‘La La Land’: Review

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La La Land works well enough because it operates within every preconceived notion and cliche of what you would be perceive this movie to be. It’s quirky, sends up Hollywood pictures of yesteryear and has a couple who meet then dislike each then like each other then date then have the best time of their lives then something UNEXPECTEDLY splits them apart then they become a “better” person from that relationship.

Now none of this is particularly bad per se, and La La Land has enough to distract from its formulaic misgivings, but still in doing so the film seems unoriginal in spite of what it’s trying to project on the screen. It so badly wants to rise from the ashes of all these old time Hollywood movies and become something different and masterful, but it’s still tied down by its trite machinations. I mean, sure, it’s not like the two main characters end up together happily ever after or anything like that, it’s not that formulaic, but it does the next best thing by having its cake and eating it too by saying, “Hey, we’re not gonna put them together, but see they’re better off for that and, awww, heck, fine, we’ll show you them together in some alternative world dream sequence.” Because the film is never content on straying TOO far from that happy Hollywood medium, less it get pulled out of its preordained rut. It’s a fine enough device, giving you the sad and happy by showing you both sides of how following your dreams or staying with a lover can work out either way and letting you choose what applies, but it still rings too cheap and easy.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are both exceptional in there roles, although I’m quite less enamoured with Stone even when while I still see the good stuff she’s putting out there. The writing and performances do a pretty good job in letting these characters be fun and eccentric without it veering too far into camp and seeming like these are just movie characters spouting these writer-speak words that nobody in real-life would ever say. In other words this movie wasn’t written by Diablo Cody. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but thinking that Gosling and Stone’s characters suffer from Gilmore Girls syndrome, where it’s all fun and charming to see them crack wise at each other and make funny little quips and have all these cutesy sayings, but imagine actually running into these people in real life and you won’t be able to find a razor blade fast enough to get away from these unbearable people.

I enjoyed all the musical aspects, ie breaking into song, but I honestly couldn’t help but thinking that the film didn’t really need any of it and at the end of things it just became more gimmicky than anything. There’s not a single song that stands out (good or bad) and it’s not like the film is worse off for any of it, or that it provides a disruption, it just seems like the musical aspect was force-fed into this movie that didn’t really need that to operate at a high level.

Believe it or not after the first four paragraphs that I wrote, but I actually liked this film. While I hated that it had to rely on so many cliches to get where it was going, it operates so well inside these cliches that it puts itself head and shoulders above what most do with them. Damien Chazelle is a good director and writer who crafts this film on such a grandiose stage thanks to his assured eye and vision that it’s hard to believe it’s only his third film. Everyone behind and in front of the camera delivers this whole package with such passion that it’s hard not to be moved by its emotion and the final grace notes from each character. La La Land is a film that loves old Hollywood musicals a bit too much, it has its own heart, but it just can’t resist the bright lights.

‘Moonlight’: Review

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Moonlight is a film about many things. It’s about childhood, growing up, sexuality (repressed and expressive), race, love and a myriad of other constant filmic themes, but Moonlight takes them all into its melting plot and lets them simmer in concert with each other, feeding into the story of one young man.

Moonlight follows Chiron through three stages of his life, firstly as a young child who gets pseudo-mentored by a crack dealer, secondly as an often-bullied teenager and lastly as a full grown adult now working on the block and running drugs. Many through lines exist throughout the three sections including his fractured relationship with his crack-addicted mother, his discovering of his (homo)sexuality and his friend Kevin who is the first person he first becomes intimate with and eventually shapes a lot of who he becomes and subsequently who he never became.

The film works because it takes all these large themes and plays them out on the small scale and focuses them on one character as he progresses through his “boyhood.” It allows us to relate on certain levels (ie. growing up, sexuality, first love, bullying), but it also creates further layers in presenting it through ways that one may not be familiar with directly. It uses the presence of drugs, living in the ghetto, homosexuality, black lives and uses it to inform and play against certain stereotypes and what we generally think are associated with these ideas and making it clear that that’s not always the case.

