becomes an overplay of her tracks, it feels like there’s an onslaught of Ri-Ri and it gets weird when she herself as Tip puts on her own song to groove out to. Her songs aren’t as distracting as when used in ‘Wreck-it Ralph’ but maybe one less could have benefited. There’s also an alarming use of bass drop as the Gorg drone ships arrive which is a highly odd villainous whomp even by then we know better about the story. The slower side of proceedings sounds like the opening melody of Latika’s Theme from ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and it does echo as beautiful and sort of haunting to make Tip’s loneliness seem more sad.

Jim Parsons is annoying as I very well expected, he does bring awkward life to Oh, but it’s a wholly grating character that you only ever feel slight sympathy for and near the end is when you feel better for his arc. Rihanna brings the grounded side to things opposite the flair of Oh and her human nature blows apart the Boov pamphlet as she sounds confident in her delivery of what she feels as a secluded child moving to America. Tip is very very good for giving young girls a new face and role model to aspire to be and for that DreamWorks always fares better than Disney who stick to the same looking ladies time and again. Steve Martin is stupid and over the top as this leader but it works to the case of knowing he’s not all what he should be and through.

Quite average and not much in the way of being fun for all the family but it’s not awful and it’s still rather enjoyable if not predictable, annoying and a broad stroke road trip animation.

5/10

Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

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Grunge is thick in the air within this rock operatic horror film. A futuristic and sci-fi theme play their cards too as songs and blood come thick and fast. These could be pretty interesting points but it all counts for nothing in an odd and disengaging pulp cult attempt.

Organ problems and failures in repayments have paved the way for GeneCo to rise up in 2056, giving people organ replacements but if they can’t pay back then the Repo men will come after you and take them off you…alive. GeneCo is led by Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) who won’t be around much longer leaving his image obsessed offspring fighting for power. A father called Nathan Wallace (Anthony Head) connected to Rotti, is caring for his sick daughter Shilo (Alexa Vega) and soon stories bleed into one another.

Based on a 2002 musical by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, this does boast some out there ideas and grimy sounds but what on paper could have been the modern day ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ doesn’t come into action like that and feels lacking of proper story and after a while the Goth like song stylings become tiresome. The way this film adaptation takes on the plot with some neat comic book visuals is cool and reminiscent of the graphic novel methods of ‘Sin City’ but that is perhaps the only link.

Smith and Zdunich are also on duty for the music and here, some more positives can be noted. I liked the songs, or at least after some time I grew to appreciate the sounds before growing tired of them once again. The way a good many of the songs layer over one another, with different stars echoing their parts of the track onto the titles gives the rocky booms more depth. A song playing out in the run up to the opera features like the grand One Day More aspect of proceedings.

It’s obvious to see that the director and production crew are working hard to create something different and working off of the source material they do a good job in mastering something against the norm. The team have as many guts pulling this off as the amount of bodily pieces ripped from victims within the movie. The camera spiraling round choir sounding advertising towers or Gothic locations filled with mist and darkness all help give this 2008 musical a defined edge of inventive yet off putting feelings.

Anthony Head proves he has a voice for singing as well as a calm assured acting demeanor. Switching from nice to mean in flicks of a lyric, Head is a solid lead to play the shady nice guy. Alexa Vega brings along a pop sound to her vocals, the more Britney or Tay-Tay sweetness as she sings. This is done nicely and then wham, she’s joined by Joan Jett for a funky rock number where she riffs out in skimpy clothes showing the yang to her previous yin. Terrance Zdunich is one of the stand outs, as should be expected considering it’s half his baby. As the gravel toned hypnotic sounding Graverobber he steals a lot of the songs, especially in the pacy Zydrate Anatomy.  Sarah Brightman of course has the opera background to excel and does so in her small-ish role as Blind Mag. Going along with her shining and holographic eyes Brightman is like a steam punk vision of the future tainted with agonising debt. Paris Hilton isn’t even too bad in this film, playing what Hilton would be expected to play as vain surgery loving rich daughter. She can hold a tune and doesn’t act awful, in fact the acting isn’t bad in this gross out film.

Too many songs and a try hard attitude fail to ignite any musical sparks, in fact the sci-fi/musical and horror angles make the film fall flat. It’s fun in places and looks the part but apart from a brief space of enjoyable songs Repo should be repossessed for being unnerving in all the wrong ways.

4.5/10

Pitch Perfect (2012)

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Zinging with loud head bopping musical numbers, funky blends and some funny out there lines or moments, this singing comedy film follows a more than obvious set of standards in the story. Predictability of plot and the sometimes patchy in intention aside, this film is an aca-ceptable and average foray into humour and music.

Attending Barden University but really desiring to be a music producer, Beca (Anna Kendrick) takes on her father’s words to try and live the college life. She signs up for an a cappella female group – The Barden Bellas led by stuck up and traditional Aubrey (Anna Camp). Trying to get back to the competition finals the band face other college singers led by arrogant Bumper (Adam DeVine) and the threat of not seeing eye to eye as Beca wants to put her mark onto the group whilst juggling feelings for rival talent Jesse (Skylar Astin).

The look of this film is very American, the campus setting, the way it all comes together plays like a US dream of comedy tinged with that expected romantic B-plot. I do like the characteristics of Beca and Jesse, both wishing to be involved in music, differing worlds of the spectrum but both admirable and with Jesse comes a nice segway into including references to ‘Jaws’ and ‘The Breakfast Club’. This entire romance is eye roll worthy from the off as we gauge the outcome but at least it’s not rammed down our throats which is a saving grace.

The people in charge of utilising the songs for this film have done a commendable job in making past and present (at the time) tracks cool and work for the movie. Shuffling like an erratic iPod from Madonna to Miley to Simple Minds tie into the narrative nicely and are performed greatly also. Stand out musical mastery includes versions of No Diggity, Just the Way you Are and of course the toe tapping cup song, When I’m Gone. The sickly sweet repetition of the Bellas and their harmonica introduced The Sign is a funny note too in how people may deem the dweeby manner of all singing vocal groups.

It works also in stemming from the craze of a cappella fandom rocketed by the TV show ‘Glee’ and extending it into a feature and adding better doses of comedy and mash-ups. I was a massive lover of the telly show for a while before I came to realise how terrible the writing was and even though this movie is predictable the characters work and plot points run their designed course. The mash ups, inspired by Beca’s talent for DJing are punchy well orchestrated tunes and in fact really catchy so kudos.

Anna Kendrick comes along as you might expect Kendrick would but her Tony talents are put to good use as she demonstrates her impressive singing ability alongside her awkward yet assured role as Beca. Anna Camp is uptight and cringe as obsessive blonde leader of the pack, she plays it well echoing squeaky rudeness of her ‘True Blood’ days. Brittany Snow does really nicely as the attractive co-lead of the Bellas, not being the Plastic she easily could have been but showing care and harmony in her role as Chloe. Rebel Wilson is actually for me, the most irritating thing about this movie, the constant pull of the camera to her gurning or making annoying quips about things is not funny, but people seem to adore Fat Amy for some reason so she’ll no doubt have more screen time in the sequel. Hana Mae Lee is fantastic as oddball near mute Lilly, commenting on pyromania and twin eating in the quietest strangest way imaginable, the Allison basket case of this film.

Fun enough to suffice as a rainy day movie or a flick to put on with mates around while chowing down on pizza and sweets. It’s entertaining, the music is spot on and a sequel isn’t a bad idea, just not as amazing as people I know have told me it is.

5.5/10