After storming awards season with Whiplash two years ago, writer-director Damien Chazelle returns with something even better: an original movie musical that is shamelessly enjoyable. It somehow manages to be a feel-good triumph as well as a darkly honest exploration of the quest for fame and romance in Los Angeles. And with fantastic songs, colourful choreography and already iconic performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, this is pure cinematic joy.
It opens in a traffic jam on a warm winter's day, where aspiring actress Mia (Stone) first encounters struggling jazz musician Sebastian (Gosling). They meet a couple more times before they begin to share the troubles they are facing trying to make their dreams come true. As romance blossoms, Mia urges Sebastian to go for his passion project to create a proper jazz bar, while Sebastian supports Mia's attempt to write a one-woman show to display her talents. But there are huge pressures to endure and obstacles to overcome as this city pushes them to compromise.
Chazelle establishes the film's musical tone from the opening moment, a breathtaking single-take full-on musical number on a freeway flyover. And the movie only gets better from there, deepening the two central characters as every scene is packed with hilarious comedy, honest romance and wrenching drama. Gosling and especially Stone are perfect in these roles, drawing on their already established chemistry as they add singing and dancing to their repertoires.
Continue reading: La La Land Review
As the director of The Help, Tate Taylor may seem like an odd choice to make a movie based on Paula Hawkins' sexy mystery thriller bestseller. While the film features three central female characters, it also has a dark and twisty plot. Taylor manages to bring out plenty of insinuating textures in the characters to keep the audience intrigued, but he never quite gets a grip on the Hitchcockian elements of this story about identity and life expectations.
The title character is Rachel (Emily Blunt), who commutes into Manhattan every day, observing life in the suburban homes along the train line. She's particularly fascinated by one house and the blonde woman (Haley Bennett) who lives there with her lusty husband (Luke Evans). But the fact is that Rachel knows this woman: she's Megan, the nanny who takes care of the infant daughter of Rachel's ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), who live just a few doors down. And Rachel has a history of stalking them. Then she spots Megan with another man (Edgar Ramirez), just before Megan goes missing. So when Rachel emerges from yet another black-out drunken stupor, she begins to worry about what she might have done.
This is another challenging role for Blunt, who plays the shattered Rachel with raw grit. This is a woman who doesn't trust her own mind, knows that she drinks far too much and feels incapable of getting over her past mistakes. The film also occasionally circles around to show scenes from Megan's and Anna's perspectives, and both Bennett and Ferguson bring superbly unsteady textures to the roles. These are three complex, flawed women dealing with very big issues in their lives. And there are smaller but pivotal roles for the gifted Alison Janney (as a detective), Laura Prepon (as Rachel's flatmate) and Lisa Kudrow (as an old friend). By comparison the men are a bit simplistic.
Continue reading: The Girl On The Train Review
Steven Spielberg takes on the Cold War with a stately, sentimental thriller that gurgles along with quiet intensity, only occasionally finding a real spark of energy. Most intriguing, and important, is the way the film refuses to indulge in the usual moralising, allowing its characters to be complex and confused as they try to do the right thing. Even the Russians are depicted as real people rather than shady villains. And this makes what happens utterly riveting.
Set in 1957 New York, the story centres on lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks), who is hired to represent Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) as he is tried for being a Soviet spy. But James is fighting a losing battle against a culture that's determined to convict Rudolf, regardless of the evidence against him. Three years later, an American U-2 spy plane is shot down over Russia, and its pilot Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) captured. So now James is drafted in by the CIA to negotiate a swap: Rudolf for Gary. He heads to Berlin to orchestrate the hand-off, and there decides that he also wants the East Germans to free an American student (Will Rogers) who was wrongfully detained as the Berlin Wall was being built.
Donovan was a remarkable man who tirelessly went far beyond the call in everything he did. He's also a terrific movie character, and Hanks plays him with deadpan honesty, adding shadings to every scenes that make him easy to identify with. This is a likeable person who represents today's political ideal: a tenacious man who ignores partisan politics to do the right thing. The characters around him are less developed, although Rylance offers some strong support as an honest, perceptive man who accepts his fate with dignity. And Ryan has some pointed moments as Donovan's observant wife. All of the actors benefit from the strong screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen and Matt Charman, which stirs plenty of edgy humour into the Cold War tensions.
Continue reading: Bridge Of Spies Review
Purists may need ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’ to help this news go down…
Disney are planning to make a new Mary Poppins film. The upcoming film will not be a remake of the much beloved original but will take place 20 years later when the magical nanny has a new set of children to take care of. Like the original, the film will be set in London.
Julie Andrews starred in the original Mary Poppins. Photographed here at the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival in L.A. in March 2015.
