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La La Land is one big awards contenders of 2017, sweeping the Golden
Globes and been nominated for 11 BAFTAs at the time of writing and
received near universal acclaim. But is really worthy of this praise or
has it been over-hyped? Mia (Emma Stone) and Seb (Ryan Gosling) are two
artistic dreamers living in the City of Angels who inexplicably keeping
each other in the metropolis. Mia is an aspiring actor and Seb is a
jazz pianist who wants to open his own jazz club. They soon for start a
relationship and encourage each other to follow their dreams, but the
harsh reality of real life test them regarding the personal and
Damien Chazelle is easily considered one of the great emerging directing having already made Whiplash and now has La La Land to his credit it has been announced he would be reuniting with Ryan Gosling to make a biopic about Neil Armstrong.
La La Land opens with an excellent song-and-dance number on an LA freeway and Chazelle embraces the old-fashion nature of the film. The film celebrates the fact it was shot in cinemascope and it uses a lot of techniques that was common in the technicolor era, using long tracking shots (making the dance numbers even better) and the editing transitions. But some of the early songs do have the same structure, a soft beginning becomes a bigger numbers as the song process and then two-thirds through the song one singer has a moment of introspective before a huge finish. One of the best moments is a big tap-dancing when Mia and Seb start to get to know each other, wonderfully reflecting the musicals it's reflecting.
When Seb and Mia finally get together the musical number pretty much stop and La La Land becomes more like a serious drama about a relationship. Whilst this part of the film of fine but it was not the pastel coloured detail that made the first act such a delight. It becomes a romantic drama about the highs and lows of a relationship. There is a logic in the film having less music during its middle act because of the reality of their situation but one of the big selling points of La La Land was it meant to be an all-singing-all-dancing aware. It doesn't go back to being a musical until the third act in an extremely drawn-out ending.
The retro style and story about the struggles in Hollywood La La Land has similarities to 2011's The Artist, the story of a silent movie star whose career takes a downturn whilst an actress he helped out becomes a huge star. Both films were celebrations of a bygone era in Hollywood, using the same techniques that the films that were referred used. This is usually a great way for a film to gain awards attention.
La La Land personally reminded me of John Carney's Begin Again, both similar openings, including showing two characters having bad days, plot points and themes about success vs. artistic integrity. La La Land also looks at the reality of a relationship and artistic lifestyle and it is essentially a story about the American Dream - looking at the sacrifices people need to achieve their goals.
La La Land offered a lot of promise with its big opening and the film as a whole should have been a big song-and-dance feature throughout. There is too much of a lull after it's great opening act and whilst La La Land is enjoyable, it is not the masterpiece some have made it out to be. Moana is the best musical of 2016 and Chazelle's previous offering, Whiplash was a better film.
Star Wars! It is one of the biggest franchises around, spreading its
tentacles to films, video games, cartoons and books. The films have
been a dynastic saga about the Skywalker clan, until now! Rogue One is
the first spin-off film and a bolder film then The Force Awakens which
was a repeat of A New Hope.
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) saw her father (Mads Mikkelsen) being captured by the Empire and mother killed. 15 years later she had become a criminal with no allegiances until the Rebels free her so she can do a mission for them, meet a rebel extremist and Jyn's former guardian, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whittaker) who has vital intelligence about the Empire's new weapon.
Rogue One is a direct prequel to A New Hope, tying into the events of the first film and the writers, director and producers pulled off a marvellous trick, making something fresh and original, expand the universe for people who only the on screen version of Star Wars and tell a story that people know the outcome to. Director Gareth Edwards perfectly recaptures the look of the original trilogy in its set-design and costumes and puts his own directional stamp on the series. Rogue One takes away the famous opening crawl and trademarks like the screen swipes: it was a risk and it paid off.
Rogue One was what the prequel trilogy should have been - it was a darker tone like the prequels were meant to be and there is a clear emphasis on the 'Wars' part of the Star Wars title. It told a story where audience members knew the outcome to but still felt unique and not a carbon copy of other Star Wars film plots. It is an original story that is cleverly tied to A New Hope thanks to the screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. The film also expands the mythology and science in the universe without being complete stupid i.e. midichlorians. Rogue One showed more of the culture and religion of the Jedis, with the Empire raiding their temples.
