Split, 2016

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson

IMDb

Split was pretty damn entertaining. I quite liked the idea of the premise and despite the occasional M Night Shyamalism, I think it was pretty well executed.

Credit must be given to James McAvoy’s performance, which he just nails, playing a man with a Dissociative Identity Disorder (sort of) and thus has to perform as many diverse characters, sometimes interacting with one another. He nails it. Once you’re familiar with the characters he plays you can tell which one he is usually just from body language alone.

Anya Taylor-Joy, as the protagonist, also does quite a good job, I certainly enjoyed the exploration of her character and spending time with her. The other two leads, however, were actually quite crap. Fortunately we don’t see too much of them.

Anyone familiar with Shyamalan’s work will know that the vast majority of his recent films have ranged from bad to terrible, so it was encouraging to see some clever and competent film making here. However there are still issues. The one that stood out to me was tonal dissonance. Clearly the film was trying to be taken quite seriously and to keep the audience quite tense. Despite this, the film kept throwing funny moments in there. Totally ruins the tone, but makes the film all the more entertaining.

Something that should be addressed is that the film doesn’t even attempt to portray DID as a realistic disorder. I know absolutely nothing about the matter, but early on it becomes pretty clear that the film isn’t trying to do so anyway, so I just rolled with it and enjoyed the ridiculous spectacle presented to me. Trust me, I got some pretty good laughs in the climax of the film as a result. I think it’d be pretty interesting to see a film tackle the topic in a more serious manner one day though, as it is pretty intriguing and I think it has a lot of potential in the medium.

If you’re at all interested by the trailer then check it out, I think you’ll enjoy it.

P.S. it’s not scary at all. The trailer kind of implies that it is, but this simply isn’t the case.

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Moana, 2016

Directed by: Ron Clements, Don Hall

Starring:  Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House

IMDb

The fact that I’ve spent nearly two weeks forgetting to write a review about Moana probably says something about the impact it left on me. It was actually pretty good, and I’ve caught myself humming a couple of the songs, but I can’t help but feel a lack of ambition in its production. I suppose it just felt a little ~too~ by the numbers, with its only real stand-out feature being its setting and cast. I mean good on them for going for such a little represented setting and for casting appropriately, but that alone wasn’t really enough to make Moana feel special as a whole.

I know it has excellent ratings, but I’ve always found the current ‘Walt Disney Animation Studios’s films to be a little overrated [i.e. Frozen, Big Hero Six, Zootopia]. The truth is, everything in Moana is enjoyable, but I don’t see myself buying the blu-ray or anything. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s definitely worth seeing at least once. Definitely show it to your kids, they’ll love it. I, however (just like every Disney Princess ever) was left wanting more.

Why Him? 2016

Directed by: John Hamburg 

Starring: Zoey Deutch, James Franco, Tangie Ambrose, Bryan Cranston

IMDb

Why Him? was really funny. The story and editing are about as stock as they come, bringing pretty much nothing new and/or special to the table, but they’re not the focus. The focus is on the comedy and giving the audience a good time, which I think it succeeds at (for the most part. There are a few painful scenes to sit through.) It’s one of those movies where you know literally every story beat from start to finish, but you likely won’t care because you’re having a good time. If it sounds like your jam, go see it, have a laugh and enjoy.

La La Land – Part 2, 2016

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

Starring:  Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt

IMDb

Read Part 1 here.

So I saw La La Land again and I’ve been inspired to go a little more in depth and analyse it a bit. If you haven’t seen the movie yet (fix that), you probably shouldn’t read this, as I’m going to be going in-depth on specific scenes and songs. You’ve been warned.

In my review I called the film ‘a love letter to all performing arts, encouraging the love of music and art and leading a life worth living’. I’d like to amend that slightly, to ‘a love letter to those passionate enough to follow their dreams and pursue the performing arts’. I make the distinction because while the film certainly adores the performing arts, it makes a point of spotlighting the artists who make it all happen. In essence, the art forms are entirely reliant on people passionate enough to put everything on the line to bring them to life.

