*NEW* LA LA LAND REVIEW *NEW*

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Over-hyped drivel.

Well, that’s what I thought I was going to say.

Overrated, maybe? But as much as I tried to resist the crazy hype train, I still couldn’t help but fall for this highly watchable and entertaining romp.

A jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) falls for an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) in Los Angeles.

The opening sequence did nothing to win me over. Despite director Damien Chazelle’s opening credit titles and Cinemascope capture mimicking the days of old; it was too much.

People jumping out of their cars, free-runners . . . free-running, the word ‘chaotic’ doesn’t come close. I couldn’t even hear the lyrics being sung.

All that was missing was a truck with some bongo players in the back . . . Oh, wait, no. There they are.

The soundtrack was a little disappointing. The first two or three songs were highly unmemorable.

Chazelle’s disorienting camera work and ever-growing ensembles combined with his incredibly mad and colourful palette felt like a shot of insulin being given to a caffeine addict. Overkill.

However . . .

I will admit. I’m not the biggest fan of Gosling and Stone. There’s just something about them that grate against me. The Help and The Nice Guys being exceptions.

BUT once the couple were finally brought to the fold, my grumbling was subdued.

Both caught up in their own testing life struggles from Mia’s awkward cringe-inducing auditions to Seb accomplishing his dreams of running a jazz bar.

The concept was hardly original. The focal point of the piece was just like any other musical. A love story.

BUT despite its predictable nature, Chazelle managed to cross exam a relationship from its crazy highs to its downbeat lows. All aided by fantastic chemistry between two brilliant leads and a good script.

I didn’t realise Gosling could play the piano. He was fantastic. City of Stars was probably the only song that I (annoyingly) can’t stop whistling. That blasted piano rift!

I thought the pair’s singing was very good. Considering they aren’t professionals, they sung very well. Stone’s rendition of Audition was excellent.

In all fairness, I would have been happier to watch more of their dancing. A Lovely Night was a bit of a weak song BUT with Justin Hurwitz’s score and the duo’s late night toe tapping dance in the dusk, I was entranced.

The whole thing had a slight air of Astaire and Rogers about it.

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That was until their beautifully shot ballroom dance in the Griffin Observatory. Dancing in the stars. Cheesy but a nice touch with a fitting nod to A Rebel Without A Cause.

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I knew the Whiplash director would sneak jazz into the mix. The only problem was that I’m NOT the biggest fan. I’m sure Seb would have a few choice words to say about that. For those who’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean.

There were some good songs BUT it all felt a little samey to me and the pace was starting to test. If it wasn’t for Gosling’s (and Chazelle’s) enthusiasm, I would have found all the jazz trivia a little dull.

BUT I was engaged in the couple. We watched their romance blossom over the seasons as their paths crossed time and time again. Fate playing its little game.

Laughing as they inevitably fell in love and wincing as the strain of their busy lifestyles took its toll. We could all relate to moments that the pair experienced.

The epilogue was unexpected. Just when I thought I had the film pegged, Chazelle managed to surprise. And not even the Twitter references and endless memes spoiled what was a wonderfully captured and fitting swansong.

The set design, the layout, the choreography. Fantastic.

The hype may have hindered. From all the astounding comments you’d think people hadn’t seen a musical before?!

I’m not saying I’m the biggest musical fan. BUT I don’t hate them either. West Side Story, On The Town, Chicago, Singin’ In The Rain, Moulin Rouge are classics I could watch again and again (Bet you weren’t expecting me to name those titles).

As much as I enjoyed this, I wouldn’t rush to make a special trip to see it again.

La La Land certainly celebrated the much missed presence of an absent genre. I tried to compile a list of musicals in the last decade. Not many came to mind; Frozen, Sing Street (A must watch) and . . . shudder . . . High School Musical.

As much as I felt this may have been over-hyped by awards buzz, it was still an entertaining watch from two underrated actors.

Unless you’re completely anti-musical. If so then why you are here?

3.5/5 (Just)

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PITCH PERFECT 2 REVIEW

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The Bellas are back. Prepare to get Pitch Slapped. (Delightful :/) Whether you’ll enjoy it this time around is another story.

