Review: La La Land

Review: La La Land

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling dazzle in a tale of modern day Los Angeles love, told as an homage to the golden age of film making and musicals.

Mia (Emma Stone) is a young, aspiring actress making do as a barista in a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers lot. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a struggling musician with a great appreciation and talent for Jazz. Both trying to get their big break, these two characters struggle with rejection and self-expression in the highly competitive world of L.A and Hollywood. La La Land tells the story of these two characters as they cross each other’s paths and a romance begins to blossom.

The story is utterly charming and this is down to, in no small part, the fantastic acting on show from Stone and Gosling. Stone is a joy to watch on screen, bringing a youthful energy to a character who is a fantastic balance of delicate and resilient. Gosling is equally excellent as he breathes life into a character who is more arrogant and blunt but equally charismatic. But it’s when the two are on screen together that La La Land is at its best. The two actors create a dynamic and relationship that feels genuine and instantly relatable. Their emotional highs and lows together become more and more emotionally intense as their onscreen connection builds to its climax.

But La La Land’s story is also a product of its presentation and that too is exceptional. Each scene of the film flows together with clinical precision, transitions from one period of time to another are beautifully handled and as a result the audience are kept sucked in to the story for, nearly, the entire running time. The other aspect that makes La La Land’s presentation so fantastic is how well balanced the story is. Both main characters receive the same amount of development, and though their stories are very different, they are equally well told. This balance extends to the music as well, the film is full of excellent, catchy musical numbers, at no point do they overwhelm the story but at no point does the story overwhelm the music either. The songs stand on their own, in memorable and stunning sequences, but are also vital to the telling of the story. It’s another example of the balance of La La Land being masterful.

But above everything else La La Land is a film built of incredibly beautiful cinematography. Every scene is a painting and every painting is as different and vivid as the last. Vibrant colours dominate scenes and move with the scene as it progresses. Movement is also key to the gorgeous cinematography. Rather than cut from shot to shot the camera lingers, making entire sequences play out in stunning examples of single shot choreography, the camera floats from one composition to another with minimal cuts. All of this comes together to present the perfect homage to 50’s cinema; shots are composed perfectly, with beautiful, striking use of colours and an incredible sense of authentic scale. La La Land is not a cover version of an era past, it is the golden age captured in a lens and let loose on the screen once more.

La La Land is a perfect example of how to make a film that is both a homage to the past and a step in to the future. The film’s portrayal of a hopeful and yet realistic Los Angeles fills you with optimism for Hollywood going forward. The film has a few forgettable minutes here and there towards the beginning of the third act. But every other second of this film is charming, beautiful, genuine and stunningly constructed. If you have even a sliver of interest in the movie industry then La La Land is a must see.


La La Land scored a 9.8/10.

 


This review was edited by Joanna Hollins, for more of her work click here: Joanna Hollins.

2016: Album Of The Year

2016: Album Of The Year

Following on from Movie of the year it’s now time to run down the best music released in 2016 but before that here are some special mentions.


Enter Shikari: Singles.

Enter Shikari haven’t released a full new record since last year’s The Mindsweep, they did, however, release a small selection of new music this year and it was fantastic. Redshift started the year off with a softer, pop rocky ode to the universe and Hoodwinker closed the year out with a stomper of a track, one of the heaviest Shikari have made in a while. they couldn’t be put in any slot on the album of the year list but they more than stand up with the best music here, keep it up Shikari!

Busted: Night Driver.

Their first album in 13 years Night Driver is a departure from the teenage pop rock sound that defined this band for the opening years of their career. This album starts off with smooth synths and goes from strength to strength. It’s an uninhibited pop record and goes to prove how good this genre of music can be when it’s made by damned good musicians.


5: Panic! At The Disco: Death Of A Bachelor.

Death Of A Bachelor is the first official record where Panic! At The Disco means Brendon Urie and that means Death Of A Bachelor is the product of Urie’s creative process alone. For the most part this is a damn good thing. Panic!’s fifth album is made of a combination of modern pop rock and Sinatra-esque, 50’s style, swing jazz. On paper it’s an odd combination but Urie’s smooth voice does a fairly good job of pulling this all together. The only real failing of the album is that it doesn’t commit to that crooner style more. None the less it’s a fantastically produced collection of songs that shows just how talented Urie is as a musician.

