La La Land – A Review

Image result for la la land posterDamian Chazelle directs Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land. The musical about Hollywood and all the dreamers and believers that inhabit this world. With the talent like Chazelle who took Hollywood by storm on the drummer biopic Whiplash in 2014 and America’s sweetheart Emma Stone and Canadian good guy Ryan Gosling this is deservedly one of the most hotly anticipated movies and darling of the awards circuit.

 

The story starts with a song and a dance as any musical worth its salt should but its not wham in your face but a very subdued number the loudness is only in the colourful outfits the various performers wear. It turns the most dreaded of gridlocks on the LA freeway into a thing of beauty and joy. We are introduced to our leads Mia played by Stone and Sebastian played by gosling as two characters stuck in the same jam where Mia is practicing for an upcoming audition while stuck in traffic when Seb honks at her rudely for not moving and they carry on with their individual story tracks. The way Chazelle masterfully overlays the two tracks which seemingly parallel still cross each other’s paths.

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Emma Stone really brings it as a struggling actress/barista and you can her craft in the various auditions she goes for, only to be met by disinterested casting directors who keep shoving rejections in her face. Ryan Gosling brings the slow burn with his passionate jazz musician act who has savings swindled by a conman who promises to help him buy the iconic Van Beek café. There is an almost Woody Allen like banter that goes for a good part of the character’s meeting and falling in love with one another but unlike Allen’s movies this isn’t self-indulgent or self-aware this is more in the moment with two people brimming with passion finding someone who understands them. This is where the movie really shines.

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Mia encourages Seb to focus on his passion and helps him conceptualise what his Jazz club would look like and the menu it would serve. Seb on the other hand encourages Mia to write and direct a one woman play which he is sure will be brilliant and will give Mia the break she is looking for. How things pan out from there is best viewed on screen than written down. We see dreams being crushed, passions forgotten in the light of fame and money and the dreamers drift apart. The final sequence where they replay the entire movie in the idealistic scenario is sublime. It is the perfect bitter-sweet end to the entire proceeding

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The camera work by Linus Sandgreen manages to capture the leads and the city of Los Angeles in the best possible light. While atmospheric and close up for most part the camerawork never once gets claustrophobic. The music by Justin Hurwitz and the original songs are all fantastic. The costume design by Mary Zophres with the retro realistic trappings of the cutest dresses and the perfect skinny tie elevate this from being an ordinary musical. The choreography reminds of the era of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It’s just all around happiness and the canary yellow dress seems to be the perfect embodiment of the same.

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As a musical this may not be for everyone and the ending might seem a bit too sweet but I couldn’t fault it even if I tried. I found absolutely everything about this to be perfection. The actors themselves are perfectly cast in their individual roles. And as Mia says in the movie People love what other people are passionate about. And with Damien Chazelle’s passion for telling simple stories through an emphasis on music, what’s not to love! Do not miss it

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – A Review

Alejandro Inarritu directs Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton and Naomi Watts in Birdman or The unexpected virtue of ignorance set in the world of New York’s Broadway theatre and tells the story of a washed up actor in a Mise en abyme setting.

Riggan Thompson played by Michael Keaton is a once-famous actor known for his starring role as the Birdman-the superhero in 3 movies. Long gone are the days of box office successes and adoring masses and Riggan finds himself irrelevant and artistically unsatisfied and decides to adapt a well-known and much respected playwright’s show for Broadway which needs him to find a suitable actor to fill the playbill after the current actor is injured in an accident while on set which Riggan believes was caused by him. In walks Edward Norton’s Mike a much loved theatre darling with a raging ego and a surety in his craft which seems to threaten Riggan. What enfolds is the backstage and preview shenanigans as Riggan tries to put together a show which a part of him says will resurrect him in the world of performing arts while the other voice nags at the back of his head. The cast is supported by Naomi Watts who plays Mike’s wife/partner and Andrea Riseborough who plays Laura Riggan’s girlfriend and co-actor. Emma Stone plays Sam, Riggan’s daughter and Zack Galifianakis who plays Jake Riggan’s lawyer and backer of the show, these two play a very understated but crucial supporting role which keeps this story moving forwards.

I had a major challenge with Innaritu’s Babel and found it to be an incoherent mess with a background score that was at odds with the story telling. Here too Innaritu seems to be working at a schizophrenic pace and creates an atmosphere that is so claustrophobic that it almost becomes too much to bear but then as the story starts taking shape and things start becoming a little clearer you start to appreciate the atmosphere and the almost off-beat drum score which seems to be reflecting Riggan’s state of mind and it comes together in sync only towards the end when Riggan delivers the climax at the end of his opening night. Michael Keaton is brilliant as is Edward Norton, their back and forth and their uninhibited exhibitionist portrayal of the insecurities, the vanities and the delusions that make up an actor is what carries the film. The Birdman alter-ego sequences are a genuine suspension of belief as you question yourself what the hell is actually going on and Innaritu doesn’t dumb it down for the audience to make them realize that Riggan isn’t telekinetic but plain delusional.

