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

Moana – A Review

Image result for moana posterDisney’s latest princess tale brings in a world of change. Moana is Disney’s first Polynesian princess and more importantly she is about as real as they get in terms of appearances. Gone are the trademark tiny waists and big eyes. Also this daughter of the chief of Motunui is no damsel in distress.

 

Featuring the vocal talents of Auli’i Caravalho as Moana and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the  demi-god Maui the story is about Moana’s quest to return the heart of island goddess Te Fiti which Maui stole and as a result of which death and darkness is spreading to Motunui. What follows is a series of adventures as Moana first seeks Maui, trying to convince him return the heart of Te Fiti, then them jointly looking for his magical fishhook that allows him to shapeshift and then them returning to Te Fiti only to be confronted by Maui’s nemesis Te Ka the Lava monster.

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Moana is bursting with Polynesian influences, the music and the dance, the myths and the legends all lend to a beautifully layered and mostly unconventional story telling as far as Disney clichés go. Maui played by The Rock is a tattoo clad haka-tribesman character. The Animation in Moana is amped up a notch beyond just the main characters. The tattoos on Maui also tell a story, they come alive, its animation within animation! It’s Anim-ception. Also the animation during the song “you’re welcome” where the 3-d animated Maui and Moana run through 2-d hand drawn animation you get a strange but pleasant surprise where visually the animated characters look real. Also in some of the scenes shot on the ocean it almost feels like the animated characters are superimposed on actual panoramic live photography of the sea.

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The vocal talents of Auli’i and Johnson are fun and never once do they get annoying. The characters of HeiHei the stupid rooster and Pua the teacup pig are cute. Moana is bursting with colour and happiness. Like in any typical Disney movie you never once doubt that the heroine will complete the task at hand but the somewhat predictable ride is made fun by stunning visuals that are full of colour and textures. Featuring the musical talents of Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina and Lin Manuel Miranda – the superstar creator of the Broadway hit Hamilton, Moana has a very unique soundtrack that still has the familiar operatic notes of the Disney staple.

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I love animated films and the simple joys they offer. But Moana is extra special. It somehow feels a little grown up and the unbridled happiness and humour that it has to offer makes it one to be revisited many times. The only film I can compare this to visually was the stunning and colourful world of Nemo that Disney created nearly a decade ago. Go with kids if you have them or just go by yourself but don’t miss Moana.

Into The Woods – A Review

Rob Marshall directs Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden and Anna Kendrick with a host of other stars in Into the Woods an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s hugely popular stage musical by the same name. The musical takes popular children’s tale of Cinderella, Rapunzel,Jack and the beanstalk, the little red riding hood and mashes them together to tell the story of the characters after the happily ever after.

James Corden and Emily Blunt play the baker and his wife who live next door to the witch Meryl Streep. The witch tells the baker and his wife that they cannot have kids because of a spell she cast on his father many years ago and that she would help them lift the spell if they help her make a potion before the blue moon. For the potion the baker and his wife must find 4 things from the different fairytale characters, cow as white as milk from Jack, a cape as red as blood from little red riding hood, hair as yellow as corn from Rapunzel and slipper of gold  from Cinderella.

The four main characters played by Blunt, Corden, Kendrick and Streep take up the most time on screen and are brilliant both individually and also together bouncing off witty, banter-y songs of each other. The opening number where the witch speaks of her garden was one of the highlights for me. Another song featuring 2 brothers, both princes, one to Cinderella and one to Rapunzel, both preening peacocks each trying to out-do the other is by far the most guffaw-inducing number of the movie. Chris Pine channels his inner Elvis and is at his charismatic best. Often I have found Pine to be too broody for my liking but here as the posturing prince charming he has perfect comic timing and the smolder to suit his princely ways.  Meryl Streep is the goddess at whose altar I pray, so it should come as no surprise that I love her in everything she does. But here as the witch she is mesmerizing both as the old ugly one and the young beautiful one as well. I saw an interview with Sondheim where he spoke of Streep being able to bring color to her singing and I wondered what he meant. But when you hear her sing “Stay With me” to Rapunzel you want to get up on your feet and give her a standing ovation as would be customary in a stage show. She is majestic and I wish she does more musicals. Kendrick sure has the pipes as does Blunt, but the standout for me once again is Daniel Huttlestone as jack who first shone bright on the screen as Gavroche in Les Miserables. He bounces around with boundless energy up and down the beanstalk trying to buy back the cow he sold to the baker.

