La La Land


Viewed – 20 May 2017  Blu-ray

Probably the most celebrated movie of the last twelve months that swept up at each award ceremony, gaining Oscars, Baftas and Golden Globes a plenty.  I must admit I was intrigued and have always enjoyed a good musical.  This stars Emma Stone as a young woman with a dream of becoming an actress who waits tables at a cafe on the Warner Brothers studio back lot.  At the same time we have Ryan Gosling’s talented Jazz pianist trying to make a name for himself with dreams of opening his own, old-school Jazz bar.   These two strangers it seems, are destined to meet and so we have what appears to be a classic Hollywood love story, peppered with the occasional grand song and dance routine.

La La Land

A nostalgic homage to Hollywood of old, ala Rogers & Hammerstein or Doris Day musicals but with a contemporary setting.  Should work wonders, huh?  Well … the problem here is, these two actors lacked chemistry and their central love story, going from disliking, to tolerating, to falling in love etc. just didn’t engage … I just didn’t really get caught up in any of it.  Every time you’d expect some convincing emotion or actual depth to their relationship, they’d break into a dance routine or a song instead.  I’m sure it’s all meant to be symbolic but it just made their relationship ‘meh’ at best.  This is not helped by some very vague story details and forgettable supporting characters (Stone has a boyfriend at one stage…not that you’d remember him).  Thankfully the movie is packed with eye-catching dance routines, at times stunning visuals, great choreography and colourful costumes.  However along with forgettable actual songs (nothing really stands out) and principle leads you feel are better off not being together … something has gone horribly wrong. 

The movie saves itself somewhat in the closing moments and the final interactions between Gosling and Stone are quite touching.  Both stars are also very good, proving themselves capable singers (with Stone especially having a fantastic solo moment) … however with such a focus on re-creating a bygone era and less focus on delivering an engaging story, I felt this ultimately failed.  Worth watching for Gosling and Stone and some great dance numbers, just don’t fall for the hype.

Verdict:  3 /5

Passengers


Viewed – 16 May 2017  online-rental

I don’t think it can be argued that Chris Pratt is currently on a role.  He’s pretty much the darling of Hollywood right now and has delivered enjoyable performance after enjoyable performance, most notably in his two Guardians of the Galaxy outings.  The same can probably also be said of Jennifer Lawrence who also seems to do no wrong.  Both are charming, good looking stars so sitting down to this space-set adventure was an easy prospect, helped I must add by my love of all things sci-fi.

Passengers

A space station on a 90 year journey to reach an earth-like planet suddenly starts to malfunction, and one ‘passenger’ on board (Pratt) wakes up decades too soon, and quickly realises he might be doomed to a life of solitude and possible madness.  However as time progresses, he’s joined by fellow passenger Aurora (Lawrence) and together they try to exist and adjust to their potentially grim fate.

This is a great premise and I was easily absorbed into both character’s plight.  Think Robinson Crusoe in space and you get what this one’s going for, whilst also throwing in some heart-breaking dilemmas and powerful emotional drama that really surprised and pulled me in.  Pratt is excellent as is Lawrence who are supported well by an android Michael Sheen who brings his inimitable style and class to proceedings.  Helps also that Pratt & Lawrence have convincing chemistry, which made later scenes even more effective.  However amongst the drama there is also a lot of fun to be had, especially with the amusing ways Pratt initially tries to cope (although thankfully Pratt’s gratuitous butt shots are counter-balanced by a couple of lingering Lawrence swimsuit moments) … and with some superb CGI and an epic, at times ominous setting I really got a lot out of this.

The only real issue is pacing, as the story tends to drag its heels a little here and there.  For such a large space station too, it failed to really develop as a setting you haven’t seen a dozen times before, perhaps in need of a bit more eeriness.  However, with solid performances and a thrilling final act … I just have to recommend this one.

Verdict:  4 /5

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2


Viewed – 02 May 2017  Cinema

The first movie was my favourite of 2014, so the prospect of a sequel was very exciting.  This time around we find the unorthodox gang of heroes causing strife with a race of beings after Rocket the Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) gets a little light-fingered with some batteries.  However following a space battle that could cause the guardian’s lives to end abruptly, a mysterious stranger saves the day.  Turns out Star Lord (Chris Pratt) has a Dad who just so happens to be a pretty powerful guy himself, played with charismatic flair by the ever dependable Kurt Russell.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-2

This fills in a few gaps left over from the last movie, especially the question surrounding Chris Pratt’s father and it was great being back in the company of these very likable characters again.  The dialogue is especially sharp throughout, something that was a highlight of the last movie and the jokes & references come thick and fast to make this a ton of fun.  Pratt’s character constantly makes quips about eighties pop-culture such as TV shows like Cheers and characters such as Skelator and Pac-Man, and makes him a very relatable and refreshing presence in this sort of movie.  I was also glad to see that, despite the trailers, Baby Groot isn’t over-used but damn is he cute and very funny every second he’s on screen.

