Review: La La Land

I should make clear before I talk about La La Land that I don’t like musicals.  Specifically, I don’t like the songs. There’s something about that particular brand of song that I can’t get on board with; a combination of the lyrics, the intonation and showy theatrical nature.

Anyway, I bring that up purely to give you some background ahead of reviewing the film.

Despite my show tune aversion, I was genuinely looking forward to La La Land.  The reviews were great; I loved Damien Chazelle’s previous film Whiplash; and Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are consistently good (and good together in Crazy, Stupid Love).  This was going to be the exception to the show tune rule.

And then the first 15 minutes happened.

I didn’t enjoy the opening song on the freeway, nor the Emma Stone song with her flatmates, nor the song with Stone and Gosling after a party.  I spent the minutes in-between dreading that someone would suddenly break into song.

My worst fears proved ultimately unfounded.  In a sense, it’s strange that La La Land so casually leaves behind the traditional musical.  Justin Hurwitz’s theme for Mia and Seb floats delicately in and out of the film, but there’s arguably only four show tunes in the whole film, and three of them are very early on.

After that, its structure becomes looser.

Chazelle throws in a fantastical dance number here, a passionate defence of jazz there.  It’s a hodge-podge of ideas and strikes of a writer/director keen to throw in as many of his interests into two hours as possible.  It probably shouldn’t work and – and maybe if you wanted a straight-up musical or another Whiplash, it might leave you somewhat disappointed – but Chazelle’s passion and the sheer brio of the production sees it through.

It’s also helped by a witty script and, in Gosling and Stone, two perfect leads.  It’s one of those scripts that suits both to a tee – Gosling is dashing and snooty, but as showcased in The Nice Guys, is entirely at home with rat-a-tat dialogue and physical comedy too.  Stone, meanwhile, is on home turf with a character who cracks wise to shield her sensitive side.  She is, of course, winningly good.

The film wouldn’t work without some spark between the pair, and it’s in evidence here as it was in Crazy, Stupid Love.  There’s aren’t many modern day on-screen couples with as much vitality and chemistry as these two.

Although, like Whiplash, there’s a bittersweet nature to the final third, it’s a film infused with sheer joy.  If you like your films cheery and musical – and even if you don’t like musicals – make sure you go before it leaves cinemas

Rating: 4/5 (5/5 if you like show tunes)

What to avoid in 2017 (possibly)

Look, going to the cinema is great.  You should go to the cinema and put money back into the film industry.  Saying that, there are films coming out this year that do not look good and may be a waste of your money.  To help you navigate these/steer clear, I’ve put together a list of some of the potential stinkers.  They might ultimately be great, but just advise some caution before booking your tickets.

Alien: Covenant

I’m nearly done with the Alien franchise to be quite honest.  The last good film was Alien 3 (come at me, bro) and although I enjoyed Prometheus at the time, it unraveled really badly on a second viewing.  So, I shouldn’t be getting excited about Alien: Covenant.  The trailer wasn’t even particularly good – it seemed like it was just hitting nostalgia buttons – but I live in hope that one day we’ll get another decent film involving xenomorphs.

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XXX: Return of Xander Cage

Remember Xander Cage?  Come on, you know? The bald guy that drove some vehicles and did stunts back in 2002?  No, not Dominic Toretto, the other one!

Yes, that’s right, 2017 marks the return of the Vin Diesel character no one remembers or cares about.  This’ll be a met by a collective shrug of the shoulders when it’s released later this month.

The Emoji Movie

Remember when The Lego Movie was announced and we all scoffed?  As it turned out, it was funny, smart and had Will Arnett as Lego Batman.  So maybe we should give The Emoji Movie the benefit of the doubt?   Hmm.  There’s no Lord or Miller behind the script this time and the voice cast includes James Corden (he’s the High Five emoji), so forgive me if I don’t get too excited.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man Tell No Tales

The fifth in an increasingly terrible series, Pirates sees the return of Johnny Depp’s Keith Richards impression and everyone else who’s ever been in one of these films.  It also includes Javier Bardem as some sort of pirate who has a beef with Johnny Depp and his treatment of women, or something.  It will be 5 hours long.

The Mummy

The first Mummy, with Brendan Rodgers Fraser, was an enjoyable 90’s romp.  The rest were garbage and the series’ defining image was the terrible CGI effect which transposed The Rock’s head onto the body of a scorpion.  ‘Thankfully’, Universal have resurrected the series as the first in a Monsters Cinematic Universe (urgh).  It stars Tom Cruise, which means this will be low on laughs and high on impressive stunts, but time will tell if it’ll make the story interesting enough to justify a series.

Transformers: The Last Knight

Have you seen this trailer?  It is bonkers and not in a good way.  King Arthur, World War 2, the Nazis, Mark Whalberg and flying robot dragons all feature and it does not make a lick of sense.  In a series that struggles for coherence at the best of times, this feels like chucking a lot of shit at a wall and hoping it looks like a painting.  What you can be sure of from Michael Bay’s latest is borderline offensive ethnic characters, tin-eared comedy and leering shots of women in skimpy clothing.

Justice League

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I never ended up doing my worst films of 2016, but Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice was right up there.  Po-faced, utterly boring, overlong, lacking in emotional investment and with a guff final act, it was everything superhero movies shouldn’t be.  The Justice League trailer gave some sense that it’ll at least be slightly funnier, but let’s be honest, it’ll be all the same things I mentioned about BvS: DoJ because Zak Snyder is not a good director.