This shoutout to the passionate is most clearly depicted in the song ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’; Mia’s audition at the end of the film, where she tells the story of her aunt who jumped in to the freezing river in Paris just for the thrill of it.

“She smiled,

Leapt, without looking

And She tumbled into the Seine!

The water was freezing

she spent a month sneezing

but said she would do it, again.”

The act of jumping into the river can be seen as an allegory for artists putting everything on the line for pursuing the risky world of the arts, and doing it with a genuine joy without regrets. The song goes on to encourage this with its chorus:

“Here’s to the ones who dream

Foolish, as they may seem

Here’s to the hearts that ache

Here’s to the mess we make”.

The idea of risks associated with an artist’s life is pretty perfectly encapsulated in a tiny scene where Mia is on the phone to her mother, Seb casually listening in another room. My memory isn’t good enough to quote the scene exactly, but she says things to the effect of “It’s a one-woman-show…… no, I’m paying to do it” and “He’s great, he’s going to start his own club. No he hasn’t opened it yet. He’s saving, I think.” The whole film up to this point has been very romantic and idealistic about pursuing the arts, not showing the realistic financial hazards, so relatively subtle shifts in dialogue and expression in Gosling’s performance indicate to the audience his second thoughts about blindly following his dreams, setting in motion his career in John Legend’s band. (by the way, I appreciate the sparing use of John Legend, any more of him and his lack of acting experience would really begin to show). It was a simple scene, but I appreciated the subtlety and visuality of how this shift was portrayed.

Diverting from strict analysis for a second, something the film did really excellent was visual storytelling. The film has a lot of time skips, and following each the film is able to communicate exactly what changes the characters have gone through without a single line of exposition. The best example of this is at the end of the film. [[[MAJOR SPOILERS]]] by the way; don’t read this bit until you’ve seen the movie. [[[The first thing we see is a recreation of an earlier scene where a big celebrity orders coffee at the WB lot, only Mia is now ordering. Immediately we know that she’s made it as an actress in a way that’s super satisfying for the audience, having seen her so close to giving up just a few scenes earlier. We then see her walk into a big house with a fancy breakfast finished, but not cleaned up on the table, a card on a shelf with ‘congratulations’ written on it and flowers. From this mise en scene we can understand just how successful she’s become instantly, yet how humble she has remained. There are tonnes of similar examples through the rest of the film.]]]

At this point I could continue to give examples that prove what I think the film is really about, but the more I write the more I want to just gush about the bits that I really like. The way I look at it, this piece is much more for me than it is for anyone else, so fuck it, I say!

I ADORE the first two numbers. If any of the musical numbers could be considered gratuitous, ‘Another Day of Sun’ would be the most obvious candidate, not featuring any characters from the film nor progressing the story. What it does, however, is establish the films narrative tone and basic themes:

“Summer Sunday nights

We’d sink into our seats

Right as they dimmed out all the lights

A Technicolor world made out of music and machine

It called me to be on that screen

And live inside each scene”

Despite not being sung by her, this could easily be seen as Mia’s backstory. I’m not sure if that was the intention, but I buy it. It certainly features the same attitude that she does. Anyhow, that’s not really the reason I like the scene. I like it because it’s fun, catchy, and a god damn spectacle. The choreography, colour, movement and camerawork in this number are all absolutely phenomenal and hook you straight into the film from the word go with its infectious energy. I simply can’t believe the amount of tremendous coordination that number must have taken to put together, and it absolutely pays off.

‘Someone in the Crowd’ functions similarly to ‘Another Day of Sun’ in terms of establishing the tone of the film only this time, inserting Mia and her story to the mix. It starts fun and exciting, representing how it is to be in LA and reaching for her dreams. The number includes very extravagant imagery, including a champagne glass overflowing, evoking the hedonistic ‘roaring 20s’. It then drops into silence and focuses on her loneliness in a sea of people, seeing that she is indeed struggling with the whole experience, only to end in fireworks, also evoking the 20s, symbolising her world’s indifference to her. Again, the colour, blocking and camerawork all give this number a great infectious energy and it’s just fun. No way around it.