Sondheim’s musical was much loved when it first appeared on stage some 30 years ago and admired for its witty sense of humor and intelligent songs. Bringing him onboard they have kept the essence of the original story alive and the humor carries through. However the first act is stronger than the second and it suffers a little bit due to overcrowding and trying to tie up loose ends with the stories. Having said that I wish a little more attention was paid to the beautiful Crishtine Baranski as Cinderella’s evil step mother and the story of Rapunzel and her mother the Witch been fleshed out a little more.  There is always a little more to the fairy tales than it meets the eyes and Sondheim writes that beautifully. The story of Little Red Riding Hood played by Lilla Crawford and the Wolf played by Johnny Depp ends up being a creepy story of a pedophile wolf who stalks Red. Depp chews up the scenery in the brief appearance and is brilliantly creepy as Mr Wolf. It is a story of the consequences of wishes. Each of the characters wishes for something but then when the wishes come true they are unable to come to term with the consequences of the events that unfold. They lie, steal, cheat and run from all they wished for. This is a story with many layers which are ripe for peeling away with multiple viewing. It is not a child’s version of the fairy tale but a more grown up one only if you looked closely. However having said that there is something in it for everyone, even the kids because as fairy tales themselves they are told beautifully.

This is a truly amazingly crafted movie with wonderful singing by all its stars. The production is lush and detailed and Coleen Atwood’s costume design very fairy tale worthy. This is a movie for all ages and worthy of being enjoyed in a theatre. I hope you are as lucky to have an excellent audience as I did who laughed at the right moments, clapped generously and sang along with the credits.  Take your family Into the Woods and enjoy a Musical done well.

On a side note this will be Meryl Streep’s 19th Oscar Nomination and very likely 4th Win. To those who roll their eyes at the mention of her name go watch Into the Woods and then tell me if anyone else could’ve been a better Witch, wild and erratic yet restrained and vulnerable. Take a bow Ms Streep.

Burlesque

You absolutely cannot go wrong when you have the legendary Cher (the woman doesn’t even need a second name), the pocket sized power house Christina Aguilera, The amazing Stanley Tucci, Eric “Dr. McSteamy” Dane and “dancing with the stars” Julianne Hough. With a combination like that plot, point and production values do not matter any longer. Burlesque is unashamedly, un-bashfully and unapologetically aware of that.

Burlesque is the story of the small town Iowa girl Alice “Ali” with big dreams and a voice to match. She leaves her drab life in Iowa and buys a one way ticket to Las Vegas. She lands up at a 1920s inspired burlesque club run by the tempestuous diva Tess played by the legend herself Cher! Through some unimportant situations Ali lands a job first waitressing and then as a dancer on the burlesque stage. After butting heads with the current star Nikki who through her poor choices looses favour with Tess Ali gets her big break on the stage as the leading lady. Nikki sabotages her performance by cutting off the vocal track and it falls upon the Ali to belt out a note that could stop a raging rhino in his tracks ( poor analogy I know) . From there onwards its just one big giant rhinestone covered performance after another as Ali the girls from the little town with a big voice and an equally big heart charms her way into her room mate Jack played by Cam Gigandet , to the successful business man and a gentleman Markus whose intentions aren’t clear from the beginning.

Burlesque is an art form, its cheeky its sexy it fun. Very popular in the 20s and the 40s it is again seeing a stead revival with Hollywood a-listers like Dita Von Tesse making a name for herself through this form of performance art. Even popular TV series like gossip girl’s lead characters Chuck and Blair have shown a penchant for indulging in burlesque. Fun fact: Kristen bell who plays Nikki is also the voice of Gossip Girl XOXO. Recent singers like Katy Perry who shows a little and hide a lot enticing the audience have seen their popularity hit the stratosphere.

Like I said story and direction aren’t something to write home about and neither is the production value as the movie seems to be in a time warp from the 1920s club interiors to the 1940s inspired sports car that Markus drives to the 1980 “use my phone for calling whoever, you know long distance or anything” to the 2000s girlfriends calling the cell phone to pick a fight. But what is amazing is the chemistry between the Diva Christina and the doyen Cher. Each musical number makes you (or me atleast) grin ear to ear with the sheer joy that these two bring to the screen. Two ballads one by Cher “you haven’t seen the last of me” and “bound to you” by Christina are reasons enough to see this movie. And I would pray to god that Cher meant it and that we really haven’t seen the last of her.

I love musicals and I thought that John Travolta in drag in hairspray was great ( for which a lot of my friends haven’t forgiven me ) so you shouldn’t necessarily take my advice seriously. But I mean come on this is Cher and Christina we are talking about! A GREAT movie to forget whatever crap is going on in your life and escape to the world of burlesque! I also own the Original soundtrack of the movie which makes for a very fun 3 hour drive to work on Mondays!