Another risk of prequels is that they could be seen nothing but fan service. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them were examples of being films obsessed with fan services and references for the sake of it. Rogue One had references to the series as a whole, some are recurring lines that are said in all the films, references that are tired into the wider series, like a certain Jedi and a few little nods for the fans. They are not forced and some even have a dramatic purpose.
Rogue One also marks the first time a live-action Star Wars film has been composed by someone other than John Williams: Michael Giacchino. Giacchino is one of the most celebrated composers around, working on films like the Mission: Impossible series, the rebooted Star Trek films and many Pixar films and he was able to recreate Williams' sound - it could easily work within the other Star Wars films.
The Star War series is a brand that supersedes any big name actors and Rogue One cast a collection of actors on the edge of hitting the big time, respected character actors and genre actors. Jones was cast after she was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in The Theory of Everything and along with her roles in Inferno and A Monster Calls she had a terrific year. She was convincing in the action scenes and being the jaded young woman who isn't that interested in the rebellion but deep down got a good heart. One of her biggest moments was when she sees a message her father left for the resistance and sees him for the first time in 15 years. She was overwhelmed just by a hologram.
The big stand out performance was Alan Tudyk as a reprogrammed droid K2-SO. He had a dry, sarcastic delivery that was sometimes pessimistic and always bitting. Tudyk sounded similar to Anthony Daniels and his character came across as a more confident version of 3-CPO. Despite his pessimism K2-SO was loyal to Cassian Andor and was quite the badass in battle.
One of the biggest controversies about the film was using technology to bring Peter Cushing back from the dead - some commentators have said it was in poor taste despite his family allowing the film to use his likeness and the effect is seamless. The use of Cushing's Grand Moff Tarkin was used sparingly. Whilst the film could have used a new character but it does add to a sense of continuity in the series, as well Jimmy Smits to reprising his role as Bail Organa from the prequels.
There were rumours that Rogue One was a troubled production - it was reported that there was a large amount of reshoots and that director Edwards was kicked off the project. If any of these rumours are true it doesn't show in the final product. Edwards is establishing himself to be one of the best sci-fi directors around, having already made Monsters and Godzilla and easily one of the best special effects directors around. He was able recreate the look and feel of the original trilogy and but his own stamp on the series, making a darker war film that uses some WWII iconography. The final battle can easily go down as one of the best in the whole franchise.
Whilst Rogue One had a great opening and closing act it was in the middle were the film suffered from a saggy middle. The film was just stalling to extend its runtime and try and add some extra emotional drama.
Rogue One works both as a sci-fi fantasy action for casual moviegoers and as an extension to the Star Wars series, showing that the films can move beyond the Skywalkers and Solos. It was truly an epic space opera.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Back in 2009 US Airways pilot Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger
pulled off an amazing feat, landing a passenger plane into the Hudson
River after both engines were damaged by a bird strike. His story
became international news and which led to Sully writing a book and
been adapted into a Hollywood film.
Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart start as Sully and First Officer Jeff Skiles, the pilots on that fateful day, looking at how they handled the disaster and the aftermath, being investigated by the federal authorities and the media attention whilst Sully shows signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Sully is told in the space of a few days and has usual structure, starting with the investigation already taking place and the incident is shown in flashbacks. The advantage of using this framing device is it prevent the film from showing its best scenes, the crash - a mistake that 2012's Flight did. But the film adaptation also just jumps around from event to event, repeating some of the same moments. The framing device of all the investigation does not make the most compelling of drama, especially when we know the actual outcome.
