LA LA LAND (2016)

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‘Here’s one for the dreamers’

La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s next film after the critically acclaimed, Oscar-nominated Whiplash, is a comedy-drama musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. The film is the story of two dreamers, Mia and Sebastian, who live in Los Angeles and dream of becoming a famous actress, and reinvigorating jazz music respectively. Both feel passionately about their dreams, but are both equally frustrated about the lack of progress they are making. They meet at a time in their lives where they’re both at a crossroads about whether their dreams are ever going to come true, and whether maybe its time they ‘grow up’ and accept they’re never going to make it.

This movie blew me away. I had a feeling I was going to love it, purely based on the director, cast and trailers but I had no idea it was going to emotionally affect me in the way it did. The film is bittersweet, it really asks the question if dreamers can really pursue relationships when they are so focused on pursuing their vocation. As someone who has always felt their dreams to be too big, this is an idea I can relate to, the relentless need to pursue your passion, but at what cost for your personal life and relationships? The film, although showing how beautiful Hollywood is, isn’t afraid to show that it is cutthroat, unromantic and difficult. The audience is rooting for these characters so much, we are almost as passionate about them achieving their goals as they are. I became emotionally invested in not only Mia and Sebastian’s dreams, but about their relationship. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have such natural chemistry that it bursts off the screen; every moment of their relationship is believable and authentic, beautiful yet utterly heartbreaking. I sincerely hope they both get nominated for every award possible for their performances. I’m already thrilled at their Golden Globe success.

Damien Chazelle is a genius. Whiplash was my favourite movie of 2014 and has safely got a spot in my favourite movies of all time. Chazelle is clearly fond of music, jazz in particular – it was great to see JK Simmons make an appearance in this movie again. There are familiar ideas in La La Land and Whiplash, but the films are incredibly different in tone. He has created two endlessly rewatchable masterpieces that will be remembered as some of the best films of the 21st century. I am so excited to see what he is going to do next. For such a young director, it is awe-inspiring to see just how talented he is. It’s quite mind-blowing. If he continues on this path, he will be one of the biggest directors in Hollywood, no doubt.

La La Land is a film everyone should see, even if you don’t like musicals. If you’re a dreamer or perhaps even a romantic, this film will get to you emotionally. If you’re just someone who likes good movies, see it. Every shot is beautiful, every frame, every colour. And every song is beautiful – the soundtrack will be on repeat on my Spotify for the next few weeks. I sincerely hope this film gets all the recognition it deserves, and I expect to see (hopefully) a lot more original musicals pushing through into the mainstream.

La La Land obviously gets a 5/5. Perfect in every way.

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ZOOTROPOLIS/ ZOOTOPIA (2016)

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I have to admit, animated movies have never been for me. Even as a child, I can’t recall being particularly fond of them or them being much of my childhood. Recently, I’ve been watching more animated movies and have found a new appreciation for them as an adult. Disney’s Zootropolis (Zootopia in the US) was released this year to rave reviews, so I decided to give it a watch.

This movie really surprised me. I think children can definitely enjoy the cutesy animals and bright, fun animation involved in this film, but the overwhelming themes of racism, diversity and equality really stood out and will not go unnoticed by adults. The film tells the story of Judy Hopps, who wants to be the first bunny police officer in Zootropolis. This career path, she is told by her parents and school children, is not a career path for a bunny. Despite their warnings, Judy follows her dreams anyway and excels. Not only is this a great message for kids, this message can apply to us all in our lives. The film portrays racism and inequality through the fox Nick Wild, who, along with other predators, are stereotyped as dangerous and untrustworthy. Judy’s open-minded, inclusive nature leads to a budding friendship between the two, and what you ultimately are left with is a buddy cop movie for children.

Zootropolis is smart. It knows how to drop these subtleties that can apply to our human lives without trying to bash you over the head with messages. But it’s a film that children and adults alike should watch, especially in our culture nowadays where these themes are so important. The voice work, which I think is often overlooked in animation, should be recognised here, particularly from the films leads Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman. Voice work in general is never quite given the praise it deserves, in fact I think it should be given its own category at awards ceremonies, as there are so many outstanding actors working in this field who are unappreciated.

This movie is enjoyable, intelligent and beautifully animated and deserves all the recognition come awards season.

5/5

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

RogueOne.jpgThe much anticipated Rogue One burst into cinemas this week, the first of the Star Wars Anthology movies – one-off stories that take place within the Star Wars universe but are separate to the episodes. Rogue One, directed by Godzilla’s Gareth Edwards, tells the story told in the opening crawl of A New Hope, of the group of rebels who stole the plans to the Death Star.