It’s wonderfully acted by all three of Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes who all display the quiet stillness of Chiron and are all remarkably skilled at showcasing every emotion that runs through his brain by portraying it on their face. While Chiron never says much verbally, it’s usually always painted directly on his face. The film’s cinematography is wonderfully done with a lot of dark muted blues that help suspend the film in this depressed dreamscape for a lot of what’s representing Chiron and his current head space.

Ultimately, Moonlight is about a lot of various things, but at the base of things it’s about those small personal moments that we hold near and dear to us for years, and something that can provide a life-changing effect for oneself, that might never even register on someone else’s radar. That’s the thing about growing up, love or whatever, it’s never the big, grandiose moments that have the biggest effect on our lives and relationships, it’s the the small personal moments that act as connective tissue to the different stages of your life, for good and bad, and something that continues to trace throughout your life and helps make you the person who you were twenty ago, who you are now, and the person who you’ll be after the next twenty years.

‘Manchester By The Sea’: Review

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Grief and despair are so often chronicled by film and television because it’s an easy way to elicit emotions in characters and thus trigger a reaction in the audience. Nowadays we’re so brainwashed into what we think this means when watching it portrayed in media where everything has to be overdramatized to further stress a point to make sure its intent is 100% coming across. Nine times out of ten, in real life, things aren’t that cut and dry and it isn’t so easy to explain motivations behind actions and reasons behind emotions. Manchester By The Sea knows all of this and infuses it into every scene, making every frame of the film resonate in its real world fidelity.

Manchester By The Sea is a raw nerve of a film led by Case Affleck’s frayed end. Casey Affleck is a mind-blowingly good actor who plays sullen and downtrodden like it’s his life’s work (I guess because it pretty much is). Somehow after all this time and after amazing performance after amazing performance it still feels like Affleck is undervalued, under-appreciated and underrated, but with this latest performance he aims to put all that in the past.

Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a tired of life janitor doing the minimum to get by, who’s forced back into his old life and former town after his brother dies and leaves custody of his son to Lee. As the film unfolds you see exactly why Lee had such a hard break from his former life, a mind-numbing tragedy that leaves Lee barely able to function mentally at times and leaves him in a pseudo state of paralyzed despair. Of course Lee and his nephew Patrick have different ideas on how this guardianship thing will work out, with Lee wanting to cut bait from town as soon as possible and bring Patrick back to Boston, but with Patrick not wanting to leave town. We’ve seen this story thousands of times before, two opposing forces with opposite goals who of course will come together in the end in solid unity, expect that doesn’t happen here, because Manchester By The Sea doesn’t do things how movies typically do. Try as he might, Lee is too crippled by his former life, the memories, his walking tragic reminder of an ex-wife, to competently give Patrick the life and parenting that a teenager needs. Instead, Patrick stays in Manchester-by-the-sea (the town its set in and obviously the film is named after) and Lee goes back to his old life. Even back in Boston with the small tethers of his previous life rattling around in his brain, it’s too much for him to handle and something he can’t, and won’t, let be inflicted on another person.

Nothing wraps up neatly in the film, as most things don’t in real life, there’s no grand reunions, reconciliations, understandings or rekindling of relationships, it’s just a reshuffling of the deck. Kenneth Lonergan directs an open wound of a film that is expertly prodded by the damaged souls of Affleck as Lee, Michelle Williams as his ex-wife and Lucas Hedges as Patrick. It’s a film that isn’t interested in how things have been done, but in how things are done, no matter how sloppy, messy and anticlimactic it might be, because that’s where true raw emotion is found, in the places that people don’t want to look.

‘Suicide Squad’: Review

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For a movie that suffers in literally every aspect it might be kind of weird to say, but the chief overshadowing problem of Suicide Squad is that everybody is just trying too damn hard. Every aspect of this film is just lambasted in trying to make everything so “cool” and “different” that is just becomes so muddled that none of it work. One of the biggest problems for me was the dialogue, this movie is literally written seemingly in the hopes of making every line stand out as some kind of meme-y flip on standard dialogue. Nobody just talks normally with basic word choices and phrases (that’s not a bad thing!), nope, every line has to be flipped into some cutesy little saying because this movie needs to remind you at every second how “edgy” and against the grain they are. None of it works and it backfires amazingly. This is the through line of the entire film.