The film has been criticised for making the investigators too aggressive and trying to blame the pilots for the incident, considering them reckless and putting lives in danger. The worst moment is at the end of the film so this is a spoiler warning: the investigators reveal the left engine lifted from the river and verifies the pilots claims that both engines failed - leading to question why wasn't that revealed earlier? Tom Hanks is brilliant as the lead role, adding to his recent run of real live roles. With Eckhart they had a calm authority to them as they face a crisis. They never lose their cool as they handle their job with absolute professionalism. As Sully Hanks has celebrity thrust upon them, being a adored by random strangers he meets and carries on with a stoic attitude. It's refreshing to Eckhart in a serious film, instead of being a stuck in subpar genre films.
The best scene in the film is the plane crash as the pilots have to land the plane safely whilst keeping their cool. We get glimpses of some of the passengers on the plane, like an older Jewish woman, a man and his adult sons and a woman with a baby and also show people like air traffic control and witnesses in the buildings. It gave the film a slight air of Paul Greengrass' United 93. The film has the line that it has been a long time since New York had any good news, especially involving a plane and Sully suffers visions of what could have happened and the plane crashes into the city - the imaginary being like 9/11.
Sully is a perfectly solid true life story and has some terrific moments - but as a whole fairly middle of the road.
2011's The Muppets was a sequel, reboot and a loving homage from its
writers Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller. They end up making a
delightfully funny film that adults and children, fans and non-fans can
enjoy. The Muppets follows two brothers, human Gary, muppet Walter
(Peter Linz) and Gary's girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) go to Los Angeles
to for Gary and Mary's anniversary and see the Muppets studios. However
the studio is about to be sold to a evil oil baron (Chris Cooper) and
it is up to Gary, Walter and Kermit to find the other muppets and do a
telethon to raise the $10 Million to buy the studio back.
The Muppets has seemingly the most clichéd plot possible that is where the film genius steps comes in, subversion this storyline with a self-awareness and twisting the conventions. It was a delightful, toe-tapping experience, having some big song and dance numbers (which are brilliants twisted at the end) and some of the best jokes are when the characters breaking the fourth wall like travel by map and the characters saying they will finish their recruitment drive by having a montage. This is humour that's clean enough for kids, smart enough for adults.
Jason Segel and his co-writer Nicholas Stoller clearly loved the characters and director James Bobin made it into a bright, upbeat family film.
A Royal Affair was a prestigious costume drama that works as a
political drama as well as a tale of forbidden love and with its
director Nikolaj Arcel and star Alicia Vikander becoming successful
Caroline Matilda of Great Britain (Vikander) is a British Princess who was betrothed to the insane King of Denmark, Christian VII (Mikkel Følsgaard) a man who acts like a child and has an unmanageable temper. Even worst Denmark was the backwater of Europe, a country that still practice serfdom and ruled by a conservative group of elites. However, Caroline and Denmark's fortunes improve when Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), a man of the Enlightenment, is hired to be King's physician and using his influence sets out to reform Denmark and make the nation into a beacon for the rest of Europe.
A Royal Affair is a lavish looking production, having fantastic costumes and settings, being filmed on location in Copenhagen. The role of Caroline was part of a double whammy for Vikander who became know to an international audience (the other being Anna Karenina) and she was perfectly regal as in the dresses and elaborate hairstyles whilst Mikkelsen as Johann had a more man of the people look. Despite the pretty facade Arcel does contrasts the well-kept palaces of the elites to the streets and fields where the common folk live, filled with mud, rats and other nasties and peasants in field are tied to the land and tried as property by the aristocracy. This fuels Caroline and Johann's ideology.
Caroline and Johann are drawn together because of their minds, being intellectuals and reading subversive literature, mainly the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. They are the ones who take over Christian's reign, creating a shadow government before seizing power for themselves. All the political manoeuvring makes A Royal Affair into a less violence version of Game of Thrones. The relationship between the trio is complex, Christian sees Johann almost as a father figure and the only person who can calm the king down whilst Caroline has nothing but loathing for her husband. One of the most powerful moments is when Johann tells Caroline she has to sleep with Christian so they can keep up the charade - an action that clearly causes both of them emotional pain.
Although Caroline sets up the film with her letters and voice-over and being the one who opens the film it was Johann and his actions that the actual centre of the film. He is the one who has to befriend the king, be the one who uses the king, has an affair and essentially becomes the Prime Minister. He was the anchor of the film.