After a humiliating performance at the Lincoln Center, the Barden Bellas enter an international competition that no American group has ever won in order to regain their status and right to perform.

Surprisingly, I actually didn’t mind the first film. I was “forced” to watch it (That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it). I’m not normally into things like this. Glee? No. PP was cheesy, OTT BUT funny and entertaining. Shame, lightning couldn’t strike twice.

It was watchable but it just didn’t quite hit the same notes that the first one did (Yeah, I made a musical based pun joke. Crushed it).

The heavily advertised opening didn’t get things going for me. If anything, there was too much going on. The acapella dance routine was manic. The choreography along with the bombardment of camera shots and angles made it all a little disorienting. There was a point to it by the end. But we had to endure several more sequences of it.

However, John (John Michael Higgins) and Gail (Elizabeth Banks) were back on fine form as the bitchy commentators. Higgins came out with some corkers straight off the bat.

A wardrobe malfunction with Fat Amy (Perfectly timed to a cover of Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball) in front of the President of the United States (And no! Barack Obama was not in the film. They allowed shots of him) leads to the lovely ladies getting banned from performing. Aca-no way?

The film does pick up and was harmless enough. Anna Kendrick was still pretty good. Great voice. A lovely little singer. We join Beca as she finds her obligations torn between the Bellas and her internship at a record label.

Rebel Wilson was actually not as irritating or in the film as much as I thought. She won me over in Pitch Perfect and seemed to fare better when she improvised. An anagram of Becca and Chloe got an anecdote I didn’t expect. But some of the bigger gags and stunts involving her were too OTT, unnecessary and unfunny.

An unexpected romance between her and another character didn’t really make any sense and didn’t add any depth to her character. Shame. I won’t spoil anything but it was sloppy.

Skylar Astin was a missed presence. He had the charm and charisma but was reduced to only a few scenes. Obviously, his relationship with Beca was set up in the PP but there could have been potential for more drama as Beca tried to balance singing and producing.

In all honesty, they didn’t make much of the record producing angle either.

Beca’s Christmas jingle with Snoop Dogg. You read that, right? Christmas in June? Say what? Snoop was off the hook. For shiz- He was okay. I thought he was Snoop Lion now?

Keegan-Michael Key was highly unfunny as Beca’s record producer boss. An ongoing joke with his cousin as a runner was dead in the water after 30 seconds. He even went for the same nauseating joke my uncle used to pull at parties with the “I’ll keep forgetting your name and say something else” spiel. Hilarious. NOT!

There was a lazy boot camp sequence that seemed like nothing more than a ploy to get Anna Kamp back into the mix. The camping gags were so-so but there were so many missed opportunities. Instead we had Rebel Wilson doing an incredibly OTT love song across a lake that went on far too long. Okay, I had a guilty chuckle as a passing car decided to disturb Amy’s groove.

When it came to the actual singing, the film thankfully hits its stride. A mish-mesh of 80s pop hits, 90s jams and current singles were incorporated brilliantly into the stand-offs. The Bellas’ cover of the soundtrack’s main song ‘Flashlight’ by Jessie J was brill. I preferred it to the actual song.

Das Sound Machine were the much needed catalyst that got the best of the characters that seemed to be pushed into the background. The lazy German/US rivalry was old hat but it was still entertaining enough. Their performances were superb.

I couldn’t believe that Birgitte Hjort Sorensen from Borgen was in this as the head honcho. She couldn’t dance though, bless her. The playful exchanges between Beca and Kommissar were quite funny as the towering blonde goddess (What?) used her prowess to unsettle the “feisty fairy”. The random babble that Kendrick came out with was very hit and miss.

Funny after all the advertising, the World War reference wasn’t even included in the theatrical cut. Hmmm . . .

It just didn’t work as well. Some of the better supporting characters were barely in it or quickly thrown in out of desperation to get a quick titter (Come on, don’t laugh at that word). Some bits worked and I wasn’t bored. BUT others didn’t and it was actually what I expected the first time around. Unfunny, dreadfully cheesy and OTT.

Adam DeVine’s Bumper returned? Why? Were they desperate to make everything full circle? He was too tame after his arrogant turn in the first. Boring.

