Aaron Sorkin directs Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in Molly’s Game. For his first directorial venture, Sorkin choses the explosive story of ex-Olympic class skier Molly Bloom and her high stakes poker game which brought everyone from Hollywood’s who’s to the billionaire wall street players around the table..
Jessica Chastain plays Molly Bloom and the story follows her near fatal fall while skiing to when she moves to Los Angeles to take an off year before law-school. Alternating between waitressing and temping at a real-estate developer in LA Molly is invited to play hostess at an exclusive poker game. This whets her appetite for the life of high stakes poker. What follows is the meteoric rise and the subsequent dramatic fall of the “Poker Princess”. Jessica Chastain is fantastic as Molly. She seems to be the embodiment of all of Sorkin women. She is equal parts emotionally fragile and stoic, at once resentful of all the people around her and at the same time acting as a sympathetic pit-boss when her players lose big or profess love to her. There are moments when you see glimpses of Maya from Zero Dark Thirty and that is a good thing. This movie is essentially a one woman show and Jessica Chastain carries the entire movie on her lithe shoulders.
Idris Elba plays Charlie Jaffey, Molly’s lawyer. Elba is a hot-shot newyork lawyer and a former prosecutor who reluctantly agrees to take Molly’s case. Elba while possessing a great screen presence seems to struggle while enunciating his dialogues. Elba’s delivery is not best suited for the rat-a-tat-tat dialogues of a Sorkin screenplay also known as Sorkin-isms. Unfortunately Elba makes a real mess of his screen time and is nearly unbearable.
Sorkin is a phenomenal writer and has turned in some of my favourite screenplays both on television and cinema. The West Wing, The Newsroom, The Social Network, Moneyball and Steve Jobs. But none of these were directed by Sorkin, and that is where I think Sorkin needs to up his game. The script and screenplay seem to become overbearing with Chastain’s Molly essentially doing a voice-over for almost the entirety of the movie. While Chastain is a phenomenal actress, her voice over skills make the proceedings feel like a real drag. With a Sorkin script the build-up is lengthy and very wordy but the pay-offs are huge and eternally satisfying, here there is so much build up about the high stakes poker and the players involved but the payoff feels like a let-down
The big ticket item is the who’s who of Hollywood who came to play at bloom’s games and here it is an afterthought. The juiciest bits are left off the screen and the burden of carrying the story forward falls on Chastain entirely.
Mildly entertaining due to the fantastic Jessica Chastain but almost excruciating due to Idris Elba and his inability to speak clearly Molly’s Game is a Bad Beat- a subjective term for a hand in which a player with what appear to be strong cards nevertheless loses. I expected more from Sorkin’s directorial debut.
Damian 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.
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.
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
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.
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