A Royal Affair is a lavish production and fantastically acted, especially from Mikkelsen and Vikander and it detailed look in Denmark's history. It is certainly a treat for people who like The Duchess and Anna Karenina, touching on a similar subject manner of political marriages, social status and reform.
The idea of remakes are normally abhorrent to film fans, a sign that
there is a lack of originality or ideas and normally results in the
question why bother. However the 2009 version of Bad Lieutenant had a
better chance then it most - it was directed German auteur Werner
Herzog and had cast figuring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer and
Set during the aftermath of Hurricane Karina Terence McDonagh is considered a hero for saving a criminal and promoted to police lieutenant. However, he has also become addicted to a variety of narcotics. Terence is assigned to investigate a gang murder of a immigrant drug dealer and his family whilst he also has to battle all problems involving finding drugs, getting in debt with his bookie and crossing powerful people.
The original Bad Lieutenant was a dark, grimy film that was covered in Catholic iconography and Harvey Kietel gave a fantastic performance as the unnamed Lieutenant. It was an underrated gem from 90s. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is a remake in the loosest sense - sharing a similar premise and telling its own story. Herzog even claimed his version wasn't a remake because he never heard of the original.
The 1992 version was a more akin to a film like Taxi Driver or Serpico, a film that showed New York to be a cesspool of crime and was shot in a grounded style. The Werzog version is a much more glossy film, having a score that sounds like a film noir detective story and takes away most of the grit of the original. Despite the quality of the director the 2009 film was more a run-in-the-mill story, taking away the themes of Catholic guilt and redemption that were prominent in the 1992 version. Some of the African migrants are shown to be Catholic which could have been an interesting avenue to go down especially since African-Americans are normally Baptists but nothing much was done with this.
Both films also have a surreal edge, the 1992 version being based on the Lieutenant's Catholic guilt so had a logic to it. In the 2009 version it was based on Terence's drug addiction which results in the character seeing reptiles that no one else can. The idea is Terence's addiction is making him loose grip with reality, but these moment really do is allow Nicolas Cage to do his maniac Nic Cage performance - it is the stereotype of what people would expect from Cage. There is also a theme of characters getting clean from their vices but this is underdeveloped and undeserved.
The 2009 version was highly praised by critics, it has a 87% rating compared to the original's 77% (amidst from a lower review count) - but audiences are more hostile towards the film. It is a case where critics praised a film because of its director's reputation rather than the quality of the film itself. 'Port of Call' is a more mainstream effort form Werzog but it lacks the complexity of the original and a plays like a neutered version. If this had been directed by a lesser known director this version would not have been so well received.
This version is at its best during the midpoint when Terence is at his lowest because professionally and personally is building up against him. He is getting what he deserves and this is when the film has it biggest drive because everything in Terence's is colliding to each other.
As a bad cop movie 'Port of Call' is a weak entry and swallow in its writing and character development. Try the original or the Scottish set Filth which shows a self-serving cop going to the edge because of his addictions and personal problems.
Made as a homage to the era of silent cinema The Artist was a huge
critical high back in 2011 and won a number of awards including the
Academy Awards for Best Picture (making it the first French film to win
the award), Best Director and Best Actor, six César and BAFTA Awards
each and the covered Palm Dog Award.
In 1927 George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a silent movie star of swashbuckling adventures like Douglas Fairbanks was and by chance he meets an aspiring actress and dancer, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a woman who admires the actor. However George's career and life as a whole takes a downward spiral after the advent of sound. As George star falls and Peppy is on the raise.
The Artist was a film that made by people who had affection for the silent era, it is not just a gimmick to get awards and critical attention. Director Michel Hazanavicius and his team replicate the style and techniques used for during the period - it was shot in the 1:33 ratio instead of widescreen, they is a constant score throughout the film especially a soft piano track and uses editing techniques that were popular like wipes and transitions. It could have been a film back at the time.
