‘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.

‘Only God Forgives’: Review

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Off the heels of Drive which looking back split a lot of people, mostly due to his violence, but one that I enjoyed quite well, another Gosling/Refn combo film seemed like something that wouldn’t fail to entertain. A spiritual in-tone sequel, Only God Forgives ends up being exactly what critics of Drive thought it to be. It’s focused so heavily on shock value that it overshadows anything else that possibly could make the film great.

Refn seemingly only knows how to direct Gosling as a mute who fights and kills to get anything across. I know he thinks it’s honourable and cool to have a silent assassin type, but it eventually just becomes trite and more of a parody than something you can actually take seriously. Kristin Scott Thomas’ character is the exact same as Gosling, but instead of violence I’m supposed to taken aback by her choices of words and phrasing. Refn is basing all of our reaction to this character by us being shocked when a   50+ year-old woman says something like “cum dumpster.” It, of course, doesn’t work at all and is very laughable at how bad it is.

There isn’t much to take from this positively, I guess the fight scene(s) are fine for what they are if short and anti-climactic. Anything “thought-provoking” that Refn is obviously striving for never resonate and it all remains a schlock mess of a B-movie. It’s a shame that such a film had to succumb to this and fall to such depths.

2.5/10

‘The Place Beyond The Pines’: Review

The Place Beyond The Pines

*SPOILERS ABOUND. I was going to try and keep this review spoiler-free, but it’s quite literally impossible to go in-depth on this film without spoiling some stuff. So, yeah, don’t read if you haven’t seen it, or don’t care about getting spoiled.*

The crux of what I, and I assume many others begins, with Ryan Gosling and his stuntman character. Newly finding out that his ex-girlfriend/person he slept with mothered a child from the both of them. Finding a new sense of worth, Luke (Gosling) turns to robbing banks to raise enough money so his child and Romania, his ex, can live happily. Things are all going well and good for him, getting better at robbing banks and eventually getting enough to start spoiling his son with toys. Of course, these things aren’t meant to last, Luke exits a bank a little too slowly only to see himself face-to-face with impending cops. He lures them on a chase throughout the city, eventually finding himself pinned down in a suburban house. Hiding out in an upstairs bedroom, he makes one last ditch phone-call to Ro, telling her never to speak of him to their child, the door opens, the cop is spooked and deposits a shot into Luke, propelling him out the window and to his death…

Yup, so after about a third of the film our protagonist dies. Bradley Cooper’s cop character, Avery, does the deed, and shifts us over to his part of the story. See, Gosling’s section is really just a set-up for the rest of the film, putting events into place that won’t pay off until fifteen years later, something the film eventually addresses. We see the Luke’s section, then we follow Avery as he deals with the fallout of being a hero cop, while he gets pressured to do some dirty activities, and eventually turns in his fellow cops. The last third of the film concerns both men’s sons, and their interactions with each other, and how they are and aren’t their father’s sons.

I can’t say I was entirely bowled over or wowed by the structure, granted it was very cool and something I don’t recall really seeing before, but it kind of reminded me of a novel in a certain way. The ability to tell a story over multiple decades and follow a generation of these people. Playing off this, each section didn’t feel alienated from the other, or feel like a completely different movie, as such with Gosling never showing up again, but rather felt of the same world, just in an expanding way. I can’t say the film is really saying all that much, but it is an entertaining ride for the two plus hours.

That’s really my chief complaint about the whole film, it’s all just so surface level. Everything is laid out so neatly and set in certain place to happen because it needs to, not because it feels organic to these characters. They feel more like characters than they do actual people, when this story so much demands realism rather than type characters. Because of this the film often feels over-long and boring in parts, guaranteed to ratchet it up eventually, but definitely suffers from spots of lull. The film suffers to make any lasting impact, robbing a uniquely laid plan of its intended goal.

6/10