Wednesday, 25 January 2017

'La La Land' Review (2016): No School Like The Old School

G.O.A.T: As much as I hate to say it, I'm giving this rating to La La Land because...well I went from being bored by it to immediately wanting to rewatch it. That's a feat.
With 14 Academy Award nominations to its name, it’s hard not to walk into ‘La La Land’ affected by the hype. That hasn’t happened since Jack and Rose sailed the ocean. To Celine Dion no less. La La Land also features a love story between a red headed woman and a dirty blond man. Although this movie has a little more singing than ‘Titanic’. Impertinent perceptions aside, it’s still almost impossible to review a movie which is already being lauded as the very best of last year.

Yet, this is a review for La La Land. A movie which makes no apologies for what it is. A musical. Within the first 5 minutes of the film, ‘La La Land’ explodes into the first of many heavily choreographed song and dance numbers. I was technically impressed by these scenes. Marveled at them. I was also wholly bored by them. Sure I appreciated how much work it took to film. Especially when La La Land uses so many moving steady shots to showcase its performances. Still, I remained unmoved.

"I mean we can just watch 'Whiplash' again right?"

It wasn’t until about 20 minutes in that I could see what people had been talking about. Something about Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling tap dancing won me over to the point where the film had me grinning from ear to ear as it went on. Those stars play the lead roles in this film. He’s a musician. She’s an actress. After the film pairs them up and kick starts their love story, the investment I was searching for just fell into place.

‘La La Land’ has a very well done romance story. At times, you’ll be able to tell exactly where it’s going. The other times you won’t care about that. You’ll be too busy being swept up in the emotion of the characters. Hard not to when Ryan Gosling literally sweeps Emma Stone off her feet. The other love story is for the past, with its classical style reflected in its old soul characters. It's very hard not to feel the chemistry between the two, but at this point, if the co-stars didn't have chemistry, they should just quit acting altogether.

The third and the best time the two have been paired together. Maybe it's not the best. I really haven't seen 'Crazy Stupid Love' or 'Gangster Squad'.
There are so many references to classic films and jazz musicians. Clearly, Damian Chazelle's love for the arts has continued from his work in 'Whiplash'. But whereas 'Whiplash' was a deconstruction of that love, 'La La Land' is a celebration of it. The film wants to be a traditional musical. It knows the old days aren't coming back, but it still wants to hold on just a little bit longer.

The singing voices in 'La La Land' aren't the strongest. Then again, I've never been blown away by strong vocal talent, so that wasn't an issue for me. I suppose the movie worked because it appealed to so much of what I look for. The set pieces are filmed with whimsical gravitas, with such dynamic energy, it feels as though the camera has a life of its own. It's the exact opposite of the rigidity Chazelle displayed in 'Whiplash.

Currently, on my shortlist for best working directors today. 

When I wasn’t charmed by the characters, I was transported by the film’s playfulness. The camera bobs and weaves around like a jazz instrument. It’s not content to simply film the content, it has to react to it as well. ‘La La Land’ is one of those movies that is relentlessly good. I highly recommend it. It just might be one of the greatest of all time.

Rating: G.O.A.T

Saturday, 21 January 2017

'Monster Trucks' (2017) Review: Must Be 10 Years or Younger To Enjoy.

Catch It On Cable: Kids will love it. Parents will tolerate it. There's worse out there but also so much better. 

My dad once told me how much he suffered as a parent. Being forced to watch every inane piece of material that captured the attention of my easily swayed mind. Put a superhero in it. A robot. Anything with an explosion kept me happy. There's no two ways about it. I liked some stupid stuff as a kid. Sure there was the occasional Pixar movie. A cut above the usual drivel, and a saving grace for my parents who had endured enough fart jokes for a lifetime. 'Monster Trucks' is very much not that saving grace. 

The title ‘Monster Trucks’ doesn’t inspire confidence. As I sat in an empty cinema, that inspiration dwindled further. Still, ‘Monster Trucks’ is one of the only big releases these days not based on something else. So there’s that. It follows the story of Tripp, a small town boy, with big dreams. Those dreams seem within grasp, when an oil drilling gone bad unleashes an unknown subterranean species. A monster he names Creech that has the unique ability to make his truck go really fast.

