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

The Big Short – A Review

Adam McKay directs Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, and a whole host of talent in the 2008 sub-prime crisis based The Big Short based on Michael Lewis’ book.  It is taking every ounce of strength in my body to not type the entire review in ALL CAPS.  Because honestly that is the reaction I had to this movie

Sure we all know the talking points of the 2008 sub-prime crisis and there have been a few very good documentaries made on the subject as well – take the Inside Job for instance. Brilliant, factual and effective. But pass the story through the evil comedic genius mind of Adam McKay and you get that Saturday Night Live flavor to The Inside Job. So you have Margot Robbie in bath-tub sipping champagne explaining what is sub-prime, Anthony Bordain explaining CDO by means of using the bad fish in a fish stew, and Selena Gomez playing blackjack explain what a Synthetic CDO is.  It might sound patronizing but it is not. It is the opposite – it is to counter balance just how stupid the whole system is by easily breaking it down to layman terms.

The whole story starts from the point of view of Dr. Michael Burry played by Christian Bale. Burry is a glass-eyed socially awkward genius fund manager who spots a pattern in the way the mortgages are being sold and uses his fund’s 1.3 billion dollars to bet against the Housing Markets. Jared Vennett a sleazy Wall Street stereotype played by Ryan Gosling who tries to go against the grain and pitches these non—existent instruments to potential fund managers.  Step in angry at the world Steve Carell who runs a fund under Morgan Stanley. Also while Vennett is trying to sell his Swaps and meeting potential funds, one in particular turns him away from lobby where he leaves his promotional material behind which fall into the hands of garage-band fund managers Charlie and Jamie who consult with ex-Wall-Streeter Ben Rickert who is so disillusioned with the whole system that he has taken to growing his own fruits and vegetables using his piss as the fertilizer.  So you see what a crazy story McKay has woven? And know what’s crazier? Most of it is true (well except the part about Charlie and Jamie just finding a discarded promotion brochure).  Acting wise Carell and Bale are exceptional, Bale makes you uncomfortable to look at him and Carell is not the funny man he is known to be in Apatow movies. But it is easy to like them and to see how brilliant their performances are. But Ryan Gosling is perfection. His Jared Vennett is so sleazy, so wall-streety so perfectly greedy that at one point as he caresses his 47 million dollar bonus cheque he says into the camera “I never said I was the good guy”. The story could not have a better narrator than him.

The movie is interspersed with music you wouldn’t associate with what has turned out to be a serious Oscar contender. It has Gnarles Barkley’s Crazy, Kelis’ Milkshake, Metallica’s Master of Puppet, and Guns N Roses’ Sweet Child of Mine amongst many other iconic tracks. They are woven so seamlessly into the narrative that it all just works.

There are so many high points in this movie but the final one which comes when Steve Carell’s Mark Baum goes BOOM while debating Bruce Miller and the auditorium just evacuates as the figurative bomb drops on the Bear Stearns stock prices that Miller is recommending to buy. It feels cathartic.

 

This is an absurdist comedy, a dark twisted take on what was arguably one of biggest events in financial history, possibly comparable to the great depression of the 1920s but what is even more absurd is that after the great depression America went back to the basics. It didn’t cut government spending, got reforms in place and focused on job creation and built the infrastructure that lifted them out of the great depression. But here after the 2008 no arrests were made, no regulations and instead government handed over billions more of tax payers’ money to “ailing banks and institutions” which had basically self-inflicted these wounds upon themselves and didn’t even use the bailout for the intended purposes but instead gave their Managers a Golden Parachute in which to jump of a burning building while there are still countless’ other trapped inside. The movie ends on an ominous note of how in 2015 banks have started reissuing “Bespoke Tranche Opportunity” which as Baum put it sounds a lot like Dog Shit dressed as Cat Shit.

EVEN IF YOU THINK YOU KNOW EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT THE FINANCIAL CRISIS OF 2008 AND THE ENSUING AFTERMATH, EVEN IF YOU THINK ALL THESE MOVIES ARE DOOMSDAY PROPHECIES THAT NEVER EVER COME TRUE AND ARE BASICALLY BUZZKILLS YOU MUST SEE THIS MOVIE FOR IT IS A BRILLIANT PIECE OF CINEMA.