Read More: Disney Announces Mulan Live Action Remake.
Meryl Streep is having so much fun playing an ageing rocker that the audience only barely registers that this film isn't nearly as deep as it's pretending to be. There are some very nice observations about the messy ties that hold families together, as well as the fragility of dreams, but the real draw here is seeing Streep tearing up the screen, whether she's singing rock-n-roll classics or indulging in some spirited on-screen drama with her real-life daughter Mamie Gummer.
Streep plays Ricki, who has ended up singing in a shady Los Angeles bar with her on-off boyfriend Greg (Rick Springfield) and their band The Flash. Then she gets a call from her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline) saying that their daughter Julie (Gummer) has fallen into a deep depression and needs her mom. So Ricki heads home to Indianapolis, where she also has to face her two sons (Nick Westrate and Sebastian Stan), both of whom feel like they've been ignored by their childish mother and don't want much to do with her. So as she helps Julie cheer up, she's dealing with her sons, clashing with Pete's wife Maureen (Audra McDonald) and wondering why she's so reluctant about settling down with Greg.
None of this is terribly complicated, but the script is by Diablo Cody, who won an Oscar for Juno and also wrote the similarly themed Young Adult. She packs the dialogue with barbed wit that slices right to the core of these characters, bringing out crisp insights and dark emotions. The character interaction is often magical, including Streep's reignited chemistry with Kline (they first sparked together more than 30 years ago in Sophie's Choice). Her scenes with Gummer have an effortless crackle of authenticity, as do her biting chats with McDonald. In fact, the only weak moments are her off-stage scenes with Springfield, who expresses himself better with a guitar in his hands.
Continue reading: Ricki And The Flash Review
With his writing-directing debut, Ryan Gosling shows audacious skill as a visual artist but never quite manages to recount a story that grabs hold of the audience. It's a stunningly gorgeous film packed with strong, earthy performances from a starry cast playing against type. But there's no momentum at all to the narrative, which is packed with random symbolism that never quite resolves into anything either meaningful or emotionally engaging.
Lost River is a decaying, abandoned city on the edge of a lake created by damming up a river and flooding another town. In what's left of their neighbourhood, Billy (Christina Hendricks) lives in her family home with her sons: a toddler and a teen named Bones (Iain De Caestecker), who helps support the household by scavenging for copper in the vacant buildings nearby. But he's encroaching on the turf of self-proclaimed gangster Bully (Matt Smith), who is intent on exacting vicious revenge. Meanwhile, next-door neighbour Rat (Ronan) is caring for her delusional granny (Barbara Steele) and trying to help Bones. And when the new bank manager Dave (Ben Mendelsohn) turns down Billy's cry for help, she takes a job at his seedy underworld nightclub alongside Cat (Eva Mendes).
Aside from some blood-soaked cabaret, what goes on in this nightclub remains rather mysterious, as Billy finds higher-paying work in the purple-hued basement fetish rooms. But then everything in this film is enigmatic, as Gosling deliberately refuses to connect the dots. This gives the film an intriguing David Lynch-style tone, although it lacks Lynch's eerie resonance. There's also a touch of John Waters-style trashiness and Terrence Malick-style natural beauty, plus the clear influence of Gosling's heavily stylised past directors Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive and Only God Forgives) and Derek Cianfrance (Blue Monday and The Place Beyond the Pines). In other words, almost everything in this film feels like a reference to another movie, but it's expertly assembled to look fabulous from start to finish, with some seriously striking sequences along the way.
Continue reading: Lost River Review
It's taken a long time for this stage musical to make it to the big screen, and while director Rob Marshall once again fails to give the story a sharp focus (see also Chicago and Nine), he at least lets the music and characters shine. Originally staged on Broadway in 1987, this musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine is a gleeful mash-up of fairy tales that continues on past the "happily ever after", eventually turning rather dark and emotional.
Once upon a time, there was a Baker and his Wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) who learn that they can't have children because the Witch (Meryl Streep) next door has cursed them. She offers to break the spell if they collect a cow, a cape, a slipper and a lock of hair. Meanwhile, Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) annoys his mother (Tracey Ullman) by selling the family cow for a handful of "magic" beans; Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) dodges a leery Wolf (Johnny Depp) following her through the woods; Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) sneaks to the festival to meet the Prince (Chris Pine) against the wishes of her nasty stepmum (Christine Baranski); and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) defies her mother by letting her hair down for a Prince (Billy Magnussen). After knotting together, each plot strand resolves happily. Until the next day.