 Fifty Shades Darker

I watched the first one and it was genuinely unpleasant.  Honestly, how can anyone think that Christian Grey character is appealing?  He’s an emotional (and physical) bully and his relationship with Ana Steele was about as sexy two dead cats being pushed through a letterbox (sorry about that image).  The less said about the direlogue (not a misspelling) the better.  Fifty Shades Darker will be more of the same, but obviously ‘darker’ and more rubbish.

The Great Wall

Matt Damon stars as a white person saving lots of Asian people on the Great Wall of China in medieval times. It’s not quite The Last Samurai 2 though, as this film also involves lots of CGI monsters.  Great.

Kong: Skull Island

Another film shoehorned into a bloody Cinematic Universe (no one cares, studios), Kong: Skull Island sees the artist formerly known as HiddleSwift, Brie Larsen and John Goodman (good cast) rock up on the eponymous island in the 1970’s, only to discover it’s home to King Kong and some other monsters.  The CGI of Kong or the monsters doesn’t, to be honest, look that impressive in the trailers and, although the post-Vietnam setting is interesting, it’s doubtful whether they’ll be able to do much new with a Kong film.

Friday the 13th

With an expected release date of Tuesday 9th October*, Friday the 13th and Jason Voorhees shamble into view. According to Wiki, this appears to have been on the slate for 6 years, so comes with all the low expectations that dog ‘development hell’ films.

 

*made that up for a cheap joke.

Andy

2017 Highlights

First off, Happy New Year (unless you’re reading this in February, in which case, ‘hello’).

Secondly, if you took time to read any of my posts in 2016, thanks!  I’ll hopefully do a bit more with the blog this year, but 2016 was all about getting started and trying things.  If you’ve anything you’d like to see (features, format, pictures!), or if something doesn’t work, let me know.

Thirdly, it’s now 2017, so that means I can highlight some of the films or events I’m excited about over the next 12 months.  These are in no particular order – and it’s not exhaustive by any means – but feel free to get annoyed anyway.

La La Land

I really can’t be doing with most musicals.  Some of the Disney animation ones are good, but the theatre-style singing makes me grind my teeth. Despite this, the reviews for La La Land have been almost universally excellent, it’s from the guy who did Whiplash and it stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, so I have fairly high hopes it’ll be the exception to the rule.

Logan

The final Hugh Jackman Wolverine film looks like it might be one of the best in the X-continuity.  It picks up with an older, greyer, Wolverine in an world where no new mutants are being born and throws a young girl into his midst.  Jackman’s always been great as Wolverine, even in the ropier films in the series (the last two solo films, for example), so hopefully he gets to bow out in style.

Free Fire

Ben Wheatley’s High Rise didn’t quite live up to my (very) high expectations, but it was partly to do with the oddness of the source novel.  With Free Fire, Wheatley’s dealing with original material again as a meeting between rival gangs descends into chaos.  This has a cracking cast, including Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy, and it could be both really good fun and totally bonkers.

 Foreign language films I don’t yet know about

Last year, it was the likes of Train to Busan and Mustang that came out of almost nowhere and left an impression.  For obvious reasons, the buzz about foreign films is fairly quiet, but Robbie Collin in The Telegraph and Mark Kermode in The Observer are the best people to point you in the right direction.

Dunkirk

Up until Interstellar, Christopher Nolan couldn’t do wrong in my eyes.  And while Interstellar was interesting and looked amazing, it didn’t quite work on an emotional level on the way it was meant to.  Dunkirk, I’m guessing, will be on a much surer footing.  Its huge, impressive, cast suggests it might be more of an ensemble than an individual story and I’d wager it’ll be a pretty full-on, immersive experience.

Fast & Furious 8

That’s right!  F&F8 (or The Fate and the Furious if you’re both unlucky and American) is out this year and I am jazzed.  While the first four F&F films are, at best, average, the movies since Fast Five have been tremendously good fun.  In reality, Five remains the best of the entire series, but F&F 8 promises Jason Statham teaming up with The Rock, Charlize Theron and people talking about ‘family’ at least 3 times every conversation.

The Glasgow Film Festival

The Film Festival‘s been getting bigger every year and this year promises to be another belter.  The Opening and Closing films have been announced:  Handsome Devil for the Opening Gala and Mad to be Normal, starring David Tennant to close.  Also announced so far is their series of free morning films, this year on ‘Dangerous Dames’.

The various Marvel/DC films

To be honest, I’m not really that excited about most of these.  If Justice League isn’t a dog’s dinner I’ll be surprised, Thor 3 has a lot of work to do to convince me after the 2nd one and there’s yet another Spider-Man reboot.  But, on the plus side, Guardians Vol. 2 will probably be fun and it would be nice if Wonder Woman gets the film her appearance in Batman Vs. Superman deserved.

 Blade Runner 2049

Ridley Scott! Harrison Ford! Ryan Gosling! Moody visuals!

Not much else to go on yet, but hopefully the Blade Runner sequel lives up to its predecessor.

Moonlight

A potential Oscar front runner about a young black man growing up in Miami during the War on Drugs and dealing with his sexuality, it’s currently sitting at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes.

It

Will It, the story of a group of teenagers – and, later, adults – who confront an ancient extraterrestrial being who transforms into your worst nightmare, be good?  It possibly depends on whether or not it has Stephen King’s seal of approval.  If the original author likes the adaption, chances are it’ll be terrible.  If he hates it, we’ve got a horror classic on our hands.

 

Andy