 

4: Little Bribes: Obstacles.

Little Bribes are, in no uncertain terms, one of the most interesting independent bands of the last few years. Full of energy and buzz, it’s rare that you hear a band both so heavy and so authentic. Their debut E.P. released this year is chock-a-block with catchy, guitar driven music, the likes of which will have you humming and head banging along in no time. The best way to describe Obstacles is: If Taking Back Sunday made their best, heaviest record yet, but recorded it in a garden shed. And if that description doesn’t tempt you to listen to this band, who knows what will. Little Bribes are a fantastic breath of fresh air which they’ve managed to bottle perfectly on Obstacles. They very much deserve your attention.

 

3: Radical Face: The Leaves.

Every record from Radical Face’s The Family Tree has been an easy inclusion on each of these lists and The Leaves is just as deserving. The Leaves is the final part in a series of albums designed to tell the story of a family during turn of the century America with a super natural twist. This time round the album features more obvious use of electronic instrumentation and even stronger use of percussion than its predecessor. One of the most defining things about The Family Tree has been its subtly haunting tone and The Leaves captures that ethereal sense perfectly for a final time.

 

2: Good Charlotte: Youth Authority.

Good Charlotte are one of the most underrated bands on the planet and Youth Authority is absolute proof. The album starts off with bright vibrant guitars, on point drums and vocals that catch your attention and for the next 12 tracks it just gets better. Perhaps the best thing about Youth Authority though is the way in which it genuinely captures the feeling of pop punk from the early 2000’s. A genre that Good Charlotte arguably helped to define. This record is fun, fast and joyous and if you grew up listening to this kind of music, you owe it to yourself to hear Youth Authority.

 

1: Green Day: Revolution Radio.

By the end of 2016 people were calling for Green Day to release American Idiot part 2. What they didn’t know is that Green Day already had. Revolution Radio is one of the most mature, politically motivated records Green Day have ever made. But mature does not mean quiet as this record is also the most lively, punky album the band have put out since their classic rock opera of 2004. Green Day deserve this year’s top spot because of how perfectly written, performed and produced this album is. From the very first song it’s tone and message is consistent and on point. Every piece of instrumentation is as good as Green Day have ever been and the album flows from track to track perfectly. Revolution Radio is by far the best album of a very dark year.


This is the last blog I will publish in 2016, if you’ve taken the time to stop and read anything published on this blow in the last 12 months thank you so so much. See you in 2017.

2016: Movie Of The Year.

2016: Movie Of The Year.

2016 was far from a champagne year for film, but among a year of some fairly major flops there were some damn fine releases and here are the best, but first some honorable mentions:


Hail, Ceasar!

The Cohen Brothers do a damn good job of capturing the feeling of cinemas golden age. As an original work it struggles but as an ode to an era of film making past it’s something quite beautiful.

10 Cloverfield Lane.

Dan Trachtenberg uses tense claustrophobic shots to tell the story of a woman fighting against a man who is either her captor or her saviour. Twilight Zone-esque and full of palpable tension it’s a fantastic first step into Hollywood produced by JJ Abrams.


  1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Rogue One is a dark, dense and gritty story that takes place within the Star Wars universe. Rather than focusing on a force user, Jedi or “chosen one” character the story instead focuses on a Jyn, the daughter of a family tied to the construction of the Death Star. Rogue One is more focused on giving a genuine feel of humanity and strife to the rebellion. These are not just characters on the “good side”, they’re desperate individuals pulling together to fight a foe who seems totally insurmountable. Rogue One takes a beloved franchise and twists it to feel new, interesting and gritty in many of the right ways.

 

  1. Deadpool.

Deadpool is easily the most memorable movie of 2016, it is one of the funniest films released in the last few years due in no small part to the incredible, 4th wall breaking performance of Ryan Reynolds. Deadpool’s commitment to dark humour and a mature tone helps to separates the movie from its super hero peers, making Deadpool feel fresh and vibrant in a genre that felt somewhat bloated this year. It’s brutal, messy, sexy, gory and hilarious from start to finish exactly as you’d want a Deadpool movie to be.

