‘La La Land’: Review


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.


‘The Act Of Killing’: Review

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The Act Of Killing is indeed about the act of killing, but also its aftermath, the repercussions that come from living in and on top of a murderous regime, but like most would like, comeuppance is not always apparent. The film follows the current day lives of executors from the anti-Communist killing in Indonesia during the mid-1960s. We mainly shadow Anwar Congo, a death squad leader, who killed upwards of 1,000 people by strangling them with a wire. He and his co-horts gladly recreate their death sequences, in ranging genre “stage plays” as they descend again down this hellish tunnel, and arrive in some bizarre places.

As imagined, none of these men have particular regrets against killing thousands of people, because of course they were communists, it bred the luxurious lifestyle they have today, and it created several political and military organizations that today support his beliefs. It’s pretty haunting and terrifying how open these leaders are with the documentary crew, leaving nothing in the shadows as they speak honestly on what they’ve done. The only real evidence of pulling away is how the Pancasila group’s image might be perceived under some barbaric practices and recreations, but ultimately the organization chooses to leave these scenes in, as a “simulation of rage,” ironic to the killing practices that got them there in the first place.

We see these men engage in everyday tasks like going to the dentist, raising a family, drinking with company, all juxtaposing the horrors that befit these men so many years ago, and the openness which it is discussed, just like one would recall a vacation to Disneyland. It’s an interesting study into the minds of these men, admiring Hollywood films, and taking inspiration from such gangsters and movie start such as John Wayne and Al Pacino. They love play-acting their murder scenes, hamming it up like their favourite actor, having fun and re-enacting the deaths the caused so long ago, like it just happened yesterday.

Congo does often have doubts about his killings, waking up to horrifying nightmares of his atrocities, not being able to play one of his victims in one of the films anymore because he said he “felt what his victims felt.” There does seem to be some sort of moral twanging to his self, but who knows the actual depth of it, and it certainly doesn’t alleviate all the acts he’s done, and how he often still revels in it. As much so, the film explores the psychology of a person unlike anything I’ve seen before, in relation to genocides and dictatorships, as close as you could ever come.


‘Face/Off’: Review

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Face/Off is a film that is utterly ridiculous and implausible, but the film relishes these fallacies, embraces them and creates a dedicated tone to telling a relatively “serious” story among it all. It of course comes as no surprise that John Woo was behind  the helm of this thing, making the fun and off-the-wall plot even more bizarre by his stylized direction and choices. The idea alone is very cool, basically all boiling down to John Travolta’s FBI agent character Sean Archer switching faces with the Nicolas Cage villain Castor Troy in order to infiltrate his dependents and hopefully take him down. Troy in turn takes the face of Archer’s and a fun and interesting dichotomy is born when they’re fighting against each other as each other. Again, it’s a cool concept made all the better by the direction.

John Woo of course knows his way around an action film, and it’s no different here, getting his first real crack at a Hollywood movie completely under his control. You get all the things you want, epic fight scenes, sprawling gun battles, a speedboat chase, goddamn doves flying around Nic Cage in slo-mo, epic music, religious allusions, it’s stylized to the nth degree. While it may seem a bit bunch, or outwardly cheesy, it all works in concert, especially with the fantastic and committed roles from Cage and Travolta, nobody takes the film lightly and thus never suffers any drop in quality.

As mentioned, I think the biggest strong suit of the film are Cage and Travolta. They are game for anything, and introduce a fidelity and realism to this heightened world that draws you even further in. I was looking forward to seeing Cage ham it up as the fantastically weird villain he created, but of course the whole facial swap saw Travolta mainly taking that role. Travolta was great as a bad guy as well, but nothing like seeing Cage wild out when he can be as crazy as he wants. I think that’s the strength of this film though, and why Cage and Travolta were so perfectly cast, because both of them can expertly and believably play a crazy villain, or a pretty straight and narrow good guy, that them switching back made it seamless and enjoyable.

Everything coagulates into a really fun and entertaining movie. On the outset it seems a bit bunch, and just another sci-fi action flick that pops up on TV randomly on your sci-fi channel. And, no, it’s no high-art or anything, but it at least strives to be a bit more than your average mindless thriller. With Woo’s unique direction and the dedicated performances of Cage and Travolta, they’re all able to elevate the seemingly benign material into some of substance.