Benji (Ben Platt) came off really weird and annoying. I felt sorry for the chap in PP1. BUT this time, he did my nut in. Hailee Steinfeld wasn’t too bad as the Bella’s new recruit but she definitely tried to channel her inner Benji and to be honest, one of them was enough. She really did grate on my nerves.

There was a nice cameo from Katey Sagal as Steinfeld’s mum. But her role was nothing. We know she can sing. All she gets is a backing vocal in a small choir. A waste.

Hana Mae Lee was great! Her inaudible comments delivering the (much needed) laughs. Chrissie Fit’s sassy Latina Flo felt like a mish-mesh of Lilly and Fat Amy. We already have one weird girl coming out with weird stuff. Well, two if you count Amy. The border patrol gags were a little stereotypical and just not funny.

They tried too hard and it just didn’t quite come off. The songs saved the day and it wasn’t a bad debut from Banks. But I’m sorry.

Aca-scuse me but it’s a . . .

2.5/5

INTO THE WOODS REVIEW

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Into the scrap heap? There’s only one way to find out.

This mixed bag of a macabre musical will certainly split audiences but I actually didn’t mind it.

(Said the guy who reviewed the Annie remake a few weeks ago)

I’m not a big musical fan BUT I’ve dabbled in the odd one or two. The classics; The King and I, The Sound of Music (Man points dropping with each title), Moulin Rouge (What?) and now Into The Woods.

I didn’t realise that this was adapted from a successful Broadway musical. So unfortunately I won’t be able to make comparisons.

Rob Marshall, the man who brought us the excellent Chicago and . . .  Nine, takes on another musical. With mixed results.

So what’s it all about? A witch (Meryl Streep) tasks a childless baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) with procuring magical items from classic fairy tales to reverse the curse put on their family tree.

The cast, bar one exception, were excellent. All perfectly chosen for their roles.

Meryl Streep proves once again why she is the best actress going, earning yet another Oscar nomination (and rightly so). I had forgotten what a great voice she had. I know! She was in Mamma Mia! But let’s be honest, that was a mess. Fun but a mess.

The sound of Pierce Brosnan’s “singing” voice will haunt my dreams forever. BUT that’s another story.

Anyway, Streep was superb and no uncontrollable arm waving this time.

She played The Witch with aplomb. Stealing every scene and singing some belters. Not enough of her.

Her closing song, “Last Midnight” was brilliantly done but her dramatic exit was a little unexpected and a bit abrupt. Which pretty sums up the last 20 minutes of the film.

After his turn in Horrible Bosses 2, I knew Chris Pine would be up for a laugh. His performance as Prince Charming was very good.

Especially during the “Agony” song. Pine and Billy Magnusson’s sing-off poked fun at the Disney prince archetype. Pine ripping his shirt off to show his muscles, Magnusson hitting the higher notes while trying to puff out his chest and flex. Hilarious.

Anna Kendrick was (to be expected) very good as Cinders. I knew she could sing after her performance in Pitch Perfect.

The opening prologue certainly got things going and introduced all the characters perfectly.

Daniel Huttlestone irritated the hell out of me in Les Miserables. A french peasant with a ridiculous cockney accent. You what? However he surprised me as Jack. Still a Cockney but it worked this time round.

Tracey Ullman (Where has she been?) was funny as Jack’s mother. Slapping him round the head in worry, hugging him the next.

Emily Blunt was fantastic (And what a voice!) as the Baker’s wife. James Corden was also brilliant. They had great chemistry and made a loveable couple.

The Baker couple were part of an original story line. It was clever how they reworked and incorporated some of the most popular fairy tales with their story line using the woods as the meeting point.

It didn’t cover too much of the same ground with the fairy tales we all love and know.

It merely showed each character returning to the woods after a pivotal moment in their story line i.e. Jack coming down the beanstalk with the gold egg, Cinderella running away from the prince, etc.

The Rapunzel story line didn’t really amount to anything. If not for Streep and Magnusson, it would have been completely unnecessary.