Though The Artist is classical in its approach some modern techniques were used, but this is done for dramatic effect. The best example being a dream sequence where George starts hear sounds, indicting his type of film is dead.
The Artist was marketed as a romance and there is an indication there's a spark between George and Peppy during the first act. In reality The Artist is a tale about film making and Hollywood like Chaplin, Sunset Boulevard, Ed Wood and Hail Caesar just to made a few. Like the Tim Burton classic Ed Wood The Artist is made to look like the films that it is about while the likes of Chaplin and Sunset Boulevard reference the changing time and nature of cinema and like Singin' in the Rain The Artist is about the risk the invention of sound in film has on actors who don't have the voice for talkies. Although Hazanavicius tries to inject some commentary about the filmmaking world of the late noughies/early 10s where the use of 3D was increasing with the George character saying you make popular films, I'll make great ones.
Dujardin won the Oscar for best actor for his performance and he has darker, more interesting role as a riches to rags story, a man who tries to keep his fame and wealth and fails miserably. It takes a lot for a actor to express themselves and Durjardin was able to manage it. Bejo was also deserving of praise, her wide smile and expressive eyes being perfect for silent film. Bejo portrayed as a upbeat, kindhearted person and was a wonderful beam of sunshine in the film. She should have won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Durjardin and Bejo also had wonderful chemistry together, whether it was meeting outside a premise, dancing during a film shoot or Peppy looking in George's dressing room.
The Artist is a unique film in this era of cinema, a nice throwback to silent cinema. Running at a brisk 93 minutes it is a simple story well told and a delight for anyone interested in classic Hollywood.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Following the success of Star Trek: First Contact, it was hardly
surprising to see a sequel being quickly commissions, coming in the
form of Star Trek: Insurrection.
After a number of conflicts the Federation seek to make alliances with new races, including some of the less savoury factions in the galaxy, one of them being the Son'a. The Son'a and the Federation are working together to study a planet that has a produces a radiation that could be the key to medical breakthroughs. However to harvest this radiation it would require removing the Amish like residents, The Baku, leading to Picard (Patrick Stewart) and crew of the Enterprise rebel against their superiors to The Baku.
Star Trek: Insurrection is often criticised for being no more than an extended episode of the series, being a small scale story and action - the run time is only just over 90 minutes and the settings looking like a TV show. The moral dilemma presented by the film has also been criticised, manufacturing a conflict, by making out the villains desperate to take the planet, instead of forming a colony. Even Patrick Stewart said he would have evicted the Baku. The screenplay needed refining to justify the conflict. The film's attempt at comedy is also misguided, using Worf (Michael Dorn) as the butt of jokes.
Despite these problems Star Trek: Insurrection is a perfect, decent, if average Trek adventure. It has a nice touch of tying the film with the wider franchise, great for fans of the series but adds some wider context for non-fans. Even with its televisual look and special effects the final third has some decent action sequences, the small team using the caves of the hold out against the Son'a forces.
Also the criticism of 'Insurrection' being like an extended episode is a flawed one. It might be small scale but it is better than a film that is better for the sake of being bigger - especially hard considering the previous film was the excellent 'First Contact'.
It was also fun to see the Son'a going through their medical processes to keep themselves alive, using face stretching technique similar to what Ida Lowry received in the classic Terry Gillam film Brazil.
Whilst Star Trek: Insurrection pales in comparison to 'First Contact' and other great films in the series, but it is better then what follows in the form of 'Nemesis' that attempted to be too dark.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Star Trek Generations was the first feature film to star the New
Generation crew and the only film to team up the Original Series and
New Generation actors. 'Generations' ends up being a fun, if
mid-ranking entry into the film series. It has a premise that would be
more suited to fan-fiction yet the film puts it off with the idea of
the Nexus, a world of euphoria and having Soran so driven to return to
this place by destroy solar systems to achieve this. It made Soran one
of the best villains in the Star Trek film series, played brilliantly
by Malcolm McDowell, someone who's physically and mentally a great
threat. His plan involving his star destroying weapon reminded me of
Genesis in 'Wrath of Khan'. Patrick Stewart and McDowell doing battle
is a delight to see.