‘The Wicker Man’: Review

Nicolas Cage in the middle of “acting."

Nicolas Cage in the middle of “acting.”

I really don’t even know where to start with this one. Well, some table-setting as I always seem to do, I guess. I’ve been on a Nicolas Cage kick, for, oh, uh, like two months now and am intent on filling in the gaps of his career that I have yet to see. Nonetheless, current day Nic Cage, who just happens to be insane, delivers the most mind-numbing performances that they demand to be seen before any of the handful of his actual “good” films. Of course, The Wicker Man is insanely popular online and such for just how god-awfully, ridiculous and hilariously bad it is. I had to finally see it for myself, and oh my lord how it exceeded all my expectations in how bat-shit it was.

I’m not really sure what the plot was. Something about Cage being a policeman and being summoned to an island strictly inhabited by women in order to find a missing girl, and oh yeah, these women are obsessed with honey and worship bees. Yup, you read that right. It really doesn’t matter, because you and I only watched this movie for everything outside what faintly resembles a plot.

So, what makes a bad movie? Acting? Well, yes, that’s always the chief problem, and it’s bad here of course. But, the dialogue that the actors are saddled with is some of the most baffling words puts together that I’ve ever seen. It’s weirdly cutesy and often attempts to be poetic and philosophical, failing at every chance. Hey did I tell you that Ellen Burstyn is in this? Yes, ELLEN BURSTYN, that ELLEN BURSTYN, playing the matriarch character of the island, who is giving the line-readings of someone who worked a couple days and is just anticipating her check to cashed into her bank account. Molly Parker is also a wonderful actress who has to be terrible here. The wonderful Frances Conroy is very creepy, but deserves oh so much better.

I still can’t process this movie even days after seeing it, so I’m just going to spew out random awful observations from the movie. There is one scene that they cut back to in a flashback for about, no joke, 10 times throughout the movie, providing nothing we didn’t already know. But, hey psychological “horror” movie, right guys? I’m pretty sure they just threw that scene in multiple times just to extend the running time. There’s also about 10 minutes in total, if you combined all the scenes, of Nicolas Cage riding a bicycle. Yup, nothing but him riding to his next destination, but apparently we have to see shot after shot of it. Again, seemingly just to extend the run time. Cage does won of the most hilarious dives into a lake you’ll ever see. There’s a scene where he has a dream within a dream within a dream, and it’s every bit as incredible as you think it could be. Nicolas Cage punches about 37 women throughout the movie, and one such instance he just walks up to an unassuming women, says nothing, and coldcocks her. After he punches some women, he puts on a bear suit, oh my god yes, he puts on a BEAR SUIT and proceed to punch more women. I think it’s time to repeat, that yes, this was a “Hollywood” film that was indeed released in theatres. People worked hard to make this, gaffers, foley, sound, video, sets, costumes, make-up, catering, EVERYTHING. And not once did someone think any of this, not even a small part, was a bad idea. It’s just so, so,so incredible.

It’s so, so, so amazing that this movie is billed as a horror movie. Quite seriously, if they had labeled it as a comedy, we wouldn’t be talking shit about it. No, we’d be hailing it as the funniest movie of 2006. Like, I mean a lot of it is unintentional comedy, but it’s so horrible in spots that it has to be, just has to of been made under knowingly terrible circumstances. Not that it makes it any better, but it’s really just me trying to make sense out of everything. Really the only redeeming aspect of the movie is the ending which is anything but a copout. I guess I should clarify that this is the extended version I’m talking about, whereas the theatrical version has a horrible ending to fall in line with the horrible movie that came before it that randomly has James Franco and Jason Ritter. I don’t know either. I know that I’m missing or forgetting about 1000 other dumb, random incredible bits and quotes that pepper this movie, but it’s impossible to reprint them all without me just copying and pasting the screenplay. Yeah, someone actually sat down and wrote this. Actually, that reminds me of another hilarious thing. Neil LaBute wrote the screenplay, and then felt so obviously connected to the story that he HAD to direct it as well. Apparently, LaBute thinks he’s some kind of auteur like Paul Thomas Anderson or the Coen Brothers. I’m not even watching the movie, but typing words about it is making it melt my brain even more. The Wicker Man, everybody, a movie randomly dedicated to Johnny Ramone. Amazing.