 

  1. Captain America: Civil War.

Civil War switches up the usual Marvel formula by replacing the traditional Macguffin based antagonist with a deep, tense and human drama driven by the politics of The Avengers. The film’s plot is fantastically smart and just when you think it’s running out of steam it surprises you with another card it’s been playing close to the chest. It’s action is beautifully choreographed so that every member of its giant ensemble has their own recognisable fighting style and can be picked out and followed amongst the fast paced, giant scale battles. Civil War manages to make a Marvel film feel fun and action packed but also tangibly tense and like it has real consequences. It’s a brilliant action movie that manages to stay two steps ahead of its very excited audience at all times.


So the best of the year has begun, next up is 2016’s album of the year. Thanks for reading!

Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Gareth Edwards captures the feeling of Star Wars in a movie whose genre far far removed from the franchise.

Rogue One tells the story of Jyn Erso, the daughter of a family influential to the creation of the Death Star. Many years after our first introduction to her Jyn is used by the Rebel alliance and it’s from here that she learns of her connection to the Death Star plans, the might of what those plans can do and why she, along with her band of fellow rebels, has to stop it.

The story starts very quickly, introducing Jyn, her family and her initial motivations in very quick succession. In fact it’s a little too quick, as many of the motivations of early characters get lost or misunderstood. But as the story moves on it’s key focal moments become much clearer and by the middle of the second act many audience members will be rooting for the hero’s of the piece.

Visually the film is one of the most striking things put to screen in 2016. It is utterly gorgeous. Star Wars movies are known to be bursting with all sorts of life and characters and oddities, creating a sense of something alien in a way that only Star Wars movies can. But this film manages to recreate that world with a much more desolate set of scenes. The opening sequence is a perfect example of this: An alien planet with no living creatures or agriculture save from one family in a muddy home. The entire scene Is shot with three main colours on the palette and it uses them perfectly. This scene sets the tone for the entire movie. This is Star Wars but it’s darker, grimier and more grounded than you’ve ever seen.

The score for the film is similar to that of the visuals. It’s new and different, but it feels right. It’s interesting to note that this is the first score for a Star Wars movie which has not been touched by John Williams. Instead Micheal Giacchino is the person responsible for this score and it is fantastic. It emulates Williams enough to evoke everyone’s child hood memories of Star Wars sounds. But it also takes risks with Williams trademark sounds and does so to fit the more mature tone of the film. An educated ear will be able to tell the difference but even then will respect the intentions of Giacchino’s score.

The biggest issue the movie faces is in it’s pacing, the beginning of the story happens far too quickly and the movie keeps up this fast pace. So the films initial hooks are left a little flat. It could be argued that the movie is hoping for the audience’s prior knowledge of the franchise to do some work here, but none the less, there’s a first act that requires slightly more screen time than Rogue One is able to give it.

However, what it does manage to do is take the Star Wars franchise and turn it in to a fantastic Sci-Fi war movie. It’s utterly gorgeous to watch and listen to despite it being not quite perfect in telling a story. Gareth Edwards deserves a huge amount of credit for stepping in to such lofty unfilled shoes and doing a very good job.


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story scored: 8.7/10

Review: Get Better: A film About Frank Turner

Review: Get Better: A film About Frank Turner

A well-made film that leaves you wanting more, mostly for the right reasons.

On a purely mechanical level Get Better is fantastic. It’s a rugged but clearly passionate documentary that has a genuine air of honesty about it. the captured shots are often playful and filled with an energy that you’d expect considering the subject matter. Visually the film is a little rough around the edges  but it  manages to combine enough recent footage with archive footage to touch on every major milestone you’d want to see in an account of Turners (to date) career.

One of the ways in which the film really shines is, appropriately, in the use of music. Director Ben Morse clearly knows Turner’s back catalogue inside out and does it serious justice. For example: when a studio track is shown over shots of the band in concert, it’s clear that the images which are used have been carefully chosen to capture the feel of the track being heard.

But even better still is the underlying score, for which versions of Turner’s original tracks have been slowed down, tweaked and recorded instrumentally. Hearing familiar songs played in a different way to evoke a new emotion can be a powerful hook In to a scene and it’s cleverly used here in a film which demonstrates how powerful music can be.

