Movies – La La Land Review (or ‘Worthy of the Hype?’)

January 29, 2017

“I’m probably the only woman here who has been dragged along by their boyfriend”, said my girlfriend as the title card for La La Land came on to the big screen today.

She wasn’t keen to see it, and as it turned out did not enjoy it. But then she doesn’t like musicals.

Neither do I really, although not as strongly as her. Sure, I enjoy Disney movies like The Lion King, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast that have songs throughout them, but if you were lalato ask me to sit down and watch a Fred Astaire musical or something of that ilk, I’d make my excuses and leave.

So why did I want to go to La La Land?

For one thing, everyone’s been raving about it, and even though it’s Oscar season and people tend to rave about movies that are in fact overly-worthy piles of self-important pish, the sheer amount of praise meant that I felt I had to give it a chance.

For another thing, Whiplash is one of the best movies I’ve seen since I started this blog, and seeing as it’s from the same director – Damien Chazelle – I suspected I’d like it.

So did I?

To an extent, yes, I thought it was fun, but there were elements to it that I didn’t think were all that good, and ironically those are some of the parts that have made it stand out to other people.

Or to put it another way, I didn’t like some of the songs.

The opening song on the freeway near LA was a bit cringey and the number about standing out from the crowd had me on the ropes thinking “Have I got to put up with two hours of this?”. Those types of set plays are just not for me, and neither was the musical style within them.

Eventually though, La La Land settled down into a proper story about two people – well performed as they were by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone –  trying to make their own pathways in the entertainment industry. It was good; it held up well and kept me entertained. The music improved too, with the piano stuff and the later songs – especially the one towards the end when she was in for her audition – being much more my type of thing.

It also looked nice, with the director making great use of colour in his shots. It’s one of these movies where the quality of the director and his vision makes a difference to what you’re seeing. In a world where bland CGI tends to rule, this was a welcome relief.

Finally, I thought the ending was refreshingly different. Without spoiling it for you if you’ve yet to see it, it’s not how this type of film would traditionally end.

So on the whole, I liked La La Land enough to understand why it’s been getting hyped up so much. Some of it just wasn’t to my tastes, but there’s no doubt it’s good for what it is.

If you like that sort of thing, go and see it. If you’re like my girlfriend and have no time for the genre, then don’t bother.

 


Movies – Jackie Review (or ‘Like Something More Interesting Is Going On In The Background’)

January 29, 2017

When I woke up yesterday morning – having seen Jackie on Thursday – I was saddened to read about the death of John Hurt. He was a brilliant actor who did such a great job in shows like I, Claudius and made a small but lasting impression in Doctor Who.

But before I read about his passing, I was about to write this review and say that “…even John Hurt was poor by his standards”. I wondered if it would go down well and be right to jackiecriticise the performance of someone who had just died and who no doubt everyone would be sympathetic towards.

I decided it was fair enough; Hurt was poor by his standards. It took me until he’d been in three scenes to realise that he was playing an Irishman, as if he only decided to put on the accent half way through. I was disappointing.

But then I was disappointed with Jackie in general.

It’s one of these bleak movies that’s clearly trying for an Oscar rather than looking to entertain.

Now I know that a movie about a woman who has just lost her husband isn’t going to be light or whimsical, but for me, the bleakness was slapped on far too thickly, with depressing and relentless incidental music played over almost every scene.

And whether or not she sounded like her or not, all I could see for the most part was Natalie Portman putting on a funny voice. It’s the complete opposite of Tom Hanks in Sully.

Most of all though, it just wasn’t that enjoyable. It felt like something interesting was going on in the background but we were being prompted to focus on the dull stuff. And at the last moment – as if they knew the film had been as dull as dishwater and they needed to wake people up – they finally show JFK getting his head blown off. That seemed very cheap.

So overall, I thought this was a waste of my time. On the plus side, the only way is up for movies in 2017.

I hope…


Movies: Rogue One Review (or ‘A Proper Prequel To A New Hope’)

December 16, 2016

From the off I feel I should warn you; this Rogue One review contains spoilers. It has to. So if you haven’t seen it yet, close down this page and come back again when you have.

Ok?

Has everyone who needs to go gone?

Good, I’ll begin.