There is however a problem of pacing as the initial preview pieces take way too long to establish the plot points that they need to and it takes forever for the story to pick up steam, and for a movie under 2 hours it is criminal. But this is easily overcome by the dark humor and the brilliant commentary on the state of the movies today. A number of important arguments are made in the due course of natural conversations between the characters, the most relevant ones are about the cultural genocide where everything is driven by the superhero franchises and the big weekend opening numbers and the conversation that Sam has with Riggan who seems to be holding onto a romantic’s notion of what it means to be culturally relevant and to scoff at social media without understanding the power it provides and the need for its existence. It is here that the movie really succeeds. Emanuel Lubeziski’s work behind the camera is frenetic and filled with the same anxious energy that Riggan seems to possess and it takes you in to the actor’s headspace and the way he utilizes every nook and cranny of the St. James theatre it just opens up the world that exists both front and back of the stage.

Watch this movie if you want to get an insight into what drives actors, the big stars and the burnt out ones alike. What it for an incredible and unrelenting 2nd and 3rd act where Michael Keaton, Emma Stone and Edward Norton all shine bright and luminous. Michael Keaton just moved to the top of my list of actors who should take home the gold on 22nd February.

The Amazing Spider-man 2 – A Review

Marc Webb directs Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in their second outing as the masked crusader Spider-man in the Amazing Spider-man 2.  The problems which plagued an otherwise fun first movie are addressed here with the introduction of Electro as the main antagonist to Garfield’s Spidey. However Webb now has a problem of plenty with the introduction of Harry Osborne AKA The Green Goblin and also the much rumored Rhino.

I have been a champion for Webb’s work after falling head over heels in love with his directorial debut 500 hundred days of summer. I even loved his first outing directing The Amazing Spiderman which a lot of critics outright panned. But here my feelings for both Webb and the Web-crawler aren’t as strongly positive and that has a lot to do with the story telling. Ever since Nolan directed the Dark Knight trilogy he reshaped the superhero genre with a greater emphasis on story telling than on the razzle dazzle and that is squarely where the movie fails – that and the editing.

The movie feels like 2-3 different movies which Webb was juggling with and the end result is a half-baked effort which sees neither to conclusion. There is the usual tongue-in-cheek Spiderman dry wit, then there is the electro-funk music and explosions extravaganza that is more befitting a Bay or a Snyder and then there is the mopey-weepy rom-com Spiderman more suited to Raimi’s third outing.

Andrew Garfield is still strong as both Peter Parker and Spider-man and gives very little to complain about. My problems lie with Webb’s injudicious use of Garfield on the screen – sometimes there isn’t enough of him on the screen and at times there is perhaps a little too much. Emma Stone makes me go Jim Carrey once more – I mean can she do no wrong? As Gwen Stacey she is funny, witty, charming, and disarming with those big blue eyes and that laugh and those bangs and that cute little nose of hers… wait what were we talking of again? Oh yes the movie – she is brilliant.

Jamie Foxx as electro is ineffective if you ask me – he brings nothing special to the screen in either his Max Dillon or Electro avatar and is mostly over the top. even the writers attempt at giving electro a backstory is merely an unnecessary distraction.  Sally Fields who had reigned in the histrionics she is so known for lets them loose here and is mostly cloyingly annoying. The revelation for me however is Dane DeHann who as Harry Osborne channels the young Leonardo DiCaprio from Romeo+Juliet and The Beach and is talent to watch out for in coming years. I had mentioned about his striking resemblance in the Place beyond the Pines.

Hans Zimmer and the Magnificent Six (that sounds like a superhero tag team to me) including Pharrell Williams provide the background and music. Zimmer’s work is always fantastic for me and here too he does quite well but the whole electro vibe does tend to go overboard at times. The songs are lovely too but this somehow doesn’t feel like the movie for it. Perhaps Webb goes back to doing something similar to 500 days of summer again and treats us to some magnificent music.

To be honest the superhero fatigue is starting to show and it is about time someone reinvents the genre again. I have my hopes in Singer and his X-men but only time will tell. As for The Amazing Spiderman 2 watch it for Emma Stone. And also for Andrew Garfield who still is a better Spiderman than Tobey Maguire ever was. And if you are a fan of the comic books I am pretty sure there were some massive easter eggs left in there towards the end to figure out what is to happen in 2015.