But whilst the documentary is created fantastically it’s the source material that causes the biggest issue. To put it simply: It ends far too soon.

A documentary of this form usually tells the story of a person or event reaching the peak of their success or notoriety. But this film does a good job instead of, quite literally, highlighting and demonstrating Turner’s steady Rise. This is definitely to be respected but as a result there is no crescendo, it always feels as though Turner (and Morse alongside) are destined for bigger things.

Is this bad? No, the film clearly does what it sets out to do: it tells the story of Turner’s career up to this point and there’s obviously a story to be told. Managing to go from rooms of 6 people to headlining Wembley is damned impressive. But no matter how good the documentary is, there’s always a feeling that there’s a third act over the horizon, a sudden gasp or rug pull or dynamic change that just doesn’t happen.

To call a documentary ahead of its time is highly presumptuous. So it’s a testament to Turner, his music and Morse’s portrayal of him that this documentary feels like it ends too early to truly record his best moments yet. If you’re a fan of Turner’s work, or good music stories it will undoubtedly leave you wanting more. Now all we have to do is hope Turner and Morse go on to even bigger things, so they can give this film the third act it deserves.


Get Better: A Film About Frank Turner scored 7.7/10

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Harry Potter and the 1920’s spin off.

The first spin off of the behemoth Harry Potter franchise lands in cinemas and, though it has some flaws, some of them pretty major, it turns out to be an intriguing start in to what could be (if the studio is to be believed) a major new thread of movies.

Fantastic Beasts tells the story of Newt Scamander, a man who is a wizard zoologist, who brings his case of fantastic creatures to New York in the hope of re-homing a lost animal. Unfortunately whilst there his case manages to open itself and his beasts escape across the sprawling city. The ensuing chaos results in a conflict between a number of magical factions and a group of anti-wizzard protesters.

Where the original franchise was steeped in unavoidable lore and occasionally awkward, MacGuffin-based, storytelling. Fantastic Beasts has, at its heart, a much more personal, and human conflict, as many of the characters that get caught up in it aren’t trying to be hero’s or aiming to fulfil some kind of destiny. Instead they’re simply trying to go about their business and it’s their everyday life that becomes magical, rather than having an isolated magical world to drive the story foward. As a result of this, the inventive settings, props and costumes feel far more grounded and believable, which in turn allows the story to be much more emotionally engaging.

Though the narrative does get caught up in its own twists and turns a few more times than is necessary. With so many different groups of characters, finding balance is a notoriously hard thing to do, and Beasts falls a little short in giving every character adequate screen time or valid motivations, but there’s enough here to make you want to watch as the story advances, and make you root for one of the central characters.

Speaking of central characters there are three that deserve specific mention, the first is Queenie Goldstein, who is a mind reading witch, Potter’s firstly outwardly flirty and sexual character. In any other film this sounds cliché  but she’s written believably, with genuine emotion and she fits in well with the films more mature tone but more on that later. The second is Jacob Kowalski, who steals every scene he’s in. He is a constant positive force in an overly dark film, without him the movie would be much harder to watch. This is made even better by Dan Fogler’s commitment to physical comedy in the role, his facial expressions are reminiscent of classic Laurel and Hardy which fits perfectly in to the setting of the movie.

Unfortunately, such praise can’t be given to  Redmayne, who plays protagonist Scamander. He bumbles through the film playing an almost stereotypical “English-man in New York”, this works when the character has an obvious under lying strength but Redmayne only ever taps in to this once. For the rest of the film he commands absolutely no power on screen and it’s the ensemble behind him who do more to advance the plot.

Though As with every Harry Potter movie, it is the staging of it that stands out as the highlight of the production. Fantastic Beasts is set in the late 20’s and the film feels incredibly authentic. The visuals are dark and washed out, but not in a way that hides the character of the era. The sound track taps in to traditional sounds from that time, with muted horns and swinging piano, if anything it would have been nice to hear more of this and less of a traditional Harry Potter score. The thing that stands out most about the staging though is the costume design, every hat, jacket and shoe feels as though it could have come from the time itself and is weathered very believably, every item of clothing feels well worn and lived in.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is a more mature movie than has been seen in the Harry Potter franchise to date. It’s more sexual, much darker, much creepier and it could have been much more intense if it just had a little more balance, one or two less twists and a far better leading man. There’s enough here to enjoy on the first or second viewing, and the film is clearly well made, it just doesn’t quite reach the high bar of the stories told in the franchises past.