A revelation quite early on in the film involving her story line had so much potential but wasn’t never mentioned again or resolved. A missed opportunity. Mackeznie Mauzy certainly looked fantastic but didn’t really do much. I don’t think she even sang.

To be honest, if it wasn’t for Tangled, there would have been some serious plot holes for people not familiar with her story. (Man points gone!)

Johnny Depp had the easiest role going as the Wolf. He played it to perfection with his Bowie-esque voice.

But the song he sang. Hmmm . . . “Hey Little Girl” really made him sound quite lechy. If it wasn’t the fact that it was the Wolf singing about eating Little Red Riding Hood, it would have been a little unsettling.

Lilla Crawford had a fantastic little voice but I found her really irritating as Little Red. I mean I think Sondheim was deliberately portraying her as a little brat but she really did grate against me.

The film zipped along and kept things going but an hour and 30 minutes in, I wondered how much further this could go and with another 40-odd minutes, I could feel my attention wavering.

The songs were starting to go on a little bit and were not quite as gripping or as memorable. Don’t get me wrong, they were sang to perfection but hardly “The Hills Are Alive”.

What baffled and surprised me was how the film’s final act took such an unexpected turn. It flips everything up in the air with the stories veering away from their intended happy endings. The woods again being the brewing pot.

There were a few surprises to be had and I respected it’s attempt. It was actually a bit darker than I expected for Disney.

BUT it also left things a little too unresolved and ended abruptly with people disappearing with no explanation or a passing comment.

For all the bad press, I actually didn’t mind it. Not the best musical I’ve seen but a nice relief after the barrage of bilge I’ve had to endure this week.

3/5

ANNIE REVIEW

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I think I’m going to like it here. Well, I didn’t like this.

A needless remake of a classic musical. OTT, ridiculously cheesy and to make it all worse, it was just rubbish.

From the opening musical number with the sassy Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) making all the class clap and stomp in tune (The front row the rich, the rest of the class poor) I was cringing. I believe a face palm may have occurred.

Really, Hollywood? An urban take on Annie. On paper, I thought why not? There hasn’t been one BUT rehashing the classics badly with auto-tune? This could have been an opportunity to make a statement on foster care or the social care system under the veil of song but no, no, no.

A poor rehashing of the same old story line that felt even more dated and hammy than the original.

The music wasn’t bad but the “Hard Knock Life” remixed with “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” didn’t do it for me. I felt the choice of Hard Knock Life was a little lazy considering one (of a long list) of the producers was Jay Z.

The whole spring cleaning routine to it was choreographed well but it just didn’t work. “The City’s Yours” sung by Jamie Foxx and “Opportunity” by Wallis were very good.

I did warm up to Wallis by the end but I found her a little annoying and too headstrong for my liking. Look at me, I sound like an old man. But something just didn’t sit right until she was paired up with Foxx. They worked well together and made the predictable cheesy relationship a little more bearable.

Foxx delivered on the singing. Of course, he would. The man won an Oscar for Ray BUT his character Will Stacks was almost a caricature. A deluded politician out of touch with the people.

Hardly original but guzzling hand sanitizer after touching and kissing a few voters? Spitting food at the homeless? Too OTT for my liking.

The auto-tuning video of said food flinging incident did get a chuckle.

Cameron Diaz overacted to the max. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a musical but I couldn’t take her seriously as the volatile foster parent, Hannigan. I winced every time she came on wailing at the kids.

The conviction wasn’t there and she annoyed the hell out of me. That was until she sang. When she first started, I thought “Bloody hell” (Well there might have been a few other choice words) but as the song carried on, her voice got better.

And credit where it’s due. She hadn’t got a bad singing voice. One actress I wouldn’t have minded hearing sing a little more was Rose Byrne. In the scenes she supported, she had a nice voice.

I would have preferred to hear more of that than her long winded stereotypical Oxford talk about being a workaholic and having no friends. That was irritating.

Look, I know musicals are always exaggerated and in your face BUT normally you can switch off and be immersed in it. And that is because as much as the songs stand out, the characters do too but I felt they strung any old cliched character together and just thought “It’s a musical, they’ll love it”.

Let’s not forget Glee is going. The musicals losing their magic once again.