Not that fast. Actually just mildly faster than your average truck.
‘Monster Trucks’ is every movie where a kid finds a friend in a mythical creature. Something seen recently in the remake of ‘Pete’s Dragon’. Whereas that film was a familiar breath of fresh air, ‘Monster Trucks’ is more or less unremarkable. As unremarkable as a movie of this kind gets. At the very least it moves at a brisk enough pace, which is a Godsend considering its 1 hour and 45 minute run time.

I did enjoy the latter part of ‘Monster Trucks’. That’s when it’s more action and less character. The main character Tripp is at best annoying, and at worst, a bore. So as the movie goes on, and embraces its premise, it becomes exponentially more enjoyable. Delivering on its ridiculous title. There’s a glee to a movie that doesn’t try to be anything more than it is.

The poster child of the unabashedly shameless.
That carefree nature is the movies best quality and its worst feature. Even the world feels thin. There's a clear environmentalist message that's designed to get kids to care about wildlife the way Tripp cares about Creech. That's fine and all but the impact is lost when the big villain is Rob Lowe doing his best Texan oil tycoon impression.

Unfortunately nowhere near as good as his DirectTv personas.

Then there's Tripp. Not only is he bland but it's yet another instance of someone well into adulthood passing off as a high school student. Poorly. Most times this doesn't bother me. I bought Andrew Garfield as a skateboarding ne'r do well. I can suspend the disbelief. The problem is, the very first shot of Tripp is on a school bus, filled with teeny tiny age appropriate high school kids. Tripp looks like a giant in comparison. Then again, being abnormally tall kind of works if he builds a relationship with a monster.

‘Monster Trucks’ feels like it was tailor made for boys under ten everywhere. Boys like monsters. Boys like trucks. At least that’s what the thinking is for a studio executive. With that being said, this definitely feels like a film I would’ve thoroughly enjoyed at that age. So really, there’s two ratings to be given. For a kid, it’s definitely a big screen watch. For the moms and dads paying for the ticket? It’s only worth maybe catching on cable. At least that way you can feel like a kid again, free of cost.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

'Hacksaw Ridge' (2016) Review: A Movie For Everyone, and For No One.

Big Screen Watch: Worth the price of admission and should really be seen in a dark theatre on the big screen.
The world has no shortage of war films. Additionally there is no shortage of world war II films. Yet ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is just that. A World War II film that in fact, has a story worth telling. I suppose one more couldn’t hurt. The story is of US army medic Desmond Doss. A trained soldier, who believes in the fight against Nazi Germany, but he only has one condition. No guns.

Guns are bad, M'kay?

Immediately that sounds a little more than problematic on the battlefield. It’s what makes ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ such a compelling story. Desmond believes no man should take the life of another, as intended by God. A gun is built for just that. A killing machine. The movie spends a great part of its run-time watching Desmond defend his beliefs to his superiors. Suffering the contempt of his fellow soldiers in the process.

The brilliance in ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is its brutality. At the very first scene there are shots of men with flaming sleeves, running in terror. Screaming. When a soldier is shot, the camera picks up every gory detail. The movie immerses you in the horrific details, that prompted a few in the audience to turn away. I can’t think of a better way to convince you of the main character’s conviction. You feel the same way about violence as he does by the end of the movie. It's the Battlefield 1 of movies.

Great game if you want to never play a war game again.
Unfortunately the film isn’t always that subtextual. There are several points that feel inauthentic. The type of dramatization peppered in to make a true story more like a movie. These moments weren’t bad, they just didn’t feel earned. They made the characters feel fake, when they’d felt so real. More often than not though it hits the mark, with those points disrupting the illusion, only momentarily.

The message of Hacksaw of course depends on you. You could apply it to any plight that you feel in your heart of hearts. I did get the feeling however that 'Hacksaw Ridge' was a movie for people who'd felt like their religious views had come under attack in recent years. Particularly those shopkeepers and cake makers refusing to cater a gay wedding. Then again, it goes to the other side as well, with a movie for those that are anti-gun. Somehow 'Hacksaw Ridge' is a movie where bleeding heart liberals, and gun toting conservatives are both the hero and the villain, so it's for everyone and no one. Who would make such a divisive movie?