The plot suffers from the same thing, it’s actually pretty simple at the base of things, but because this movie can’t do anything straight it makes it into a confusing mess that never really makes sense. An archeologist gets possessed by a witch after touching some funky idol, then said witch flips on everybody, holds the city hostage and unleashes a bunch of monsters. That’s it, I mean the story doesn’t mean anything, because the whole point of this movie is just to watch the “Suicide Squad” do crazy shit, crack one-liners and kill people.

The most amazing thing about the plot of the movie is the whole acquiring and purpose of the “Suicide Squad” in the first place. Alright, so, get a load of this, the government wants to assemble a group of metahumans to protect against other metahumans and superheroes in case any of them go bad, so of course they decide to pick a bunch of criminals??? It’s never outlined why they decided to pick criminals, people who would have no reason to want to help the government (besides sentences reductions that are minimal), is there not other “good” superheroes you could’ve rounded up. And not only that, it’s not like they train these dudes or let them in on anything, god forbid they plan for these people and set out plans. Nope, when shit goes down they just break them out of their jail cells throw them into the wild and go “save us, guys!” and then wonder why everything goes to shit. The greatest example of this is why the hell is Harley Quinn in this group, she has no special powers or anything like Deadshot’s amazing aim or El Diablo’s fire or Killer Croc’s strength, nope, she’s just a crazy girl with a baseball bat. It makes zero sense why they would field a legit crazy person with no discernible “superhero” advantages when literally any basic human solider would’ve been a better option. She literally becomes one of the major downfalls and distractions of the group with her all Joker business. Viola Davis is terrible at her job, basically, is what this paragraph is getting at.

This, also, might be the most on-the-nose movie I’ve seen in recent memory, especially when it comes to its cliched jukebox of a soundtrack. Right from the outset its song after song that seems like it was placed in the film after someone googled “what are the most popular rock songs that have been done to death in movies over the last 50 years” and just compiled them all in one place. You got The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, CCR Black Sabbath, The White Stripes, Queen etc. etc. that all come in places that just blatantly seem like the director screaming at you “Hey! Isn’t this sooo cool and badass, like, the lyrics and song titles completely fit what’s going on on screen!” It’s hilarious and I could foresee a dangerous drinking game where you take a shot each time an on-the-nose classic rock choice pops up.

Let’s wrap up and talk about the performances for a minute, which, yep, were pretty uniformly bad. Actually, let’s start with the good, Will Smith was fantastic in this, without a doubt. I don’t know if it was that Will Smith was doing such a great job or that everybody else was so terrible, or both, but it was so painfully clear watching him in this that he was actually trying and so much so that he seemed like he was in a completely different movie. Margot Robbie was even worse than I expected as Harley Quinn to the point where I physically cringed whenever she came on the screen, especially with her one-liners in her horrible accent that always featured a second or two pause at the end like she was waiting for the audience’s laughing reaction that never came. Jared Leto as the Joker is another prime example in this movie of trying to hard and coming out on the opposite end of making this crazy person seem so try hard that he wasn’t even scary or “crazy,” just laughable in what he thought that meant. I’m a big Joel Kinnaman fan, but unfortunately try as he might the script and what he was asked to do didn’t really do him any favours and he suffered under the might of it. Jai Courtney has my favourite performance, not because he was good or anything, but because he literally plays a stereotype of an Australian complete with a boomerang weapon and rampant alcoholism and even greater than that his character literally contributes nothing to the movie in plot, character or worthwhile comedic way.

I’m a gigantic David Ayer fan and have love everything he’s ever done, but dude ripped off all the chains and delivered this over-saturated mess that plays like your 13-year-old brother’s favourite video game. It’s actually kind of amazing that this film of this magnitude fails on so many levels where eventually it just becomes a snowball effect with everything latching on and just building in how bad it is with everything coming together in a giant mess that was telegraphed from the opening frames of the movie. The greatest strength of this movie is Will Smith acting and portraying a real person amidst the chaos of all this pageantry, it’s just too bad that everything else was more concerned with the flash and pomp of creating a cool-looking 2 minute video game trailer than an actual movie with purpose and motivation.