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La La Land

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Having swept the boards at the Golden Globes and up for 14 awards at this year’s Oscars the hit musical La La Land is on a high. But will it have me singing it’s praises?

When aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) meets jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) it’s not exactly love at first sight. But as their paths keep coming back to each other they find it hard to deny their mutual attraction. But in LA where hopes and dreams are crushed daily can they keep love and ambition alive?

Just like everyone else I seemed to have fallen under the spell of La La Land. From it’s dazzling opening number on a busy highway to it’s poignant ending it’s a fine piece of filmaking by Damien Chazelle. I loved his previous work Whiplash and La La Land shows that he’s no one hit wonder. Whether it’s turning an observatory visit into a dance among the stars or a simple solo in an audition, Chazelle balances the film perfectly.

As the two young dreamers Gosling and Stone once again show off their great on-screen chemistry, and their characters’ passion for their ambitions (and each other) shines through. While they are not professional singers and dancers they admirably throw their all into the numbers and although some may prefer pitch perfect singers I would argue their rawness adds realism and vulnerability to their performances that otherwise may have been too polished.

So why if I’m praising it so much have I not awarded the film with five stars like everyone else has? Well, while I really liked the film, and some parts I absolutely love, I’m not in love with the film like all the critics seem to be. Maybe it’s a side effect of having so much hype behind it that I was expecting it to be a modern classic whereas it’s ‘just’ a really great film. Also there were moments of cliches that really bugged me such as Sebastian realising he has an important photoshoot which just happens to be on the night of Mia’s big theatre opening. Scenes like this brought me out of the moment and irritated me no end.

So close but no cigar. However if you fancy a hark back to old school Hollywood with modern sensibilities and catchy tunes (which is better City of Dreams or Audition/The Fools Who Dream? I can’t decide) then take a shot at La La Land, and see what all the fuss is about.

Rating 4/5 – while it isn’t note perfect this bittersweet musical is still a worthy awards contender

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Birdman (2014)

Actors and their egos can create strange things, and is explored in Alejandro Ganzalez Inarritu’s latest film. The director of 21 Grams and Babel leaves the intertwining, nonlinear stories for a single narrative. But does this change in direction make for an Oscar-worthy film?

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is an actor known for his role in the Birdman superhero movies. Days away from staring and directing in his own adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love on Broadway, Riggins starts to be tormented by the voice of Birdman. With extra grief coming from his recovering drug-addict daughter Sam (Emma Stone), critics out to destroy his play and the egos from his fellow actors, will Riggins play ever make it to opening night?

Two times Oscar-nominated Inarritu departs from his usual style with Birdman, and it may be one that could finally get him the Oscar trophy. Birdman is perhaps more straight forward than his other movies but that doesn’t mean he sits back and takes it easy. Birdman is shot in what is seemingly one continuous take, something used in movies such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, but it never distracts from the film or seems like a gimmick. Instead it gives the film a theatre like aspect as you are following the characters over the days in the lead up to opening night.

Inarritu has embedded his film with several accomplished actors who all gamely have the camera focused on their insecurities and egos. Even without the obvious winks to his Batman films Keaton is great. He is relishing every moment on-screen whether its roaming round New York City in his underwear or battling a half-naked Edward Norton as the fight over the spotlight. Just as Norton’s Mike threatens to steal the show from Riggan, Norton nearly steals the movie away from Keaton as the talented but destructive method theatre actor. His scenes with Stone are particularly good, as are Keaton’s with Stones, that show a bit more depth to their characters than they otherwise appear. Stone herself shows her character has more range than just the despondant daughter with daddy issues and a chip on her shoulder. Be interesting to see who is awarded with Oscar nominations on the night.

The film takes swipes at superhero movies (and their dominance over Hollywood), method actors, and critics alike. While it sometimes verges on being smug the film manages to balance this out with a dark sense of humour throughout. I’m  also not sure about the film’s final shot, and maybe the movie should have ended a bit earlier. Perhaps that’s something to reflect on in a second viewing.

