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La La Land (2016)
An emotional roller-coaster which disorientates and fails to live up to the hype
La La Land, is a strange movie. There, I've said it.
It seems to leave the viewer with a somewhat split attitude, and will leave you pondering long after you've seen it.
It's been a long time since I've seen a movie which has inspired me to write any sort of feedback, but La La Land has done just that...
Depending on which review you read on IMDb, you'll either find a 10/10 which tells you that it is a musical masterpiece, hankering back to the old cinematic masterpieces of Kelly, Astaire and co, or you'll read a 1/10 which criticises each and every little detail of the movie.
Let's be honest, neither review is of help.
La La Land is a good movie. It has some great tunes, and for large parts leaves you inspired. There's no denying you'll come out of it feeling a bit of an urge to jump on top of the nearest car and dance.
However... it is not the masterpiece that is so widely reported.
There are times when both Gosling and Stone characters are infuriating, mildly pretentious and really rather whinny. Neither actor is perfectly cast, but simultaneously it is impossible not to be impressed by the fact that they've obviously trained hard at singing, dancing and (for Gosling) the piano.
It's a strange film. It really is.
I want to love it. I want to come out singing the praises and looking back at it with the fondness of old school movies, or even the more recent Artist. However, I can't. Something feels wrong about it. The cinematography is a bit off, the tunes don't always catch you, the story-line isn't always clear. It almost feels like the film tries too hard to be good. It knows there is potential, but it tries to force this ability, and subsequently lets itself down.
I enjoyed the Jazz, and there are scenes I look back on fondly. I want to watch it a second time, to give myself a greater understanding of it, but simultaneously I've not come out of the cinema and thought "I need to see that again." This is a bad sign.
You'll read a lot of praise for this film, you'll read a lot of criticism. You'll also read reviews a lot more detailed and knowledgeable than this one. I guess what I'm saying is that the film is not as good, or as bad as anyone says.
It's a film you should see. You'll need to make your mind up. Does it deserve the Oscars? Personally I don't think so. Will it win them? Probably.
Give it a go, but go in with an open mind. The critics can't help you with this one.
Mr 3000 (2004)
Predictable, not particularly funny. Worse ways to spend an evening.
There's something somewhat predictable about this film, but after 30-45 minutes of the film (yes, I'm reviewing it half way through), it's enjoyable.
The late Bernie Mac is Stan "Mr 3000" Ross. An arrogant, egotistical individual who never cared about his team or the fans. Instead all he thinks of is that 3,000 home runs and getting into the hall of fame.
When it becomes clear that the records are wrong, Ross assumes he can just walk back into the game and reclaim his name. Sometimes life doesn't work like that.
So, let's not beat around the bush, this is not an original film.
The plot is predictable and you can more or less write out the script in advance.
If anything though, that is part of the charm. You don't need to think about it, you simply watch and you simply enjoy.
Character personalities change over night, cinematography, soundtrack and direction fluctuate between mediocre and woeful. However the one endearing factor is that in the title role, Mac shines.
Yes, it's not a challenge role for him, but the film was never going to be an Oscar contender.
It is simply a fun, relaxed, happy film that you can watch and (dare I say it) feel inspired by.
Not one to go out and buy, but if it's on TV and there's nothing better to do, you might as well watch it. There are worse ways to spend an evening.
Star Trek (2009)
How a reboot can/should be done
There's an article referenced on IMDb from 2006 called "Spaced Out: Re- Booting Star Trek". Written by Bryce Zabel, he talks about the concept of re-booting a series now only 3 years off it's 50th anniversary. The Crew of the USS Enterprise, first hitting our TV Screens on September 8th 1966.
Well, saying "our" screens, my Mother would've been 15 at the time of premier, my Dad 14. It would be a further 16 years until I entered this world, and a further 5 years and the Premier of the Next Generation for my first discovery of Star Trek, and a love affair that would last for the rest of my childhood and most of my Adult life.
Anyway, back to case in point.
Zabel, like many others had a dream of bringing back a series and developing it into something new, something fresh.
Everyone in this life dreams of telling their own side to every story. Gathering the memories of life and taking them in a fabulous new direction.
Star Trek would eventually find this new life, this (to steal from another recently, successfully rebooted series) regeneration. It would find it thanks to the tender love and care of one of it's own fans.
J.J. Abrams, the man behind Lost, Alias and countless other hit series/movies, took hold of Star Trek and reinvigorated it.
After Jean Luc Picard's final outing on the big screen in 2002, Star Trek was flat out cold.