The opening is a solid, exciting sequence, where an undermanned Enterprise has to go on a rescue mission and Kirk having to resume command of the Enterprise, something he had done in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and has some nice little character moments like Kirk touching the Captain's chair longing to get back into action. Shatner is criticised as an actor, but knows how to play Kirk.
There are problems with the film, the worst being the film's attempts at comedy with Data having an emotion chip implanted into his head. It drags the rest of the film down - it could have reduced the comedic moments and still been a family friendly sci-fi film. It was also obvious Scotty and Chekov were meant to be Spock and Bones but the filmmakers were unable to get them.
Never Say Never Again is an oddity of a film, made because of a legal
dispute screenwriter Kevin McClory and MGM after McClory worked with
Ian Fleming when writing for Thunderball before it was turned into a
novel and subsequently turned into a film. After McClory sued he was
allowed to credited as a producer, got the rights to the character of
Blofeld and organisation SPECTRE and allow to make his own Bond film
after enough time has elapsed. This is more interesting then the actual
In Never Say Never Again Sean Connery plays an aging Bond working for an MI6 that has limited funding and an M (Edward Fox) who has no respect for the 00 section. After failing a training exercise Bond is sent to a health camp to get back into shape and stumbles on a plot that leads to the theft of two American nuclear warheads and leads to Bond going back into action to stop SPECTRE and their agent Maximillian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer).
Never Say Never Again is an interesting case study of a film, made because the rights controversial, that allowed another Bond film to be made outside the main series and to see Connery return one more time as Bond because of the big paycheque and as a way to say screw you to EON. It is the most official unofficial franchise film to be made. It even lead to a media dubbing 1983 as the Battle of the Bonds, forcing Roger Moore to stay on in the official series. The official one won.
Never Say Never Again is really a poor remake of Thunderball, which is a damning indictment because Thunderball is one of the weaker Connery Bond films. McClory and co could only make a film with the Thunderball plot, so the big selling point was the return of Connery. Never Say Never Again did have some interesting ideas, we see an older Bond who seems past his best, an idea that was used in Skyfall, has an M who has a dislike to Bond, like Judi Dench's M in Goldeneye and showing MI6 struggling financially and politically. But that idea seems to be an excuse to for why Never Say Never Again then be a commentary about the espionage world. Plus the official series ended up doing these ideas better then Never Say Never Again.
The film does has some decent set-pieces, the opening training exercise was strong except for the god-awful theme song, the fight in health club and the motorbike chase and the scene where Bond dances with Domino (Kim Basinger) could have easily have fitted in an official Bond film. Barbara Carrera as the main henchwoman, Fatima Blush was a great addition and Alec McCowen was strong as the film's Q, Algernon, having great banter with Connery and having to work with work with limited resources. The film also the excellent casting of Max von Sydow as Blofeld, a man who would have been perfect to play an official Bond villain.
Despite these positives Never Say Never Again is weaker then most entries in the Bond series and can tie with Diamonds Are Forever as the worst Connery Bond film. Like Diamonds Are Forever Never Say Never Again had an interesting set-up for a darker, more thoughtful Bond but wasted the potential. The film has also feels very dated, that it was a product of its time - the special effects look worst then what was in Thunderball and the video game sequence was just added because of the growing popularity of video games. Even the music didn't feel approach for a Bond film or even an action film in general: it sounded more like an attempt of making a jazz album. The score only has action beat during the climax. Bond was also still able to bed women 20 to 25 years his junior, which was just creepy with the film having a nonchalant attitude towards it.
Fox as M was wasted. He had a great set-up as a civil servant and an outsider to the intelligence service, someone who has run down the 00 section. He was just made out to be pompous public school boy with no understanding of the world and Fox exaggerated every mannerism. He was the worst portrayal of the character, official or unofficial.
Never Say Never Again is just an exercise in vanity from McClory and Connery, making it just because they could. It was made out of spite and if Connery wasn't involved no one would have been interested. It is nothing but a footnote in the Bond series.
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