Kurt RussellThe soundtrack, another highlight last time around isn’t quite as memorable (apart from a great use of Mister Blue Sky by ELO) and a left-over side plot involving sisters Nebula (Karen Gillen) and Morgana (Zoe Saldana) felt unnecessary.  I also did not get much out of the gold-painted race that turn up at the beginning and chase after our heroes.  That being said Michael Rooker’s Yondu was again a joy and I’ve always liked the actor and we get some great moments with him here.  The same can be said for scene-stealing Dave Bautista as Drax.  Action generally is top-notch but the plot didn’t grab me as much or feel as layered this time, with the whole Kurt Russell’s planet sequence stopping the movie dead at one stage.

As it stands though this was a solid sequel and I can’t wait to see what comes next.  The Guardians of the Galaxy will return!

Verdict:  4 /5

Kong: Skull Island


Viewed – 14 March 2017  Cinema

I can’t say I was all that hyped for this but some friends were wanting to see it so I thought I’d tag along.  This latest exploration of the legendary franchise about a massive, mythical ape follows a group of geologists and a band of fresh outta ‘Nam marines as they travel to a newly discovered, unexplored island.  John Goodman leads the scientists, whilst Samuel L. Jackson leads the marines and along the way they bring in Tom Hiddleston’s tracker. 

kong-skull-island

This began promising … a dramatic prologue set the stage and when introduced to Goodman, Jackson etc but for a slightly larger-than-life aesthetic, it seemed I was in for a good time.  Sad then, that not long after the team arrive at the island did it dawn on this viewer that there was something worryingly cartoonish to the performances and action, and despite some epic monster smack downs once Kong gets screen time and is punching helicopters out of the air etc … what initial potential any of these characters had is rapidly replaced with cheesy, clichéd caricatures displaying over the top attempts at drama, melo-drama and awkward-comedy, most of which miss their target.  When it’s trying to be serious it comes off as amusing (sometimes hilarious) and when it’s trying to be exciting it comes off as slow-motion Michael Bay dialled up to ten.  This caused me to gradually zone out as any character moments or parts where you’re meant to route for anyone except Kong, fell flat.  Even seasoned veterans like Goodman and Jackson came off hammy, especially Jackson who has a silly amount of lingering stares, complete with that bulging left eye, and Hiddleston is woefully miss-cast, struggling as the rugged hero-type despite (fake)tanned good looks and perfect hair.  Add to this Brie Larson who initially appeared as a ballsy photographer, but half way through descended into just another objectified pair of boobs.  Sigh. 

Thankfully we do get some reprieve from the mediocrity and cheese in a wonderfully dead-pan John C Reilly, and the effects and the locations are decent (bar some obvious green screen segments), which means it isn’t a total shot in the foot.  However like initial expectations, there’s very little to warrant this one existing in an industry that’s previously given us so much better.

Verdict:  2.5 /5

A Street Cat Named Bob


Viewed – 11 March 2017  online rental

A down on his luck busker who’s also a former drug addict, finds his life transformed when he’s befriended by a ginger cat.  This heart-warming true story follows the story of James Bowen, a guys initially living on the streets, scraping together money by performing with his guitar who has also been disowned by his father (Anthony Head) but finds solace in a mysterious cat who helps people see the good in him … including a neighbourhood girl (Ruta Gedmintas).

A Street Cat Names Bob

I loved how this movie played out.  Initially you’re watching the fly-on-the-wall story of this guy, a recovering drug addict, no-hoper who has a bit of a talent for busking.  However the inclusion of the cat, a lovely ginger tom could have tuned this into a cheese-fest but is handled well, including clever ‘from-the-cat’s-viewpoint’ perspectives that help to communicate the bond that is formed.  However this doesn’t sugar-coat the harsh reality of homelessness or drug addiction either, despite never getting all that hard-hitting.  Therefore this is generally a feel-good journey and performances across the board are solid, especially an easy to like Luke Treadaway as James who’s plight thoroughly grabbed me.  I also should add this brought a tear to my eye towards the end, and is filled with many charming and touching moments that really hit home.  It’s the sort of movie that also makes you think differently and open your eyes.

When you consider that all this happened as well, it’s quite remarkable and made me believe that in some shape or form, there’s a guardian angel out there for all of us.  If you haven’t guessed by now, I loved this probably more than expected.  A must-see.

Verdict:  5 /5