La La Land

Director: Damien Chazelle (2017) BBFC cert: 12A

Be swept off your feet by this swooning romantic musical.

Unashamedly nostalgic for the music, movies, stars and Los Angeles of yesteryear, this fabulous fantasy is a sumptuous love letter to Hollywood’s golden age classics such as Singin’ In The Rain (1952) and An American In Paris (1951).

The ridiculously attractive Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling star in their third film together, and their irresistible chemistry continues to burn through the screen. While neither are great singers or dancers, the film doesn’t pretend they are, adding to the honesty and charm of their performances.

Their characters meet in a gridlocked highway, a metaphor for their lives going nowhere. As the traffic jam becomes a joyful dance number, it’s tempered with the sting of frustration, and the tone scene is set for the story to come.

Gosling plays Sebastian, a struggling jazz pianist with dreams of opening a jazz club. His life takes a left turn when he meets the aspiring actress, Mia. Between auditions she works as a coffee shop waitress at the Warner Brothers studio.

Matching her dance partner step for step but having the more difficult part of doing it backwards and in high heels, Stone offers astonishing levels of heartbreaking vulnerability.

Though Gosling’s talent means he’s far from just window dressing, Stone owns the film. As the pair follow their dreams, they discover compromises must be made when balancing art and commerce.

La La Land‘s deserved record breaking sweep of seven Golden Globe awards has seen bookies make it the favourite for this years top Oscars and its easy to see why.

This is a dreamy, delirious and delightful concoction of high stepping choreography and toe tapping compositions. It’s bursting with sexy energy, eye popping colour and soaring ambition.

Go ga ga for La La Land and shower yourself with tinsel town stardust.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

The Nice Guys

Director: Shane Black (2016)

Since his first writing success with Mel Gibson’s Lethal Weapon (1987), writer/director Shane Black has spent his career creating crowd pleasing action comedies.

After recent blockbuster superhero success with Iron Man 3 (2013) he’s back with another smartly written, explosive and character driven adventure, riffing on Los Angeles detective noir such as Chinatown (1974) LA Confidential (1997) and The Big Lebowski (1998), among many others.

If you’re as in the dark to what’s going on as the dimwitted detective duo, don’t worry. An opaque plot is a vital element of the genre. Other hallmarks present and correct are the voice over, a dead glamour model, a bag of cash, sinister doctors and a corporate conspiracy.

In typical style Black ramps up the action but finds his normally sharp comic dialogue is subdued by the pot headed sun kissed California vibe. Nor can he resist including an unnecessary trademark Christmas scene.

However Black’s writing has reached sufficient maturity to splice together porn movies and car adverts in a scathing commentary of both industries.

Plus a degree of satirical self knowledge is needed to write a script set in Hollywood where a character dodges bullets to save a canister of celluloid of utmost importance to solving a murder.

Heavy weight Russell Crowe teams up with a comically dim Ryan Gosling as the ironically titled leads.

As mismatched down market private detectives Healy and March, they’re employed to solve the case of a missing teenager in 1970’s Los Angeles.

Though a pair of cynical, violent alcoholics in true noir style, this is disguised by their easy screen charisma and laid back chemistry.

Kim Basinger and Margaret Qualley are strong support as a mother and daughter at the centre of the story.

Our point of view of proceedings is guided by March’s 13 year old daughter Holly. Angourie Rice is terrific as the bright, brave, street wise moral conscience of the film.

Her sweet nature proves these nice guys aren’t all bad and Black is continuing to improve.

@ChrisHunneysett

The Big Short

Director: Adam McKay (2016)

Take cover from an atomic bomb of fraud and stupidity in this knockabout drama based on the catastrophic financial crash of 2008.

Based on Michael Lewis’s account published as The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (pub. 2010) it’s been nominated for five Oscars including best film, best director and best actor for Christian Bale.

Ryan Gosling plays narrator Jared Vennett, an unrepentant bond salesman at Deutsche Bank.

Vennett meets the one-eyed Aspergers sufferer Michael Burry. Played by Bale in a bad haircut,  he’s a maverick hedge fund manager.

Burry’s discovered Wall Street has been selling mortgages to people with no jobs or income.

So he’s ‘shorting’ the housing market, i.e. betting it will crash and anticipates making billions of dollars by betting millions.

Vennett teams up with Steve Carell‘s permanently angry banker Mark Baum to get rich quick.

Yet no-one seems to have fun with the money they’re making or have any idea what to do with it, or even why they’re doing it.