Something I didn’t notice the first time I saw the film is that every number is appear to be one take, or actually is done one take. I feel this is important for two reasons. 1. It evokes the feeling of a stage musical, and takes advantage of their quality of sweeping you off your feet and keeping you there. 2. It only adds to the spectacle. It simply makes the numbers much more impressive and enjoyable to experience.

The third big number ‘A Lovely Night’ is 100% an allusion to Broadway musicals of the early 20th century. The LA sunset backdrop evokes heavily the kind of set that might be set up for that type of production, right down to the placement of a bench, to do sitting tap on. Not to mention the full blown Gene Kelly style tap number. I don’t have tonnes to say about this one, I just really enjoyed it. This is the number that really nails the chemistry between Seb and Mia, which maintains excellence through the film.

Speaking of evoking a different medium, the entire sequence inside the planetarium was very clearly meant to evoke silent cinema right from its music and visual style to the fact that they don’t speak for the entire sequence. Here are my favourite little allusions to early cinema in that scene. 1. The whole situation: breaking into somewhere you shouldn’t be for a private romantic moment is such a classic romantic trope in terms of early cinema. 2. The moment where Seb polishes the handle before Mia pulls it: this was the moment where I properly realised what the film was doing, such a typical little moment that you could absolutely see Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton doing. 3. The moment when they are dancing through the stars. In my review I mentioned the film incorporating a fusion of modern film-making and classic forms of performance art. This is the moment I was referring to. It’s absolutely stunning and I think it looks phenomenal. It’s one of those film moments that you just wish you could live, it’s really beautiful. 4. The big finish on them kissing (for the first time in the film, it having been teased multiple times) with the “that’s all folks” circle closing in on them (I have no idea what that technique is called). Classic early cinema. I love that it almost convinces you that the film is over just on that scene.

A scene I want to draw attention to is where Seb and Mia fight. I just want to point out that it’s probably the most believable fight I’ve ever seen in a film. It builds really slowly, every point brought up is completely in character and the performances are pitch perfect. Gosling and Stone really are excellent choices and are both phenomenal actors. I don’t have anything else to say about it, but I thought it was really great. Another aspect of the film I really appreciated was the lighting. The whole endeavour was done flawlessly, especially in the one-take numbers, but the points I appreciated most were the moments of spotlight. Not only do they look fantastic, but each characters’ spotlights are distinct from one another. Mia’s spotlights envelop her body and leave her glowing, while the rest of her surroundings are completely shrouded in darkness, much like the effect that is aimed for in theatre, as she is an actress. Seb’s spotlights have a visible cone of light surrounding him from the source to the ground, much like any musician on stage would receive. It’s a small detail, but I think it adds a lot of personality and depth to the film.

More Spoilers: [[[The final sequence was one of my favourite in the whole movie. Damien Chazelle clearly knows how to end a movie, as Whiplash’s ending was also really excellent. I interpret the whole sequence as two things. 1. It was a representation of what Mia and Seb’s relationship/lives could have been in a more romantic and idealistic world, clearly what they’re both imagining. And 2. How the film may have played in early romance cinema. It’s jam packed with tropes and techniques classic to early film (silhouette, overemphasised performance, literally filming a globe with a plane over it to convey travel, painted sets and backdrops and one part literally has them on an old projector playing out the birth of their child). The thing that really hits me hard about the end of the movie is how bittersweet it is. Both Seb and Mia achieved their dreams, the main theme of the entire film, but both reminisce on what could have been, the lack of the final note in the music symbolising the unsatisfying ending to their relationship. The moment right before Seb starts playing the piano tears me to shreds. The emotion pouring out of both protagonists as they see each other for the first time in five years is overwhelming and when you see Seb hovering over the piano you know exactly what he’s going to play, and it’s just heartbreaking. The whole film uses this musical motif to remind the audience of the various points of emotion prior where it was played and holy hell did it work, if simply anticipating its being played set off the waterworks.]]]