Personally, I'd never had a problem with the final film Nemesis, and a review written on IMDb way back in 2003 by yours truly (yes I'm referencing myself from 10 years ago, and no I don't care) showed that whilst at the time I enjoyed it, it never finished the series off properly. Admittedly the idea of the time whereby all surviving characters from the Next Generation, Deep Space 9 & Voyager would fight to the Death against an enemy (I even started writing a script where DS9 is blown up within the first 5 minutes) was a little far fetched, I honestly thought there was life in the series. The box office, and most other fans/pundits/critics felt differently. Star Trek was effectively KO'ed.
This meant that when Abrams got his hand on the series, there must surely have been only one option? A mainstay of Hollywood commercialism, a prequel.
At the time I shuddered and wondered how it could even work. A prequel is fixed within a universe, a point in time. Heroes shown as their younger selves, they cannot be changed, they cannot be written.
A character's life is written in scripts/novels and cannot be changed. So how can a prequel be anything other than a attempt to recapture youth and recapture a former glory?
Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, writers of this film find the only way possible. To create a prequel, to recapture the old heroes of your youth, whilst simultaneously telling a fresh and original story, there's only one way to do it. You need to make it 100% crystal clear that you are effectively creating an entirely new world, a parallel to the world of our dreams and memories. A place where anything can happen, and facts can be manipulated.
This Back To The Future style alternative reality, it allows for an entirely new future to develop. One where the characters can change and personalities rewritten.
Should a key actor quit, the story can accommodate this. Should they choose to blow something up, again, this is acceptable.
What makes the whole concept of these films so wonderful is that they ARE able to do this. The shock value in this movie of destroying Vulcan, the pure genius of this move, it is breathtaking, it is wonderful.
This isn't to say that there aren't tributes within the film to the original. The throw away lines to series, the introduction of nicknames like Bones and Scotty, they all add to the wonderful effect.
Include some superb (but not ground breaking) special effects, and the story takes on a life of it's own.
The acting is average, but acceptable, all actors mimicking the originals to varying degrees of acceptance. Karl Urban deserving special praise for his Leonard McCoy.
The film captures the mood effectively and does exactly what you'd expect really. It moves and enthrals. It makes you laugh, and it makes you think of days gone by. As a tribute it is superb, and as a fresh start, it is a masterstroke.
The sequel is due within the next month, and personally, there's a thrill and an expectation. Star Trek is firmly back where it belongs.
Bibliography Re-booting Star Trek by Bryce Zabel - http://bztv.typepad.com/newsviews/2006/06/spaced_out_star.html
Goal II: Living the Dream (2007)
Woeful sequel is a huge disappointment
SPOILERS Straight to the point, just like many other sequels, this is a woeful film. Badly directed, filmed, acted, written and made, it is a disappointing follow on to what had been a remarkably enjoyable original.
Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker) has been transfered to Real Madrid, but when you are a rich, spoilt footballer with more money than sense, life doesn't always run smoothly.
From the opening minutes, the flaws with "Goal II" become apparent. Whilst the original specialised in it's simplicity and rags to riches story, this is more about the fall from grace and corruption of the individual.
This story, this path to destruction, is told in such a weak, badly written style that not only do we loose any sort of connection with our characters, but eventually we actually end up loathing the entire concept of the film. In our first outing, we cared about Munez, we cared about those around him, we cared about Newcastle. Yet here we are, one film on, and nobody really cares about that over hyped, over arrogant bunch in Madrid. The humble nature of football is removed, at times intentionally, at times accidentally, from the entire story and the audience is made to suffer.
Away from the plot, we also have to face up to the awful truth that the whole cinematography has been ruined too. To give the first film it's due, it really managed to capture the footballing atmosphere perfectly, and when it slotted fictional characters into the live action, there was a degree of realism about it. So why do we now have some shoddy, artificial, attempt where everything looks more like a version of Pro Evolution Soccer than real life? The brightness of the light as Rutger Hauer's Dutch coach of Madrid would look at Munez on the bench, the whole feel, it looks ridiculously artificial.
Also, the film feels like it has been sped up too. When on the pitch, our first film was filmed at a relatively human speed, yet here we have fast action shots which look absolutely insane. It just looks nasty, pure and simple.
There is a lot else wrong with this film. The acting, the soundtrack (the first featured a rather stunning selection of Oasis tracks for some reason), the concept. Yet I'm going to avoid going into any more detail. This is a film which promised so much, and has delivered so little. It'll be interesting to see the third film at the World Cup, but my expectations are not that high. Stick to the first film.
Running with Scissors (2006)
Slow to start, and definitely thinks a lot of itself, but comes good
SPOILERS Let's be completely honest, if "Running with Scissors" really is the childhood experiences of Augusten Burroughs, then it's a miracle he has remained even remotely sane. A deranged, lunacy, the story of young Augusten is a fantastical tale of malcontents and nutters. Unfortunately, the film adaptation is also an inconsistent affair with positives and negatives in practically every direction.