This is very much a story of two halves, with the sharp, snappy, hilarious first act contrasting strongly against the rather disturbingly grim and grisly second act, as everyone's story unravels to reveal each character's deep neediness. What makes this show so clever is the way it undermines the usual fairy-tale happiness of most stories, cautioning that this artifice is actually a problem for children. While the songs are all clever and thoroughly engaging, none of them is particularly hummable on first listen, but each is packed with witty wordplay and serious subtext that gets under the skin.
Continue reading: Into The Woods Review
The fact that this magical romance has been retitled A New York Winter's Tale in the UK tells you what the filmmakers think of the audience: we can't be trusted to get anything on our own. Writer-director Akiva Goldsman lays everything on so thickly that there's nothing left for us to discover here. And he botches the tone by constantly shifting between whimsical fantasy and brutal violence. Sure, the manipulative filmmaking does create some emotional moments, but inadvertent giggles are more likely.
It's mainly set in 1916, where young orphan Peter (Farrell) is running from his relentlessly nasty former boss Pearly (Crowe), a gangster angry that Peter isn't as vicious as he is. Then Peter finds a mystical white horse that miraculously rescues him and leads him to the dying socialite Beverly (Brown Findlay). As they fall deeply in love, Peter believes he can create a miracle to save Beverly from the end stages of consumption. And Pearly is determined to stop him. But nearly a century later, Peter is still wandering around Manhattan in a daze, trying to figure out who he is and why he's still there. He gets assistance from a journalist (Connelly), who helps him make sense of his true destiny.
Yes, this is essentially a modern-day fairy tale packed with supernatural touches. But Goldsman never quite figures out what the centre of the story is, losing the strands of both the epic romance and the intensely violent vengeance thriller. Meanwhile, he condescends to the audience at every turn, deploying overwrought camera whooshing, frilly costumes, dense sets and swirly effects while a violin-intensive musical score tells us whether each a scene should be wondrous or scary. At the centre of this, Farrell somehow manages to hold his character together engagingly, even convincing us that Peter is around 25 years old (Farrell's actually 38).
Continue reading: Winter's Tale Review
What looks like a rather standard buddy action comedy is elevated by a smarter-than-normal script, skilful direction and surprisingly offhanded chemistry between Washington and Wahlberg. In addition to the usual action chaos, the film lets big issues gurgle under the surface while refusing to play it safe. For example, the villain here is the US government, rather than some cliched foreign nutcase.
It's set on the US-Mexico border, where smooth operator Bobby (Washington) is working with fast-talking Stig (Wahlberg) to make a deal with the drug kingpin Papi Greco (Olmos). When they decide to rob a local bank to get his attention, the whole situation blows up in their faces. Not only does it emerge that both are undercover federal agents (Bobby with the DEA and Stig with Navy Intelligence), but their bosses (Burke and Marsden, respectively) are unwilling to protect them. Even Bobby's colleague-girlfriend (Patton) can't really help. And now they're being chased by everyone, including Papi and a swaggering killer (Paxton) with connections to the CIA.
The rather crazy plot demands that we pay attention as each of these factions is brought into focus, and it's refreshing to see a big movie that never abandons its own internal logic. Everything does indeed fit together into a larger picture, and since Bobby and Stig are alone in trying to figure it out, we happily go with them. Washington and Wahlberg are having a lot of fun with these characters as they jostle against each other in various displays of messy bravado. Opposite them, Patton has a thankless sexy-female role, but Olmos is quietly fierce, and Paxton steals every scene as a cocky, sneering villain who leaves a trail of destruction in his wake.
Continue reading: 2 Guns Review
A young Hollywood stunt driver (Gosling) moonlights as a getaway driver, overseen by his mentor Shannon (Cranston), who has just negotiated a partnership with businessman Bernie (Brooks) and his shady partner Nino (Perlman). But the driver's isolated life is breached when he gets to know single mother Irene (Mulligan) and her young son (Leos) who live in his building. And when Irene's husband (Isaac) is released from prison, the driver offers to help clear an old score so he can start with a fresh slate. Of course, nothing goes as planned.
Continue reading: Drive Review
After storming awards season with Whiplash two years ago, writer-director Damien Chazelle returns with something...
As the director of The Help, Tate Taylor may seem like an odd choice to...
Steven Spielberg takes on the Cold War with a stately, sentimental thriller that gurgles along...
Meryl Streep is having so much fun playing an ageing rocker that the audience only...
With his writing-directing debut, Ryan Gosling shows audacious skill as a visual artist but never...
The fact that this magical romance has been retitled A New York Winter's Tale in...
What looks like a rather standard buddy action comedy is elevated by a smarter-than-normal script,...
Based on the James Sallis novel, this lean, stylish thriller is confidently assembled to pull...
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