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

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Bombay Velvet – A Review

Anurag Kashyap directs Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Karan Johar in Bombay Velvet, a film noir entailing the nascent days of creation of India’s financial capital. A much anticipated movie given the talent attached and the likes of Thelma Schoonmaker ( Scorsese’s preferred editor) Bombay Velvet has a lot of hype thanks to Kashyap and Johar’s media savvy and a lot hope to revive the floundering career of Ranbir Kapoor, Bollywood’s best actor who has sort of fallen off the wagon.

Anushka Sharma plays Rosie Noronah a goa-born jazz singer who comes to Mumbai hoping to make a name for herself as a singer. Ranbir Kapoor plays Johnny Balraj a small-time crook who dreams of dying as a big-shot and moon-lights as a street fighter to sort out his anger issues. Karan Johar plays Kaizad Khambatta a mobster who wants a piece of the pie in the transformation of the 7 islands to the metropolitan city that Bombay would come to be. With these ambitions driving the lead characters this ought to have been a stylized and cathartic look at the DNA that embodies Mumbai even today. But poor character development and appallingly bad screenplay, movie ends up being more style than substance.

Kashyap seems to have been too busy in the lush production designs aimed at recreating the 60s period look than any attempt at compelling story telling. And even the period recreation seems to rely a little too heavily on the Hollywood version of the 20s and 30s prohibition era inspired movies that romanticised gangsters than a realistic representation of Bombay of the 60s. The movie is supposedly inspired by real-life events fictionalised for dramatic flair. Even the closing credits tell us of Rosie’s fate post the events of the movie and it seems to me that Kashyap, Vasan Bala and Gyan Prakash Thyani relied too heavily on the fading memory of a septuagenarian to ever be in any position to tell a coherent story. Story arcs take off and veer into nothingness. Take for instance Jimmy Mistry the editor of Glitz Newspaper a left-leaning mouthpiece aimed at exposing the corrupt nexus at the base of the Bombay redevelopment plan. He is a major player in the first half of the movie and in the second half – Nothing! Even the actions of its lead pair seem to be hare-brained, they are in love one moment, scheming the next and back in love immediately afterwards. Also Karan Johar who plays a supposedly closeted mobster spouts “tumne usme aisa kya dekha jo mujme nahi hai” out of nowhere and it all just starts feeling like an elaborate joke. The acting is atrocious and the dialogue delivery flat. Ranbir who usually is able to make every character relatable seems to be phoning it in with his crook with a heart of gold act. His character is poorly written and he does nothing spectacular to salvage it. Anushka Sharma continues her transformation into a human babushka doll resembling more and more like Kim Kardashian in appearance and talent. Karan Johar who make his acting debut (DDLJ notwithstanding) and it might join the list of shortest acting career ever. He might be a good director-producer but an actor he is certainly not.

Besides the main lead the supporting cast is poorly cast. For a role as significant as Jimmy Mistry’s the casting of Manish Chaudhary is baffling as he brings nothing to the character. Kay Kay Menon is wasted as detective/inspector. Mastermind’s Siddhartha Basu as Bombay Mayor Romil Mehta is the stereotypical corrupt politician and he does nothing to elevate his performance. Vivaan Shah as the chauffer Tony is just a pitiful waste of space that honestly serves no purpose. The only character who seems to have anything invested in this movie is Satyadeep Mishra who plays Johnny’s sidekick Chiman. He has a sense of gravitas and plays the devil’s advocate to Ranbir’s Johnny.

Amit Trivedi’s music outside of the movie induces nostalgia to the days of Geeta Bali and other such elusive chanteuses. But the background score often overwhelms the scenery and becomes an overbearing distraction. Niharika Khan’s costume work on Anushka’s stage outfits is staggering and it creates for some stunning shots. But at the same time the costume work overall is pretty inconsistent. Take for instance the police, the commissioner is in khaki, Kay Kay Menon in short sleeve shirts and a hat and sub-inspector in all whites. It is nuances like these that are missing which takes the audience out of the equation and you end up not caring about the going-ons on the screen. 