Born to two parents who hate each other, Augusten (Joseph Cross) has a complicated life. His father, an alcoholic, supposedly violent man (Alec Baldwin) leaves his neurotic, fame obsessed, drugged up mother (Annette Benning) and somehow our young hero finds himself stuck in the home of the loopy Doctor Finch (Brian Cox). Will he leave this place with the slightest bit of sanity? Only time will tell.
Right from the outset, "Running with Scissors" puts itself up there as another of your surreal deranged movies with eccentric characters and outrageous surroundings. Not as funny as something like "The Royal Tenenbaums" but supposedly more realistic, it flirts constantly between dragging you into the story and spitting you out the other side. There are scenes of beauty when characters emotions are dragged to the forefront and their tension is released, and there are scenes of pure garbage for example an awkward poetry reading.
The film also manages to provide us with inconsistent acting standards. Annette Benning as Augusten's mother is absolutely magnificent throughout, and yet Gwyneth Paltrow's performance as a member of the Finch family makes you grind your teeth and scream with frustration. The standard is just so inconsistent, it defies belief.
Cinematography too manages to flicker between beautiful and dreadful. A scene where snow is falling on Benning is so crisply and moving filmed is a rare highlight, just like another scene involving the Finch family kitchen roof. Whilst on the opposing spectrum a scene involving Augusten and his mothers lover, a scene which should convey truly heart wrenching power, is filmed ineffectually and passes without merit.
Ultimately "Running with Scissors" just flicks from one side to another. Never knowing what it wants to achieve, it manages to fail to maintain a high standard throughout. Like the characters of the story itself, the film is never quite correctly balanced.
The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)
Well acted, but far too pretentious
SPOILERS If there is ever any example that one person can indeed make a difference, it is when you examine the evolution of our attitudes to nudity. Whether it is those who exposed more like Bettie Page or porn baron Larry Flint, or those who tried to have it covered up like Mary Whitehouse, the views of society have often been effected by the rare individual.
In "The Notorious Bettie Page", we get to learn about the enigmatic Ms Page and the ways her liberal attitude to nudity revolutionised the world. A story worth telling, it is also a role superbly played by Gretchen Mol. Yet, for all the decent acting, the film drags excruciatingly, and whilst black and white cinematography is so often used to great effect, here it comes across as pretentious and insulting. Playing on our emotions, the lack of colour tries to force us to feel emotions towards this character, which are at the same time undermined by the plot which tires and bores. The story is simply too much of the same thing and there's remarkably little substance.
All in all, "The Notorious Bettie Page" could have been something so much better. With some great acting performances and a story worth telling, there is potential there. It is a shame therefore that with a weak script and some truly awful cinematography, it would be such a dire film. If you fancy seeing some good acting, watch this film. Be warned though, it will bore you senseless.
The Thing (1982)
Scary, yet dated.
SPOILERS People have always told me how great "The Thing" is as a film. So it was with high anticipation that 15 years after it's release, I finally got round to watching it. It's a shame that I waited too long though. "The Thing" is a good film. It's tension builds nicely and the acting well above standard. Unfortunately it's also blatantly an 80s film, is ridiculously dated, and the special effects are practically Jim Henson standard.
Not exactly a complicated story, the beauty of this film is it's occasional twists. Set in the arctic, it tells the story of a bunch of scientists (including a young Kurt Russell) who are conducting experiments. As events unfold however, it becomes apparent that they aren't quite alone.
So taking the good points of "The Thing", it has great tension, the acting is up to standard, and occasionally it scares the bejezers out of you.
It's just a shame that despite all that the special effects have faded over the years and the creature itself isn't really that scary anymore. Still, for what it is, "The Thing" is pretty damn cool!
You, Me and Dupree (2006)
Daft, inspiring, entertaining fun
SPOILERS Always entertaining, there's generally something magical about Owen Wilson. Cheeky, eccentric, good natured, his characters just have an obvious likable element about them. In "You, Me and Dupree", it's exactly the same. As far as comedies go, this won't go up there amongst the best, but never mind, for a spur of the moment comedy, there's little wrong with it. Led by Wilson, it is a feel good buddy movie, and a romantic comedy, both rolled tightly together. It's inspiring and it leaves you feeling warm all over. That's a good film.
Carl (Matt Dillon) is getting married. Returning from his honeymoon with beautiful new bride Molly (Kate Hudson), life couldn't be better. That is, if it wasn't for two invasive individuals. Her father, the rich and intrusive Mr Thompson (Michael Douglas), and best man Dupree (Wilson). Unemployed and without a home, Dupree is too busy living life to settle. Moving into Carl's home until he finds a job, Dupree just goes right ahead and gets comfy, much to the annoyance of both his best friend, and his friends bride.