At approximately 2000 words, I think I’ve run out of things I want to say about La La Land right now. Like I said about half way through, this was mainly for me. I need to express myself about this movie, it really breathed life into me. If anyone actually makes it all the way through, let me know what you think of my opinions and start a discussion in the comments, I could talk about this movie for days, it truly blew me away.

La La Land – Part 1, 2016

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

Starring:  Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt

IMDb

Read Part 2 here.

La La Land may just be my favourite film of all time. No jokes, no sarcasm, this movie rocked me to my core.

La La Land is a musical directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) and starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, telling a love story about following your dreams set in the modern world but in the partial style of Broadway in the 30’s and 40’s. I say partial because it has far far more to offer; a more accurate way of describing it would be to say that it’s a love letter to all performing arts, encouraging the love of music and art and leading a life worth living. It does this by fusing the old-fashioned styles of song and dance with the endless possibilities of modern film-making, making for absolutely fantastic musical numbers. They will sweep you off your feet. The original music is all great, it’s fun, it’s moving, and Chazelle knows exactly how to hook you into the story with just a melody. All his films incorporate music in some regard, so it was a natural progression that he did a musical. It just so happens he made the best ever movie-musical in doing so.

Beyond the musical numbers, the whole film is solid in its beautiful cinematography, constantly making allusions to classic cinema, while maintaining its own distinct style. There are a lot of long running shots and the smooth movement of the camera through the action is just breathtaking really, and puts on display the talent being thrown around by the performers. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling both melt into their characters and give great performances, and their on screen chemistry is phenomenal. Their singing voices are both good, but not great. This is intentional and never distracting, as it actually has the effect of making them and their performances seem more real, they’re not distractingly perfect (if that makes sense). Gosling also had to learn piano for this role, and he did a fantastic job of being convincing as a music lover.

I want to gush and gush about La La Land and I might even one day write a more in depth analysis, but I think it’s more important to just get the message out for everyone to please see this movie. I saw it in an advance screening, but its full release is on Boxing Day. I cannot recommend it highly enough, I’ve had a smile on my face ever since I left the theatre.

I don’t normally do ratings, but La La Land is a 10/10 for sure.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, 2016

Directed by: Gareth Edwards

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk

IMDb

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review:
Recently I’ve been getting more and more behind the idea of spin-offs; they allow for more creative freedom than main-series franchise films while simultaneously giving us a new perspective on a world which we’ve grown to know and love, the most notable recent example being Fantastic Beasts.
Rogue One, I feel, struggles in that it tries to have its cake and eat it too. It clearly wants to be its own story with its own interesting and original characters, but it’s weighed down by tonnes of fan service, references to the other films and too many of the admittedly likeable characters. Before anyone jumps to conclusions; this is not a negative review, I quite enjoyed it and think it’s worth seeing, but it is lacking in a number areas.
The story had a very simple goal to accomplish: tell the story of how the Death Star plans were retrieved prior to episode IV. It got too convoluted. For example, the first five or so scenes all took place on different planets with different characters and I got so lost so fast. That said, like I mentioned earlier, I really liked all of the new characters, my favourite being K2-SO, (he’s so snarky I love it), with a really good design, good animation and excellent writing. The cast all did a great job and I’m sure that among these characters will be some people’s favourite Star Wars characters overall.
Speaking of animation, they computer generate a couple of characters to make them look the age they would have back in ’79 and they just don’t quite pull it off. I can’t put my finger on what exactly makes it unconvincing, but it’s there, and it’s distracting. Also, Vader looks wrong too. Hard to put my finger on it, but it just looks like some dude wearing a Vader costume, as opposed to the badass villain we all love making his triumphant return to screen. The visual style overall is phenomenal however, closely following the composition and attention to detail in the world’s exemplified in The Force Awakens.
Ultimately, this looks and feels like a Star Wars spin-off, but it simply doesn’t have the expert construction and care that the likes of The Force Awakens had for me to call it great. It’s fine, with moments of true greatness sprinkled about, and with very memorable and likeable characters and a couple of really grand and epic scenes. It was clearly made to be seen on the big screen, so if you’re going to see it, do it right.
It’s not the best Star movie of the year (Arrival)
It’s not the best Wars movie of the year (Hacksaw Ridge)
It’s not even the best Star Wars movie shown this year (TFA)
But it was certainly entertaining and if you like Star Wars I’m sure you’ll love it.