There were watchable parts and the pace zipped along for its two hour length. You could tell the cast were having fun and there were scenes where you got caught up in it NOT just poking fun at it.

The cast choices surprised me. They sung very well even if the reworkings were a little hit and miss. I think I’m Going To Like It Here wasn’t bad, bar Stephanie Kurtzuba’s ridiculous impromptu social worker performance. She did my nut in.

The cameos were a little random. Patricia Clarkson (The Maze Runner) as a focus group member suffering bad side effects after using one of Stack’s phones fell flat on it’s backside. Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje (Mr Echo from Lost) was nothing more than a smiling chauffeur. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

David Zayas (Dexter) didn’t do too bad with his flower shop mope role with a vendetta against the powers that be. Michael J. Fox popping up in a satirical PR campaign segment was a clever touch.

A mermaid movie premiere that ripped off Twilight involving Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher and Rihanna wasn’t bad. It certainly poked fun at the guff that makes money these days.

BUT the rest of the actual movie was just like it!

Bobby Cannavale was on scene stealing form until the last 15 minutes of the movie. Boardwalk Empire’s Gyp Rosetti singing and dancing?! Madness. His song and dance number with Diaz did leave a little to be desired.

But the whole PR campaign in which they used Annie as a marketing tool was a good little bit of satire. Shame there wasn’t more of that to make up for the lifeless characters. Cannavale’s ruthless PR executive certainly kept things moving.

Some of his one liners were spot on; “There have been worst politicians. I know. I got them elected. Schwarzenegger, Kim Jong-Il, that blood diamond guy”. It got one of a few chuckles.

The story was weak. Little orphan looking for parents that left her. Befriending a man out of touch and out of love. Finding each other. Yawnnn.

Plus the plot holes were terrible. Annie sings about the note left by her parents. BUT then later on, reveals she can’t read?! What?!

Granted. Someone could have told her what it said. It would have been more of a twist if the note actually said something else. OR if all the sub-plotting and twists weren’t revealed in song. Seriously you knew everything that was about to happen. Would have been nice to have a little mystery.

Still would have been predictable BUT something.

The film ended so frantically and cheesily that I was shaking my head. All logic out the window for a racy finish. It was stupid. BUT no worries. Throw in some schmaltzy dialogue and a few jazz hands and everything will be okay.

Shudder.

It will be a while before the sun will come out on messy musicals like this. Not a complete write off. There will be enough for the little ‘uns and the hardcore musical maniacs who are not deterred by this review. Sorry, it’s a no from me.

2/5

BEGIN AGAIN REVIEW

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Better. We’re getting there. A nice film that delivers the feel good factor without laying on the cheese too much but not without its imperfections.

A somewhat slow burning opener turns into an easy going well acted and well sung summery movie with a different ending, if a little abrupt in my opinion. John Carney may not have surpassed Once but he hasn’t made a bad follow up. If Keira Knightley actually sang, then what a voice. Her voice with those Norah Jones-esque lyrics were sublime. She can’t stop doing the pouty face but a beaut all the same.

What’s it all about? A chance encounter between a disgraced music-business executive (Ruffalo) and a young singer-songwriter (Knightley) new to Manhattan turns into a promising collaboration between the two talents.

Knightley and Ruffalo are, to be expected, superb together. They have fantastic chemistry and work well off each other. Ruffalo is a very charismatic actor and has proven time and time again to be a reliable lead. He delivers the goods yet again. The time spent building up as to why these two characters are in their situations and meet at that point in their lives is a little long at the tooth but once we get the gist, it allows the film to flow a bit more and makes for good viewing.

The lyrics are well written, the songs are fantastic. A movie soundtrack that I would actually consider downloading. Carney catches the energy and buzz of New York City and uses it to his full potential. He even manages to have a cheeky pop at the music industry and the corporate labels. A nice commentary, if a little out of place in this feel good film. Hailee Steinfeld unfortunately seems to play the same estranged daughter role. I mean, if you have seen 3 Days to Kill, it is virtually the same character but replace the bike with an electric guitar.