I knew very little of Rogue One going into it. While I knew it was about members of the Rebel Alliance stealing the plans for the Death Star, for some reason I had it in my head that it would take place a few years star-wars-rogue-one-posterbefore the events of A New Hope.

But I was wrong.

And that’s the masterstroke of Rogue One.

It takes place right before it, finally culminating in a scene that actually leads in to the opening scene of the first Star Wars movie.

And in doing so, it has repercussions.

The first is that every heroic character created for this movie dies. They had to, otherwise you could ask why they weren’t in any of the original movies, and I thought it made for a refreshing change to what we’ve come to expect from Hollywood.

We now live in a world where the sequel is king. Nothing of any real consequences happens to the heroes in movies now because they are obviously being protected for a raft of inevitable follow-ups. But here, every character was expendable. They were one-and-done creations that had no use beyond this movie.

So they are all killed off and as a result, Rogue One became more believable and dramatic.

I should point out as well that I was pretty saddened by that despite loving that they ended up dead, because there were some great characters in there, from the Sheldon Cooper-esque K-2SO droid to the fantastic Oriental double act. These were some of the best and most well-rounded characters we’ve seen in the Star Wars universe, but like I say, they had to die.

Anyway, the other main repercussion that stemmed from setting Rogue One right before A New Hope is that certain characters needed to be a part of it.

Obviously Darth Vader was easy enough to bring back, even though he sounded very old thanks to James Earl Jones’s declining voice, but you’d assume that Grand Moff Tarkin might be a little tougher to replace seeing as Peter Cushing is long since dead.

And yet you’d be wrong. I was genuinely shocked to see that for all intents and purposes, Peter Cushing is in this movie. Technical wizardry – a use of CGI that is actually head turning in these days of over-reliance on computer imagery – means that they were able to have another actor play the part and then super-impose Cushing’s head onto him.

It was a bit freaky, but it added so much authenticity to the movie.

You can keep your constant ‘New York gets destroyed’ use of CGI, Hollywood, this is the proper way to use it!

Speaking of CGI, while I’m sure that it was employed all the way through Rogue One, what I liked about this movie was that it seemed like it didn’t rely too heavily on it. Maybe I’m wrong, but a lot of the sets, scenery and worlds it visited looked like they were brought to life with old-fashioned costume and set design. To me that makes a difference; it makes the Star Wars universe seem more complete than the cold and clinical CGI wankfests you see in the likes of Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them and the Marvel movies.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Rogue One had an interesting and engrossing plot and a sharp and at times funny script. That’s the most important thing isn’t it?

Even though it lasts for 2hrs14m, it didn’t feel like it dragged at any point.

If I had any complaint, it would be that the inevitable battle scene towards the end went on for a bit, but as I say above, the fact that it had repercussions softened that blow a little bit for me.

So, to sum up, maybe I’m biased because I love Star Wars, and maybe it’s that I’m still on an initial high from seeing it at the cinema, but for me, Rogue One is the best movie of the year.

I won’t bother saying that you should see it, because if you’ve read this far then you must have already.

So do you agree or have I been too generous?


Movies: Allied Review

December 16, 2016

For some reason, Allied hasn’t done well with reviewers.

It’s been described as ‘plodding’ and ‘passionless’ by some and generally gets below average scores.alliedposter

That surprises me, because I thought it was great.

Reminiscent of the sort of a Hitchcock directed James Stewart movie, I found it to be dramatic, engrossing and pretty straight forward.

Maybe that’s the problem some have with it? Maybe it’s that it’s a return to a simpler form of storytelling that doesn’t jump around in a non-linear fashion with flashbacks and flashforwards galore?

Or maybe it’s the acting? I can’t say that Brad Pitt or Marion Cotillard blew me away with their performances, but I certainly didn’t think they were worth being negative about.

All I know is that as a story, this was one of the best movies I’ve seen all year and I’d recommend it highly.

I guess it’s just a matter of which critic you listen to?