Now that I have gotten that out of my system, see this movie because Christian Bale is Brilliant.  He can do no wrong. He is one of the finest actors we have today. Steve Carell makes his transition from funny man to a serious actor with this movie; a move I was hoping would be achieved by the underwhelming Foxcatcher of last year.  Ryan Gosling as Oily and slimy as he appears to be he is a force of nature here.  Michael Lewis no holds barred book, Charles Randolph’s explosive screenplay and Adam McKay’s brilliant direction give the amazing actors a fertile ground to riff off of one another in what would be akin to a modern day Glengarry Glen Ross. BOOM!

 

The Place Beyond the Pines – A Review

With the Place beyond the Pines, Derek Cianfrance reunites with his star from his first movie (Blue Valentine) Ryan Gosling. The movie is an epic tale spanning two generations and had this movie been called Les Misérables it wouldn’t have been off as it is dark gloomy and depressing.

The story starts as Ryan Gosling’s carnival daredevil (aptly named) Handsome Luke walks from the trailer to the tent where he will be performing his motorcycle riding stunts.  Once the stunt is over we are introduced the enchanting Eva Mendes who is almost unrecognizable Romina, the waitress Luke had a one night fling a year ago which resulted in a child which Romina is bringing up with another man. This is the catalyst that compels Luke to mend his nomadic ways and we see the yearning and the longing in his eyes as he wishes to settle down and raise his son which he wasn’t even aware of. We see it in Romina’s eyes also that she longs to be with Luke but her current boyfriend provides her the stability she needs to support her mother and child.

We are also introduced to Robin played to drunken buffoon perfection by Ben Mendelsohn who becomes fast friends with Luke, offers him a place to stay and a job. It is Robin who suggests to Luke that he take to robbing banks to support his child. Luke’s daredevilry comes in handy as he uses his motorcycling abilities to escape with the loot. Luke wants to go big after a few small heists and wants to rob 2 banks one after the other and Robin backs out. This is where Luke runs into the rookie cop Avery played by Bradley Cooper. Giving up what transpires between the two would be to spoil the shock factor of the movie so I won’t but suffice to say that there is a very intense chase sequence which also shows that Cianfrance has an eye for the visual artistry as well.

From here on the plot meanders a bit with and the pacing of the narrative slows down considerably. Things become more miserable for all involved to the point that the beautiful sweeping sunrises and sunsets shot exquisitely by Sean Bobbit seem to be mocking the characters deeply entrenched in their gloom.  The atmosphere becomes so excruciatingly suffocating that you feel the characters hopelessness and despair.

The final act of the film involves the sons of both Avery and Luke and how their paths cross and how they learn how their pasts and paths are interlinked. Dane DeHaan who plays Luke’s teenaged son shows why is being touted as one of the upcoming young actors to watch out for. Ray Liota plays the dirty cop like no one in Hollywood can.

The choice of music is curious and at times jarring and at times oddly amusing especially when Ryan Gosling dancing with a puppy to a Hall and Oats song.  The story co-written by Derek Cianfrance is not the easiest story to sit through, there is a lot of sorry and tragedy and at times the narrative seems to wander around aimlessly. Till the final 10 minutes of the movie I was beginning to get frustrated as I couldn’t see a way how Cianfrance would take this story to any conclusion let alone one that I could consider as a “happy ending”.  But he does manage to pull everything together to some extent and finish on what could possibly be deemed as a happier ending than any of the scenarios I saw the movie heading towards.

It is a hard movie to recommend but I find it just as hard to ask people to stay away from it . Derek Cianfrance is a director to watch out for, Eva Mendes is the best she’s been and Bradley Cooper is solid as the rookie cop. Ryan Gosling has had my attention front and center since Lars and the real girl and is one actor I’d watch in absolutely anything (Crazy Stupid Love!!!).  Watch this movie but brace yourself to being pulled into the character’s tragedy.