One of the main highlights of this film is the diversity of the cast. This is the first Star Wars movie to be led solely by a female protagonist, played by Felicity Jones, and the casting of European, American and Asian actors is something to be applauded in an industry which is often accused of ‘whitewashing’. Standouts are the droid K-2SO played by Alan Tudyk and Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe.

Rogue One definitely feels different to a typical Star Wars movie. Gareth Edwards described his goal as making the first war movie in the franchise, which he has achieved – the film has plenty of glorious battle scenes and isn’t afraid to show the great sacrifice the group of rebels made in order to defeat the Empire.

Of course one of the most anticipated parts of this movie’s release is the return of Darth Vader. Apart from two scenes, one of which is jump-out-of-your-seat amazing, Vader is barely in the film, but those moments are so well done that they add just the right amount of nostalgia to throw back to the original trilogy. Something that Rogue One achieves greatly is just how well the film manages to link into A New Hope. It is completely seamless, and the third act manages to perfectly tie up the Rogue One storyline and segue into Episode 4.

Overall, I was very impressed by Rogue One and now look forward to seeing more of what these anthology movies have to offer. Disney and LucasFilm seem to have a clear vision of where to take this franchise and Star Wars is back on form.

4/5

GONE BABY GONE (2007)

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Ben Affleck’s directorial debut tackles the tough issue of child abduction in Boston and asks the question: what is home?

Gone Baby Gone stars Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan as private investigators, hired by a distraught couple to look for their young niece, who has seemingly been taken. The police chief, played by Morgan Freeman, rejects the interference of the investigators – he too lost a child and feels passionately about the work police do in solving these cases. Affleck never attempts to sugar-coat this scenario, he has written a screenplay which reflects the gritty underworld of Boston, shows the terror in drug abuse, and presents the depraved side of society – paedophiles, corrupt police and one couple trying to work their way through it all.

Without giving away spoilers, this film never takes the direction you expect it to. I found myself being constantly surprised by the decisions characters made, and it left plenty of questions regarding what morality means to different people. Gone Baby Gone had me thinking after the film had finished about whether we as human beings are products of our surroundings, and if we had the opportunity to grow up somewhere else, would we be different? The film is purely worth seeing on this basis to reflect on. But Affleck’s great, subtle direction, the entire cast’s performances (including some Boston residents Affleck hired to have parts) and an authentic snapshot of humanity in the most vicious of situations makes this a film worthy of reflection and study.

4/5

THE DANISH GIRL (2015)

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This Oscar-nominated (semi) biographical drama film tells the story of one of the first openly transgender women, Lili Elbe, who underwent gender reassignment surgery in 1930. Lili, born Einar Wegener, was a successful painter and was married to Gerda Wegener, also an artist. Directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Miserables) and starring Eddie Redmayne and Academy Award winning Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl explores the transition of Lili, along with the affect this has on her wife and relationships.

The best thing about this film undoubtedly is the performances. Redmayne and Vikander are invisible in their roles, both treating the delicate subject matter with respect and emotional depth. Vikander is the standout, her tragic portrayal of Gerda is where the majority of the film’s emotional resonance is the most effective. Although Redmayne is equally convincing and comfortable when playing the reserved Einar or the much more playful and flirtatious Lili, the truly moving scenes are watching Gerda witness her husband go through deep emotional and physical turmoil.

Hooper’s directing is good, but the lack of colour in the film underplays the potential of what could have been a visual storytelling device of Einar’s transition. The film is shot to look very grey throughout, and although this is representative of Einar’s inner feelings, colour could have brought the film to life when he is his true self as Lili.

My biggest issue with The Danish Girl, aside from the fact it gets lost in its second act and becomes unfortunately slow, is that it is marketed as a true-life story, when in fact, it is based on a fictional book. The majority of secondary characters here are fictional, the ending is left on a particularly touching (but false) moment, and the true justice to Lili and Gerda is never reached. The film is tackling an issue which is more prominent than ever in our society, yet by telling a fictionalised version of real events, it becomes problematic. How can you discuss such an important issue without telling it properly? This, for me, is where the film ultimately falters, and with this knowledge, it is hard to find any connection with its characters. A scene where Lili is beat up for her appearance loses all its meaning when that event never happened in real life, and has clearly been put on the screen to inspire sympathy. Truly, I think it would be far more respectful to have made this film based on Lili’s published memoirs.

Overall, I would award The Danish Girl 3/5. A worthwhile subject matter, breathtaking performances and a great first act, but ultimately a film that falls flat.