Movies: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review (or ‘Oh, I Can’t Be Bothered…’)

November 28, 2016

Part of me can’t be bothered writing a review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

It’s not that it’s a bad film – bad films are easy to write about – it’s just that it’s yet another movie from the cookie cutter mould of modern Hollywood blockbusters.fantastic-beasts-sequel-03aug16

With a by-the-numbers plot, an over-abundance of CGI in lieu of good direction and cinematic flair, New York city getting destroyed again and acting that is simply ok (or in the case of Eddie Redmayne, copied directly from Matt Smith’s interpretation of The Doctor), I just found it utterly unremarkable.

The only unique selling point is that it’s set in 1920s New York rather than modern day.

People will love it – I know someone who’s going for the second time to see it today – but I just found it as bland as bland can be, and therefore I can’t muster up anything worthwhile to say about it.

It’ll be nice to walk through the set when it inevitably comes to Universal Studios though…


Movies – A Street Cat Named Bob Review (or ‘If You Find Yourself Homeless, Get A Cute Animal Immediately’)

November 8, 2016

If you’re going to take one thing away from A Street Cat Named Bob, it’s that if ever you find yourself unfortunate enough to be a homeless drug addict, then get a cat, because it’ll turn your life around.

And yes, you could argue that’s an overly simplistic point of view to take having watched this movie – based on a best-selling book – about the real life struggles of homeless drug addict James Bowen, but it is true tobob a large extent.

Before he took in Bob the Cat, James was just like any other homeless drug-addict busker; it was the cat that got his singing noticed and gave him the lift up to get himself out of the hole he was in. It also allowed him to thrive as a Big Issue seller to the detriment of his rivals because people wanted to buy it from the guy with the cat sat on his shoulder.  If he didn’t have the cat, would he have been as successful a busker and Big Issue seller as he was? No. Sure, he might have managed to get back on his feet without Bob, but not to the point of having a best-selling book, a movie and an appearance on The One Show.

So get a cat, preferably a cute one who will happily sit on your shoulders and not move. And if not a cat, any crowd pleasing animal will do. A monkey with a fez and a set of cymbols might go down a treat, or a parrot who sings the songs with you. But don’t get a snake; those guys get a bad press even though they are simply trying to get by.

Oh, did you want to know if the movie was any good?

Well yes, it was. It’s basically a heart-warming and at times funny British drama that doesn’t get boring. If I had one criticism of it, it was that apart from a couple of minor setbacks that were immediately resolved, James faces no real adversity in the movie, and while that might have been true to his life from the point we pick his story up at, it made the whole thing seem a bit one-note.

But having said that, I enjoyed it.


Movies – Doctor Strange Review (or ‘When There’s Always Biscuits In The Tin, Where’s The Fun In Biscuits’)

October 31, 2016

Who’d have thought a superhero movie from Marvel Studios could be ‘worthy’?

I certainly didn’t think it would be possible, but Doctor Strange has disproved that theory.

With a cast full of actOrs (with a capital O)  that the more poncy reviewer – you know, the sort who sneers at anything that doesn’t “examine the human condition” – loves, including Benedict Cumberbatch (with a drstrangeterrible American accent), Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton (because what’s more sophisticated than a woman who is willing to shave her head for her craft?) and Mads Mikkelsen, this is definitely a step above the oik level fayre that Marvel usually serve up.

And you can tell that the cast think it too, otherwise they probably wouldn’t have agreed to take part.

But here’s the thing; Dr Strange is one of the more obscure Marvel characters for a reason, and that reason is that he’s a bit boring.

And so is this movie.

The plot was unoriginal, the characters were unlikable and the villains were uninteresting.

There just wasn’t much to it.

The best I’ve heard anyone come up with is that it has good special effects, but as I’ve said before, special effects are no longer ‘special’. We now know that if enough money is given to computer animators, then anything is possible. And when anything is possible then nothing stands out.

You know the old saying don’t you? When there’s always biscuits in the tin, where’s the fun in biscuits? That applies here.

And here’s the case in point for you; on Saturday I watched the 1982 John Carpenter horror, The Thing. Made in an era before computer animation, the monster now looks pretty ropey. And yet to me, that monster looks more ‘special’ than the effects of today because it was created by talented prop designers and prosthetic experts rather than by some bloke who is able to click his mouse in the right way a few times before letting a computer take over.

So this all leads me to the belief that if all a movie has going for it is the effects, then in 2016 it’s not a very good movie.

And that describes Dr Strange perfectly, in spite of its obvious worthiness.