6.9/10

Review: The Accountant

Review: The Accountant

A brilliant film that makes no cents.

Ben Affleck, JK Simmons and Anna Kendrick lead a stellar cast in a movie that is very much worse than the sum of its excellent parts.

The Accountant is about a child born with autism, raised in a broken household by a family that isn’t entirely what it seems, who grows up to be (after some unexplained prison time and a weird scene in the jungle?) a head hunting criminal account who can cook the books or bust the skulls. Unfortunately a turning point in the middle of the movie marks a sharp turn from violent but human drama to mindless action thriller, both sides of the movie are fantastically crafted but they fail to present a concise directorial vision and instead simply blur each other into an unsatisfying mess.

The first half of the movie is very performance driven and Ben Affleck is fantastic in the lead role. As protagonist Christian Wolff he is likeable and trustable, and ultimately a good man using bad means. Affleck doesn’t go for an over the top stereotype, instead portraying such a debilitating condition with precision and a genuine sense of respect.

Performances are absolutely on point, Alongside Affleck is Anna Kendrick who feels warm and friendly  in a film where a great deal of the content is not. Unfortunately the script doesn’t use her to the best of its ability and when it does her character is often ham-fisted into the scene. For example the romance, which quickly becomes a nonsensical central plot element. The film does a good job of building a feeling of mutual trust between these two characters, but ultimately ends up driving towards an unnecessary and inconsequential romance, Kendrick and Affleck play it perfectly, but the audience is left wondering why it’s there in the first place.

Although where the performances shine, the editing does not. Scenes don’t linger long enough and sudden, un-needed cuts often make the dialogue feel artificial. meaning that whilst there is clearly great acting on screen its undermined by a lack of scene to scene pacing and a general feeling of disconnect between the screen and the audience.

Interestingly the entire movie is shot more like a horror than an action. The outside world, other people and organisations are often presented as cold or clinical despite being filled with set dressing and lights. Conversely Wolff’s house is empty and bare but feels welcoming and homely. All of this is tied together with the use of a number of intense, close up shots that give the whole first half (but only the first half) a real sense of claustrophobia, not for the audience but for protagonist Wolff and the world he finds himself in.

And then we reach a point where the film changes.

The second half is an all out, brutal and visceral action movie where Wolff is less recognisable for his personal hurdles and more for his actions and victims. This half of the movie should be where threads are tied together and resolved. But it ends with more questions than answers and it spends most of its time building to a crescendo that never really comes.

It must be said that the actions is spectacular, brutal and well choreographed. It’s also beautiful to watch. This is down to the stellar Cinematography and directing. Scenes are simultaneously cold and beautiful. Floaty and fluid, but grounded and violent at the same time. Unfortunately all of this talent is built on the shaky ground of the story and no matter how beautiful the shots on screen are, it’s never enough to pull the movie out of the hole it digs itself into.

But worse still is the cluttered closing scenes which muddle the films message even further. The morality of the characters is hard to pin down as they all try to do good things in very bad ways and often the motivations for these methods and decisions are lost in the jumbled plot. Meaning that if the film does have a positive message it gets mislaid among too many head shots and boring revelations. Then the final scenes which attempt to highlight a deep message instead feel tonally mismatched. I’m sure the director of the piece meant well, but the movie deals with delicate situations and contrasts them with heavy violence. In a more balanced film that could lead to something beautiful, but here it leads to either nothing, or something very negative indeed.

The accountant is an incredibly well made movie built on very wobbly foundations. It’s so easy to praise its excellent actors, director, cinematographer camera work and so on. But no matter how much praise you shower, it’s still a confusing, messy unsatisfying film. Perhaps it’s the intention of the director to make the movie feel disconnected and uneasy but intention or not, you’ll still leave your seat either sighing or bemused, if not both.


The Accountant scored: 5.2 / 10