The script wants us to like these guys, showing us their life traumas to garner sympathy.

They’re fictitious versions of real people and we’re encouraged to see them as heroic outsiders, uncovering the impending crisis.

But they willingly keep schtum and treat it as another investment opportunity.

Then the film’s millionaire movie producer Brad Pitt turns up looking like a retired geography teacher and flexing his social conscience, much like he did in his self-produced project 12 Years A Slave (2014).

Pitt plays another banker who makes a min out of the misery of millions..

Financial flicks Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street (2014) and J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call (2013) have already covered much the same ground as The Big Short.

This hasn’t the blistering riotousness and moral vigour of the former in which Margot Robbie also appeared, and lacks the sober cynicism of the latter.

It’s all very Scorsese light with an up tempo pace and jokey tone created by pop tunes, freeze frames, frantic editing and characters regularly speaking directly to camera.

Plus it’s full of great performances, very energetic and niftily employs a game of jenga to explain what causes the banking meltdown.

But it’s misjudged in its sympathies and patronisingly employs Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez as themselves to explain the maths.

But The Big Short fails to condemn these hypocritical parasites – the bankers not the actresses – and instead dresses them as heroes.

They should be strung up from lamp posts with the rest of the bankers responsible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost River

Director: Ryan Gosling (2015)

A mother struggles to keep her family safe in this challenging and contemporary nightmarish fairytale.

Director Gosling can’t be faulted for a lack of ambition in his directorial debut, it’s the Hollywoods heart-throb’s execution of his underdeveloped story that let’s him down.

Billy (Christina Hendricks) is three months behind on the mortgage and local bank manager Dave (Ben Mendelsohn) suggests she takes a job with Cat (Eva Mendes)

She runs a local cabaret, owned by Dave. It’s a strange, credit card-accepted-only place where the acts involve the dismemberment of beautiful women. The audience gleefully lap up this conflation of sex and violence as bloody entertainment.

However it’s downstairs in the secret chamber where the girls can make the real money but the fearful Billy is reluctant despite the pressure to do so.

Meanwhile her eldest son Bones (Iain De Caestecker) is friendly with Rat (Saoirse Ronan) who lives next door with her grandmother.

Their tentative relationship is threatened by the local hardman called Bully (Matt Smith). Bones has fallen foul of Bully for stealing copper pipes and the plier-wielding psychopath is out for revenge.

It is an apocalyptic setting, there’s no internet for a start. The bureaucracy still operates though.

The destruction of the man-made environment is ongoing; sledgehammers smash through walls, bulldozers rip down houses, buildings are burnt to the ground, there are burnt out cars and dinosaur statues. The elemental power of fire and water are recurring motifs.

Detroit and its astonishing urban decay are exploited to good effect; roads are swamped by a green and aggressive mother nature. Zoos are empty, neighbourhoods are abandoned.

Encounters with random people seem unscripted and there’s far too much improvisation to too little effect. Dialogue is sparse and there are no real conversations but lots of questions asked in an open-ended teenage way.

Insufficient menace and tension are generated by a languid pace.

In natural light Gosling throws in every shot he has heard of with no rythym or reason; dutch angles, tracking shots, overhead pans, shifting focus – and all in the first five minutes.

It does possess a strong sense of colour with many scenes saturated, giving Hendricks hair and complexion a startling vivacity.

There’s nothing wrong with the work of editors Nico Leunen and Valdis Oskarsdottir or of cinematographer Benoit Debie – just a lack of cohesive thought in preparing the shoot.

The soundtrack is a curious combination of industrial noises and old melodies; Mendelsohn gives an unexpected performance of Bob Nolan’s 1936 western song Cool Water.

As an actor Gosling has made some interesting work with director Nicholas Refn and is strongly influenced by his work. There’s also touches of David Lynch though this is not necessarily a compliment.

More random ideas bandied about include the character of Rat’s Grandmother who has been mute since her husband died building a reservoir. She watches the video of her wedding day on a loop, echoing Miss Havisham in Great Expectations.

All the actors commit themselves to the directors vision and some are familiar with him. Both Mendelsohn and Mendes worked with Gosling on The Place Beyond The Pines (2012) while Hendricks appeared in the Refn’s Drive (2011) with Gosling. Ronan appeared in the similarly fairytale inflected Hanna (2011).

Lost River feels like a film shot with the intention of finding itself in the edit. It may still be looking.