Arrival, 2016

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

IMDb

Arrival stars Amy Adams as a linguist who must come in contact with extraterrestrial visitors to earth and interpret the reason for their ‘arrival.’ I’m super late to the game on this one, it came out while I was in exams and I just never ended up getting around to it ’till now, but I can’t say I regret it. Arrival was great.

The biggest criticism I had heard of the film going in is that it’s slow, which irks me slightly, yet I completely understand. Almost every shot seems to linger, a technique I’ve criticised before in films such as Hunger Games: Mockingjay. The difference is that there is a rhythm to the cinematography of Arrival; each shot seems exactly as long as it should be, and the camera was quite dynamic so every second gave something to the audience that the previous didn’t. Additionally, the camerawork was quite beautifully done, so it didn’t bother me at all. I do understand, however, that most mainstream movies don’t do this anymore, favouring very quick editing, so a typical moviegoing audience may not be used to it. I think, however, if you know that going in, you’ll be able to appreciate just how well done it was.

The premise was really excellent, definitely something I haven’t quite seen before and the plot was more than satisfying. The thing I actually wish to praise the film the most for is unfortunately a spoiler, so I won’t be explicitly stating it here, but I will say that the story went in a particular direction that I wasn’t expecting, and that I thought was really clever. It was really fantastic and creative storytelling. I also really liked the subtleness of how the film conveyed the world falling apart due to this event.

I’m running late to go see Rogue One, so I’m going to cut this slightly short, but I really liked Arrival, I don’t have any major criticisms, and if you’re a Sci-Fi fan or a fan of good cinema, you’re bound to enjoy it!

The Founder, 2016

Directed by: John Lee Hancock

Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch

IMDb

The Founder stars Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, the ‘Founder’ of McDonalds and chronicles the true story of his and McDonalds rise to the goliath of a company that it is today. The film clearly sets out to depict the events accurately, and they certainly don’t sugar coat it: Ray Kroc was a total asshole, but he was also kind of brilliant and inspiring.

Michael Keaton’s performance was just perfect. I have no more to say on the matter. I also really liked Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as the McDonald brothers. They felt very real and sympathetic, but the film never oversteps its bounds in manipulating the audience to feel for them through dramatic soundtrack, it’s really just the circumstances and the performances pushing the emotional buttons, which is a style I feel works well for this kind of story. The knowledge that the events unfolding really happened is more than sufficient to make you feel sympathetic

Honestly the best reason to see this movie is to see the story play out, it’s very interesting, it’s not too long, and you will easily be captivated from start to finish. It really is fascinating to see how it all played out. It was also very well shot and had some really great character scenes, which certainly don’t hurt the viewing experience.

I feel as though some of the sub-plots were very rushed and thus felt a little unsatisfying, and the soundtrack was a little stock in places, but otherwise I have very little to complain about here.

I expected The Founder to be good, but it was honestly a little better than what I was expecting. If you’re at all interested, check out the trailer, it very accurately depicts the kind of movie you’re going to get. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch… ) And strangely, despite all the awful history about McDonalds I’d just learned, I was craving a Quarter Pounder afterwards. Not sure how to explain that one.

I highly recommend The Founder.