Rating 4/5 – Beautifully shot and brilliantly cast, Birdman is a great Oscar front-runner

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2

I’ve always enjoyed the Spider-Man character, and despite my initial reservations I liked the 2012 reboot The Amazing Spider-Man.

Having graduated from high school Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and on/off girlfriend Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) are trying to work out their complicated love life. Meanwhile Harry Osborn, an old friend of Peter’s, is in New York with a secret of his own, and a new villain Electro (Jamie Fox) is causing problems for Spidey.

First of all this film does not fall into the trap of Spider-Man 3 and become overwhelmed by the amount of villains onscreen. Out of the film’s baddies only Rhino (Paul Giamatti) feels like he was tacked on to give the film more villains. Fox is great as Electro, a guy desperate to be seen even before his unfortunate accident. Even better is DeHaan as Harry. Given a powerful motivation for his actions its easy to get swept along in his descent into villainy. He almost steals the show away from Garfield and Stone. But not quite. This is their movie.

The strength of the Spider-Man stories has always been the relationships, whether his romantic one with Gwen Stacey, his family bond with his aunt May or even his turbulent friendship with Harry Osborne. All the relationships here are handled beautifully. Of course at the centre of all this is Peter and Gwen’s relationship. Some of the best moments of the film is them discussing their relationship and their plans for the future, whether it should be together or apart. Garfield and Stone are key to making this work on-screen. Both handling their scenes with intensity and emotion that draws the audience in and gets you rooting for them. They are both also great with comedy and dramatic scenes.

There are some aspects which are lacking in this film. The action scenes are functional but not jaw-dropping and I’m still not completely convinced the mystery about his parents is that interesting. However when a film packs an emotioanl puch as much as this one does then it barely matters.

Rating 4/5-Funny, sweet and heartbreaking good with Garfield and Stone on top form

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The Croods

I wasn’t really that keen on watching The Croods. The trailer looked ok  but I had no great desire to see it. However I went with my friend and slowly found myself charmed by this prehistoric family.

The story follows a family of cavemen headed by Grug Crood (Nicolas Cage) along with his wife, grandmother, baby daughter and eldest daughter Eep (Emma Stone). The family have managed to survive longer than their neighbours due to Grug’s strength and protectiveness. Unfortunately that means the family end up spending most of their time in a cave to the annoyance of Eep who wants a life outside the darkness. The tensions between father and daughter come to ahead when Eep meets Guy (Ryan Reynolds) and he announces the end of the world is coming. Can the Croods make it to the land of tomorrow in time?

There some lovely aspects to The Croods. First of all they are a likeable bunch with father and daughter being the most well-rounded of the characters (although the others still provide the audience with some good laughs). You can see that the father’s fear is well founded but also understand why Eep is restless and wants to explore the outside world. It’s effective writing and strong vocal performances from Nick Cage and Emma Stone that stops them becoming overbearing or bratty and instead become a funny story of a family struggling to get along during the end of the world.

What is also a delight is the animation and design in The Croods. The creatures and plants that inhabit their world are so full of bright and psychedelic colours that the film is a pleasure to watch and be dazzled with.

Ok so it doesn’t reach the dizzy heights of animated films like Toy Story or Up! While it does have its touching moments it doesn’t reach the emotional heights that those films have. But that is perhaps unfair to compare The Croods to such films which I consider among the best animation films ever (if not films in general).

I was also torn by the ending. Not that it’s bad . But for a moment I thought The Croods might be a bit daring and go off in a riskier direction to end the film. But this gets pushed aside and resolved for a happy ending. If they had maybe taken that risk it would have been a more emotionally satisfying film. That aside The Croods is a fun family film with plenty of laughs and an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half.

Rating 3.5/5-Though I had my doubts at first, I must admit The Croods have won me over and I look forward to any future sequels

 

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