Catherine Keener does her best but has such a mundane supporting role. Cee-Lo Green and Adam Levine, on the other hand, do a great job. I mean they have proven that they can act in other movies (Hotel Transylvania for Green) and TV shows (American Horror Story for Levine) but it helps in bringing their characters to life. Levine, in particular, as the sleazy rock star lothario that breaks Knightley’s heart. Mos Def, unfortunately for me, was very dull and I always feel like he can’t be arsed to be in the film. Sighing and rolling his eyes and mumbling with no conviction.

James Corden was hilarious as Knightley’s comical side kick. He provides the usual spiel but it still works and brings the odd laugh. What was interesting is that with the attraction and chemistry between the leads and with these sort of films, you expected the inevitable. Only this time, it didn’t happen. A surprise but I felt that with this sort of film, I would have accepted it. And it all zips along and you’re getting into it; only for it to end quite openly and rather abrupt for me. It just seemed to fizzle out.

However, it’s fun, entertaining, easy going. Worth a watch 3.5/5 for me.

Currently ranked #49 out of 196!

JERSEY BOYS REVIEW

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Big Girls Don’t Cry! Big Girls Don’t Cry! Clint “Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?” Eastwood applies his directing gravitas to the Four Seasons musical biopic to . . . mixed results. The cast are fantastic, the songs are . . . to be expected terrific but somehow amidst all the toe tapping fun, I can’t help but feel there is something missing that stops this from entering the greats.

Now, I haven’t seen the theatre musical which respectively has earned numerous awards but I am a fan of the Four Seasons but clearly not as big as I thought as I didn’t know how many hits they actually did. I was surprised that Eastwood took this on. It is such a different direction which makes a change. But somehow, I think he went a bit soft on it.

The Eastwood traits are there. The dark visuals, the glossy cinematography of Tom Stern but even the crime back stories and shady figures that linger behind the scenes are done in such an easy going and jovial manner, it’s tough to take it seriously. It zips along at a good pace. The breaking of the fourth wall for the characters to narrate the story should be irritating, but made a breath of fresh air. Vincent Piazza (Boardwalk Empire) leads an impressive cast and if these guys have definitely sung these parts, then spot on.

Special mention to John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli. Uncanny and fantastic. Piazza pretty much plays Lucky from Boardwalk with more of a cheeky swagger but the erratic behaviour is still there. The coming together of the group and the origins of certain songs is done in such a corny manner. Some moments you can’t help but tut, others there’s a cheeky smile. But once they start singing and busting out the moves, it’s all forgotten for a little while. It’s funny, entertaining, well shot and performed but the drama in the more serious moments leave a little to be desired. It’s not all bad. A particularly funny scene in which Piazza’s DeVito is pushing around a young Joe Pesci was a nice touch. DeVito even believes that his roasting helped Pesci develop into the fine actor that he has become.

It’s all done too lightly that any danger or conflict put on the group is hardly tense or suspenseful. One of the problems of filming a biopic, you normally know the end result. There is a particular revelation that happens in Valli’s life that comes out of nowhere but doesn’t quite match the tone of the film. It’s tough as this did happen. But the film was so easy going that when it does try and take itself seriously, it just doesn’t quite gel. This is certainly one of the better films that I have seen this week and will most certainly surpass the karaoke catastrophe that is Walking on Sunshine. There aren’t many supporting characters that manage to make an impression, bar Christopher Walken who applies his spiel to the mafioso Gyp DeCarlo and Mike Doyle as the ultra-camp Bob Crewe.

It also zips along then ends quite quickly and a bit abrupt. Of course, do stay on for the credits as all musicals of late have succumbed to adding on a musical montage. It’s fun, entertaining but if you’re expecting a musical with a bit of drama and a story, it does feel like it’s pieced together around the songs but then . . . duh it’s a musical. Still worth a watch for sure. Also did anyone notice that Erich Bergen’s beard looked really bad? All that money and they could have spent a little more on make up. Especially when the lads have supposed to age twenty years. Doyle didn’t age at all, while grey powder spread across your hair does not constitute old age. This isn’t a primary school panto.

Otherwise it was good to be true to become an instant classic but don’t cry and walk like a man, talk like a man . . . or woman and get to the big screen. 3/5

Currently ranks 61 out of 191!