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Sunday, January 22, 2017

La La Land: A review

La La Land: A review

La La Land has recently won 7 awards at the Golden Globes, breaking the record for most wins by a film in a single ceremony. The diversity of the awards it has won at the Globes (if you take awards seriously, which can be a bit of a personal choice) suggests its strong on a number of fronts. By winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay as well as both lead awards for acting and the awards for score and song, it is reasonable to assume there’s quality in every aspect of the film. And this would be correct.

 It’s Damien Chazelle’s third film and once again has jazz as one of its central themes. I would love to say that music is the driving force behind this film but because the script and acting is so strong, it’s hard to really make that case. But make no mistake, the songs (it is a musical, after all) and the score play a tremendous part in setting up the world of the film.

The film is a musical romantic comedy and it’s extremely rare in the sense that it’s a quality film that can still be tagged as a romantic comedy. But despite the musical numbers and the sun drenched, colour saturated palate of the film, it isn’t at all about the sunny fantasy world of showbiz. The script takes on the gritty reality of the world of artists and the struggles with authenticity in such a career. Since the film is a romantic one, the centre of the film is about the effects of an artistic career on the protagonists. This is a well-trodden theme of films and literature (even Chazelle’s last film, Whiplash, has the protagonist choose between a relationship or focusing on his music) and so has the potential to feel stale. But it isn’t at all because we’re heavily invested in these characters.

And the reason we care about the characters is because of the quality of acting. Emma Stone is excellent in this film. She’s generally been in quite good films but this time it’s a strong lead performance and not a supporting one. I don’t remember her being in films that required a lot of choreography, so it’s definitely great to see how much she gets into the dance moves needed for this film. Gosling is also quite good in the film, especially on the emotional scenes although you can usually see him focusing on the coordination for the choreography more than getting into it. But it’s a minor point.

The strength of the film from a thematic point is how much it manages to balance drama and comedy. There’s been more serious and challenging films this year (Moonlight, Elle) and also more fun ones (Deadpool, Sing Street) but nothing else really comes close to this film for giving you the mix of an old-style Hollywood full of singing and dancing like you’d expect Fred Astaire in mixed with the kind of realism you’d expect from serious studies of relationships (Asghar Farhadi and Michael Haneke’s films come to mind).

The movie is a joy to watch from the opening scene (easily the best opening scene Inglorious Basterds or Antichrist) to the closing one (also a great musical number). You can pick any reason to watch it from the script to the acting to music and you’d be justified in doing so. While, I’m slightly tired of the white saviour narrative in films and especially tired of “jazz is dead. Can we save jazz?” refrain, it doesn’t hamper the film at all or take away enjoyment.

Easily one of the best movies of the year. Possibly only bettered by Elle or Zootopia. An excellent take on relationships and struggling for art with both enough pathos and verve to make the movie live long in the memory. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Nocturnal Animals: A Review

Nocturnal Animals- A review

Tom Ford hasn’t done a lot of films. This is only his second and it comes a full 7 years after the excellent debut of A Single Man. Without a history of comparable films and the fact that the director is a famous fashion designer, you’d expect the film to be visually stunning. And it certainly is. But it’s by no means the most striking aspects of the film. The film is excellently scripted (based on Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan) and weaves a story within a story. The fictional story is strongly linked to the main story despite being set in two completely different worlds. The main story is set in the world of high art and the society around it. With beautiful sets and fancy costumes, it looks like a photoshoot for a fashion magazine at times. Ford belongs to this world in reality, of course and he seems to be able to make fun of it. All the characters are unhappy but extremely motivated to seem successful.  This story is supplemented (or perhaps overtaken) by a secondary story set in rural Texas about a murder and revenge. The Texas story is introduced into the main in the form of a novel manuscript given to the main character, Susan by her ex-husband who has dedicated it to her.

The film presents us with far from a romantic vision of the world. The sub-story is violent and tense yet manages to never become wholly hopeless or bleak. In terms of setting up tension and thrill, the first scene of the secondary story does this better than any film in recent memory (probably since No Country for Old Men). The film is not romantic but romanticism is a main theme of the film, as it is regularly referenced as a foil to the striving ambition of the main characters. This isn’t a particularly new topic and hence it could have been easy to fall into cliché but while the takes on the struggle between artist versus careerist aren’t new they’re also not boring or rehashed.

The script is excellent but so are the performances. Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent in a dual role (he doesn’t really seem to be in much bad films). Amy Adams and Michael Shannon (also extremely reliable indicators of the fact that a film will be good if they’re in it) are also quite good with Shannon especially being memorable as a Texas policeman with strong views on meting out justice.

Guilt and revenge are also main themes in the film. More explicitly in the secondary story but also present in the main as the manuscript itself can be thought of as a type of revenge act. Proving that you can be successful to people who doubted you is a common story in everything from rap music to classic literature but there’s a lot in this film that reminds the viewer of The Great Gatsby .

A Single Man could have been dismissed as a one-off success if one is particularly cynical but Nocturnal Animals is also an excellent film. It’d be hard to deny that Ford is a filmmaker of real quality and capable of being as important in the film world as he is in fashion.