It was never going to be a high brow movie, but "You, Me and Dupree" doesn't need to be. Introducing us to the enigmatic Dupree, it brings us a brilliant character to grow attached to. A loose cannon, Dupree isn't really safe to be let out, but the predictable nature of the story means that we know he'll come good.
If there is one flaw in fact with the film it is that this predictability takes so long to get into gear. Stretching at 108 minutes long, "You, Me and Dupree" could almost be resolved after 60 minutes. It isn't a complex story, and towards the end it does tire. Still, it's enjoyable.
The one truly remarkable thing about this film, is a strange curiosity. Midway through, Dupree meets a girl. As events unfold, you think she might be an important character. Yet, for some obscure reason, we never once see this girls face. Is this intentional, or purely an error? It strikes me as odd that there would be no obvious meaning here. Still, it has little bearing on the film, and that can only be a good thing.
Yes, this won't ever win awards. It's not a classic in the making. Yet "You, Me & Dupree" is still an entertaining enough story to make you happy and even inspire you. Nice, simple entertainment.
Sport and Cinema oh so rarely mix
SPOILERS There is a remarkable inability between sport and cinema to actually cohabit. Despite the obvious importance in the lives of so many people, if you try to name films which actually capture the true essence of sport and translate it to the screen, they fail. Films featuring sport as a plot element, for example Fever Pitch, Escape To Victory, and so on, they can be good films. This is never for a sporting reason though.
As a result therefore, you can't blame the scepticism which comes with the whole concept of "Goal!" as a movie. A kid who plays football for Newcastle, well how riveting can you get? Remarkably, despite the predictable plot and the woeful acting, it actually is quite good.
Let's not be generous, I mean, there are major flaws. David Beckham's cameo in particular is so hideously dreadful, what with the bad delivery and the trimmed eyebrows, and the vast array of make up. At least though he is the only one. Other major stars, Alan Shearer, Raul, Zidane, etc, these stars have the good grace to appear, make a small comment, and then leg it off screen before humiliating themselves.
In regards to the acting of the professionals, that's another mixed bag. Anna Friel manages to talk through the role, as does Sean Pertwee, yet the main star Kuno Becker does alright. I wouldn't cast him in a movie if I was making one, but with the script and story provided, he manages to catch the mood acceptably.
So despite this mixed array, why should we enjoy this film? Well, whilst it's predictable, it does drag you in towards the end, and you do find yourself a bit hooked by the conclusion. Also, and this is the most remarkable part, they actually manage to make Newcastle look attractive. I mean, that doesn't make the film any better, but it's certainly hilarious.
Let's be honest, we should never expect anything from a film like this, and so yeah, the acting is varying from bad to acceptable, and the story is predictable, but when a film can produce the required attraction at the end of the film and simultaneously make a dump like Newcastle look attractive, you've got to give it credit. "Goal!" might be yet another example of sport and cinema not mixing, but there's enough about it to make you happy. Worth a laugh.
SPOILERS Once upon a time there was a cancelled television series called "Firefox". Popular amongst a few of my friends, but something I managed to completely avoid, it was cancelled very early on for numerous reasons. Written by Joss Whedon of Buffy fame, it was popular amongst it's fans, and as almost a relaunch of sorts, Whedon made a film based on it. That film was "Serenity", and I've seen that, and remarkably it's bloody good fun.
In a distant future, humanity has spread across the stars. After a bloody civil war, it has become split between the dominating alliance and an outskirts of rebels struggling to survive in the out planets. Aboard the spaceship Serenity, Mal, the captain of this motley crew is trying to make a living, whilst avoiding the alliance's forces. Unfortunately aboard his ship he has a girl with a past, and this past is about to come back and threaten everyone he cares for.
Beautifully shot, and well thought out, I could go on about the great things about "Serenity" for ages. I'm not going to though, mainly because there is one aspect of the film which demonstrates just how clever it is.
I'll confess here and now that I'm a bit of a science fiction fan. A Star Trek enthusiast (and former obsessive) since the Next Generation began when I was eight, I've seen series come and go and which have basically spent a vast period of time building up characters that we care for and bond with. As such, when you watch an one off film with no previous build up, the characterisation has to be pretty damn impressive to get the viewer hooked. Amazingly, "Serenity" does this with ease. Yes the characters are semi-predictable and the plot follows a remarkably familiar story pattern, but as we watch and absorb this film, we find ourselves growing attached to Mal the Captain and his rag tag band of renegades. It's impressive writing from Joss Wheldon, and if he ever branches beyond science fiction and fantasy, Wheldon could produce films to rival any other script writer. Only time will tell however.
"Serenity" is a quality action adventure film. Beautifully written and directed by a man with great potential, it is a thrill ride well worth watching. It is not difficult to see why it did so well amongst film magazine readers, and here's hoping that we get to see more of the same soon. Go watch.