La La Land – a review

let's dance...

let’s dance…

A Technicolour melange of fantastical dreamlike musicality, Damien Chazelle‘s La La Land is a gorgeous, potent and moving love song to a bygone age of golden Hollywood movie-making magic and to the potential and power of human love. It will sing and dance its way into your heart before gently breaking it in a kaleidoscope of stunning imagery and foot-tapping choreography.

Electric chemistry between the two leads and a bittersweet romance swirl together to make Chazelle’s second feature just as awe inspiring as his first (Whiplash), albeit they couldn’t be further apart in style. His debut was all restrained intensity and immaculately tight editing to emphasise the obsession of its protagonist. La La Land is as creatively bold and expansive as they come, giving form to the stratospheric highs and soul-crushing lows of romantic entanglement, launching Chazelle’s vision literally into the stars. And it’s the film’s stars who make that vision sparkle.

Ryan Gosling has long now been one of Hollywood’s leading men, combining his sex symbol status with an, often overly, understated pathos. Recently he’s taken on roles with a more comedic bent and here we get to enjoy the fruits of that process, he rails wonderfully between hapless hero and stone-cold screen icon. If Gosling is a star then Emma Stone is a burning supernova. She simply dazzles. In the dance routines both are a joy to watch but it’s Stone who steals the show, as your eyes play ping-pong between the two you’ll find yours wanting to settle on her. And her audition scene will halt your breath.

Whilst Whiplash won Oscars for editing and sound mixing, along with supporting actor, expect La La Land to pretty well clean up this year, having already broken the record for most wins at the Golden Globes and no doubt BAFTA following suit. It’s the kind of film the industry love because it’s about, well, the industry.

A uniquely realised achievement, appealing to almost every demographic out there without compromising its quality or content in any way, maybe La La Land can go to the top of that category of films that are actually good, dare it be said, original, and make a lot of money too.

Quite simply, GO AND SEE IT. And then go again.


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Passengers – a review


Have you seen my helmet…?

A beguilingly misleading trailer and marketing campaign do nothing to lift the ever-so-slightly uncomfortable feeling resulting from the plot in Passengers. By turns a slick and sweeping adventure thriller, then glitzy star-vehicle-blockbuster-fodder, then a touching but generic love story and finally a creepy moralistic ponderance, director Morten Tyldum‘s space jam is fun to watch but will leave you with some questions over its ethical tail, tucked coyly between its protagonist’s legs. Not just in terms of the story itself but how the people behind the film have coerced their ticket-buying audience, essentially lying to viewers through the trailer and posters ahead of the release to try to imply there is a twist which makes the film intriguing and worth seeing – when there is not.

Because of that retrospectively added ‘twist’ (which happens in the first half hour, so not really a twist – which conventionally comes at the end – but just the story) and because of the need to avoid doing the ‘spoiler’ thing, all that can really be said is that leading man Chris Pratt’s character, Jim, does something wholly unforgivable. We’re then expected to root for him and have him as our hero opposite Jennifer Lawrence‘s heroine, Aurora. Unfortunately, that’s just not possible because, yep, he did that unforgivable thing. It does loosely raise the question ‘would you do the same thing in the same situation?’ but then quickly forgets that it ever asked and glosses over the whole incident.

Anyway, it looks spectacular with stunning CGI, special effects and super modernist production design all lending to a compelling ‘near future’ space setting. However, this all proves largely incidental to the so-hot-right-now-uber-stars, Pratt and Lawrence, swanning around in a combination of ridiculously revealing outfits or just appearing semi-naked. Well, they are so-hot-right-now-uber-stars after all. Obviously the studio and/or filmmakers were aware of the assets at their disposal and weren’t going to miss out on the opportunity to exploit them. Shots of Jennifer Lawrence in her swimming costume and of Pratt with his arse out are sure to turn some heads but at what cost to the film’s integrity?

Well, sadly, it’s a considerable bill which gets paid by scrimping on the script and that old fashioned thing called narrative. An approach to storytelling that we will call ‘plot-lite’ allows the movie to, well, movie along. That’s not to say it’s without any creative craft or merit whatsoever, that would be unfair and also untrue. Some nice visual touches, like an homage to The Gold Room bar from ‘The Shining’, give a sense of style and elevate the isolation we’re expected to feel for our heroes. And in that bar, Michael Sheen pretty well steals the show with his nonsensical but effortlessly charismatic android bartender, giving a welcome dose of comic relief to off-set the ‘drama’. Pratt and Lawrence do their work commendably, exhibiting palpable chemistry and both showing signs of their latent abilities to do some of that there acting malarkey and carry a movie on their handsome shoulders.

The opening act shows real promise, just a shame that what it promises is to take you on a fun but somewhat dumb ride, only ever flirting with having an emotional or cerebral core but really just being a vehicle for its stars to shine and make-out in some steamy love scenes. Glimpses of some really cool Sci-Fi ideas nudge their way through the gloss, the swimming pool sequence in particular, but can’t do enough to punch through the resultant feeling that the studio just wanted something that looked good for its good-looking stars to make them some even-better-looking profit.

Visually pleasing and entertaining enough, Passengers are very much what Pratt and Lawrence are reduced to in this glitzy star vehicle. A bit of a space oddity.


Paterson – a review


we don’t have any salt, dear…

Jim Jarmusch sets his directorial brush on fire to paint a wonderfully slow burning portrait of intimate love between two distinctly different but impossibly intertwined human beings in his latest, Paterson.

Thematically not only focused on the challenges of romantic love but also probing the burden that an aspirational society can place upon its citizens and the responsibility that comes with trying to find one’s place in this ever-busy world

Feeling stuck in a small place whilst having bigger dreams is no better conveyed than in Adam Driver‘s character’s name being synonymous with the town that he inhabits. In fact, in case you miss that point, he drives a bus with it writ large on the front. He is simultaneously defined by his profession, his heritage and where he lives. They all somehow become the same thing, calling into question his identity and, more, what that is or could be. Are we defined by what we do or where we come from?

Paterson, himself, seemingly remains unsure but through his poetry he shows his creativity and yearning for something more than his small town life. He appears both deeply stationary and content whilst being sick of everything. The monotony of his daily life is punctuated only by the moments he grabs to write his poems and the interactions with his whimsical girlfriend, played with complexity and charm by Golshifteh Farahani, and her irritating dog, to which he returns home everyday. Even these moments seem confused in Paterson’s world.

We’re all so closely connected with the roles we fulfil, especially in the eyes of others – as evidenced by the question people invariably ask one another when they meet for the first time, ‘what do you do?’ – that being a bus driver becomes so entwined with the bus, and the purpose it satisfies for its passengers, that we barely see the driver as a person anymore, more just a continuation or extension of the bus itself. This affords Paterson an anonymity, allowing him to eavesdrop entirely unnoticed on his passengers, perhaps amusing, even inspiring, perhaps disgusting him, such is the intelligence behind Driver’s performance that a wry smile flickered almost imperceptibly across his large character-oozing face is ambiguous to the point of intrigue.

Subtle, elegant and verging on the mystical, Paterson delivers a wholly enjoyable movie experience within which Adam Driver‘s central performance is allowed to gently glow.