Leading the cast is Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss himself. He's perfect for the childlike innocence that Doss carries, and switches on the humility when it's time to show his respect for human life. The most inspired casting of 'Hacksaw Ridge', comes with Nathaniel Buzolic. He play's Hal Doss, Desmond's brother, which is fitting because I'm now convinced Buzolic and Garfield are in fact related. The same squinty eyes, bushy eyebrows and extended jaw. This is the most inspired familial casting since Ice Cube hired his son to play himself.

It's uncanny.
Credit to Vince Vaughn as well. He plays the drill sergeant that suffers the inconvenience of a soldier who won't handle a rifle. I give credit because often times for an actor like Vaughn, it can be a distraction to have them play so against type. Initially I expected to see his particular brand of improv, but instead, he sold me on his performance. I took him seriously the entire way through.

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is a movie for anyone who has felt outcast. It captures the feeling of having to defend your values, and standing by your convictions. Looking left, when everyone is telling you to look right. It’s brutal. Tense. Even frightening at points. It’s best moments are its realism, as it sells you on a story that seems impossible. Though it dips into moments of dramatic fantasy, it doesn’t take away from the whole, satisfying picture. One you should see on the big screen.

Rating: Big Screen Watch

Saturday, 7 January 2017

'Fences' Review (2016): Denzel Washington Plays Your Mean Dad

Big Screen Watch: Definitely worth your time and money. The story is relatable and the characters are real
After weeks of the holiday season, going from house to house and being surrounded by loved ones, ‘Fences’ comes along with a reminder of the dark side of family. Based on the 1983 play of the same name, ‘Fences’ takes place in 1950s Pittsburgh and follows the Maxson family, and the conflict that comes with raising a family, and the struggles of coming to terms with the life you ended up living.

‘Fences’ does this through a series of conversations between the family members. Most palpable are those between father Troy Maxson, played by Denzel Washington, and son Cory, played by Jovan Adepo. The family drama that’s presented feels all too familiar, with scenarios I’m sure will resonate. Even as the film veers into its more dramatic elements, it still feels like a story that many people have already been a part of.

Finally, the role Denzel was born to play. Everyone's asshole dad. 
Where ‘Fences’ soars is in the undoubtedly stellar performances of its cast. Everyone delivers the letter above A game. Every micro expression feels thought out, and as big of a presence Washington has, he still has to contend with the scene stealing antics of Viola Davis, who more than gives him a run for his money. If anything he can blame his double role as both director and actor.

What I found most interesting about 'Fences' is it's use of silence. There's hardly any score, and the films biggest emotional moments are met with a chilling quiet. The performances then, stand on their own. Every speech rests on the raw intensity of the actor giving it. There's no musical cue manipulating your emotions, and nor is it needed. It also encapsulates the deafening silence in the room when family conversations go from being cordial, to so tense, the knife breaks.

Pictured Above: Last Christmas at my house.
Underneath those performances is of course the screenplay, which contains every bit of biting dialogue and naturalistic flow the original is known for. It’s from this script that the actors get to showcase the meaningful life lessons that the characters face. The dialogue presents questions like what it means to be a grown man. A grown woman. A child growing up. These questions are never completely answered, but instead brought to their natural conclusion as the complex ideas that they are.

The dialogue is delivered at a damn near Sorkin-esque frequency. The actors bounce words off each other like poignant ping pong balls. The words are only there for a moment, but the impact of them is always felt. Ever syllable uttered by the cast feels calculated to bring across everything it can, yet is done so effortlessly to feel natural. I can't imagine a better outcome for a movie like 'Fences', which is so reliant on the conversations between the characters.

Perhaps the biggest drawback from ‘Fences’ is that it somewhat falters as an adaptation. The film takes place in the Maxsoms’ backyard, kitchen and living room area, but each of these feel distinctly like, well, sets in a play. The actors feel as though they’re entering scene left, and exiting scene right. Despite this, I was still able to maintain my immersion in the plight of these characters, and was affected by their pain. It’s hard not to with a script so good, and performances so convincing.