SUICIDE SQUAD: THOUGHTS

The DCEU’s movies thus far, (2013’s Man of Steel and this year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) have been equally divisive among fans and critics. Both directed by Zack Snyder, who has his fair share of admirers and maligners, fans were expecting something completely fresh and new with the release of David Ayer’s (Training Day, Fury) much-anticipated Suicide Squad – a film that tells the story of a group of DC’s most-loved supervillains, brought together on a mission to save the world. Personally, Suicide Squad was one of my most anticipated movies of the year, I’ve loved every trailer that’s been released, and the marketing grabbed my attention far more than Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, though I enjoyed both of those movies (the BvS ultimate cut, that is). But the truth is, Suicide Squad, for me, was the worst of the DCEU movies so far. A movie with so much potential started pretty strongly, but ended up being a predictable, CGI fest with a lack of structure and character development that I found myself bored with after the assembling of the team.

One can’t help but feel that Warner Bros is desperate to catch up to the mega-machine that is Marvel Studios, but let’s not forget, Marvel’s first MCU movie, The Incredible Hulk¸ or Iron Man depending on how you look at it, were both released in 2008. The team-up movie The Avengers wasn’t released until 2012. Marvel gave themselves 4 years of universe building, establishing the key characters in their cinematic universe long before they all starred in one movie. Not only did this build anticipation, but it allowed audiences to understand the characters individually before they were in an ensemble piece, giving the film more emotional resonance and also meaning Joss Whedon didn’t need to spend half of his movie establishing characters. The DCEU has had one single-character movie, Man of Steel, which is the reason why BvS felt so packed and rushed with characters. The same goes for Suicide Squad. The only characters given any decent backstory in this film are Deadshot and Harley Quinn. Even these scenes are in awkwardly-placed flashback moments and don’t flow throughout the rest of the movie.

The first apparent issue I had with Suicide Squad was the music. Reports have suggested that Warner Bros executives, after seeing the negative response to the dour tone of BvS, asked David Ayer to add in ‘fun’ music to make the movie seem more upbeat. Although the film has a brilliant soundtrack, it is used in such a jarring way, that the movie feels more like a music video at times than a film. There are some scenes where the music is so over-powering that you can’t hear or understand what the characters are saying – it feels forced. The movie also has a major issue with structure – not only are flashbacks used excessively, but many scenes feel like they were cut or as if some scenes are missing, there is not a structure to the film, it is essentially a first and painfully dragged out third act. This made the film feel longer than what it was, and if there was more time spent on the back story of the characters (who were 100% the BEST thing about this movie) I think this would have made an overwhelming improvement to the way I came out feeling when Suicide Squad was finished.

As mentioned, there are some fantastic characters in this film that I hope to see more of in future. Highlights for myself were Will Smith as Deadshot, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Jay Hernandez as El Diablo Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang, and the AMAZING Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. The excellent make-up on Killer Croc is also worth praise. The way the Suicide Squad interacted with each other made for the best moments in the film, with a great blend of humour. By the end of the film, I believed in these characters and wanted to see more of them. I just wish they’d been in a better movie.

My biggest issue with the film overall is its villain, Enchantress, played by Cara Delevingne. This is truly one of the worst villians I have ever seen – the ending is reminiscent of last year’s disastrous Fantastic Four, in fact, I actually laughed in the cinema. Not only is Delevingne incessantly belly-dancing/moving like Gollum/hula-hooping, the ‘deep scary voice’ they put over the top of her sounded so ridiculous it was hard to believe this was a serious movie. The entire side-plot with her brother was not only stupid, but no one gave a shit about the character, so it had absolutely no meaning whatsoever when he ‘wreaks havoc’ on the city. The climax of this movie is so disappointing, that the more I thought about it when I got home, the more annoyed I was. I don’t want to hate Suicide Squad – it certainly has fun moments, it looks super cool in places, the performances (for the most part) are really, really good (not Jared Leto’s Joker, though. Ugh) but overall, this movie is a mess.

I’d give it 2/5.

The Screen Diary: First Post

Hi, and welcome to The Screen Diary – a place for me to post all my thoughts on film (and occasionally TV) – this could include reviews, my favourite films and directors, and general thoughts on the film industry.

I’m currently a Media, Film & Television student and aspiring to work as a film journalist, so this is essentially a great place for me to practice my writing and engage with the subject matter on a more analytical level outside of my degree!

Please feel free to make any suggestions/comments – I’m hoping to post on this weekly/ bi-weekly depending on time etc 🙂

Ashleigh