Prerna Saigal a first time film editor who collaborated with Thelma Schoonmaker seems to have failed in her duty as an editor as the film’s two and half hour runtime seems far too bloated for its own good. Perhaps it was the poor story and screenplay which did her in but even as an editor there was room to salvage this from becoming an unbearable monstrosity it ended up as. I very nearly walked out at interval because the first half was so life-draining. The first few scenes of the second half gave me hope but then nothing. Characters of no significance were introduced in important scenes and then disposed of just as unintelligently. Also clearly sensing the stagnancy and impotence of the story telling the director introduces a stand-up comic who cracks unfunny chewed up jokes in order to further the story telling in a last ditch effort. alas that effort also falls flat.

Overall Bombay velvet seems life a self-indulgent exercise in film making that fails on every account. Inconsistent writing, uninspired direction and insipid acting leave a lot to be desired. It has been a very long time that I was this bored in cinema. Venture at your own peril.

P.S.: Last year I saw a preview of  Tom Hardy’s Legend that comes out later this year – the version we saw was unfinished with effects yet to be finalised and editing. that was based on a realy life story of the twin gangsters who rules the London of the 60s and that unfinished movie was way more fun than the bore-fest that was Bombay velvet.

Blue Jasmine – A Review

Woody Allen directs Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine a story of a rich socialite wife whose life quickly unravels after her husband is arrested by the feds for financial frauds and then kills himself.

Woody Allen for me is a dichotomy for me – he is one of the most prolific directors with over 70 movies in his 49 years of film making who writes apparently the most amazing women-centric roles that the who’s who of Hollywood vie for desperately.  While accepting the Cecil b demile award for woody Diane Keaton waxed eloquent about how great woody is and even the amazing Cate Blanchett apparently waited for the call from woody. Despite all of this I cannot stand his movies. I found midnight in Paris to be an atrocious self-indulgent mess of a movie. I have never been able to enjoy a woody Allen movie and it is not because I do not enjoy neurotic, wordy, witty screenplay – I enjoy that kind the most. Take Aaron Sorkin, Scorsese or even Tarantino for that matter I enjoy all their wordy banter immensely but Allen’s not so much.

Much like most of his other movies here too the screenplay seems to want to be a lot more than it really is. With the alternating timeline story telling Allen tries to give us a sneak peek into the like of Jasmine French then and now with a wealthy socialite wife who has fallen on hard times and is Xanax popping jazz referencing ticking time bomb of a psychiatric nutjob.  The movie is shot beautifully with a soft goldenish hue to every scene and it is only enhanced when the camera zooms in on the visage of Blanchett who is unraveling before our very eyes as she alternately pops vodka and pills.

Off the cast Blanchett is Fantastic as she is known to be and here in the challenging role of alternating between a vapid New York socialite and a down on her luck widow who loses everything and moves in with her sister in San Francisco. Blanchett really digs her heels in this role and it is one of her best performances. No one quite does a breakdown like Blanchett does and it takes me back to the days of the amazing “Notes on a scandal” where she facing a very public breakdown orchestrated by the equally brilliant Dame Judi Dench. Here too she is ably supported by Sally Hawkins who specializes in these sorts of roles where she plays the women without much but still making the most of her life. Alec Baldwin in a brief role as Jasmine’s husband leaves a lasting impression.

The problem I have with Allen’s stories is that they are simple tales that need to be told simply but he tends to drag out the stories a tad too long and with an unsatisfying end. However that being said Blue Jasmine is probably my favorite Woody Allen movie that I have seen and most of it is due to the beautiful and talented Miss Blanchett.  Also the background score with the jazz notes is a little more satisfying this time around than most of the other times that I have heard the familiar strands being played in Allen’s movies.  “Blue Moon was the song that was playing when Hal swept me off my feet…. “I love it every time Blanchett says that line with such conviction that you believe her neurosis.

Watch it for what is possibly the Oscar winning role for Cate Blanchett and what it because even with his faults Allen is still one of the most prolific director who if for nothing else is a gift to MAN-kind for continually casting beautiful women in starring roles with stories that are written around them.