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

Hail, Caesar


Viewed – 10 March 2016 Cinema

I have been an admirer of the work of sibling directors Joel & Ethan Coen for many years now and count movies like The Big Lebowski and Fargo amongst some of the best movies I’ve seen.  However sometimes these talented guys seem to stumble upon an idea that for one reason or another just doesn’t work – and I’m surprised to say, this is one such movie.

hail caesar

The plot follows a day in the life of a movie studio exec (Josh Brolin), sometime in the early 1950s, where musicals and swords & sandals epics were all the rage.  It’s certainly a fascinating setting and one I was hoping would be a great backdrop to an intriguing kidnap storyline, at least that’s the idea the trailer gave me.  However following the mysterious abduction of their biggest star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), Brolin finds himself being forced to come up with a ransom whilst at the same time juggling a myriad of other issues at the studio.

Hail__Caesar__BrolinNow you see here lies the problem … there’s a lot of things going on here; Scarlett Johansson appears as a tough-talking pregnant starlet whose lack of a husband puts her image (and that of the studio) in question.  Also twin reporters turn up trying to dish the dirt on Baird Whitlock’s past and a dim-witted western star get’s the opportunity to do his first speaking part in a new movie. Oh and there’s some dancing sailors too, headed by Channing Tatum.  Yet despite these admittedly colourful characters, along with Clooney they’re written so one dimensional that it was really hard to care about any them.  Johansson, considering she’s one of the most bankable actresses around at the moment gets two redundant scenes, and Clooney’s plot is more perplexing and confusing than gripping.

The movie isn’t without it’s moments though. It looks fantastic (thanks to regular collaborator Roger Deakins) and behind the scenes segments of movies being made will always pull me in.  The dialogue at times is also pretty comical (a meeting with various representatives of different religious faiths to discuss a biblical epic is a stand out).  Yet the comedy isn’t strong enough to hide the fact the movie fails to go anywhere even remotely interesting and no attention to set design, costumes or musical numbers can make up for such a glaring flaw.

Verdict: 2 /5

Little Shop of Horrors


Viewed – 03 November 2014  Blu-ray

Director’s Cut & Theatrical Cut

This was a firm favourite for me during the eighties.  Some of my favourite comedy actors, such as Rick Moranis & Steve Martin are pulled together in a quality musical-fantasy-love-story-horror-movie that shouldn’t have worked but for some reason it did.  I must have watched that old VHS a ton of times.  So we come to this Blu-ray release and how does it shape up all these years later?

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

The story is about a nerdy flower shop assistant called Seymour (Moranis) who is secretly in love with the glamorous but ditzy Audrey who happens to be in an abusive relationship with psychotic dentist Orin (Steve Martin on brilliant form).  The shop isn’t making much profit however and the grumpy owner Mushnik is tempted to close doors until Seymour reveals the strange and unusual plant he stumbled upon.  Suffice to say it attracts business to the shop big time, whilst Seymour gradually discovers the cute little plant only seems to feed on human blood.

First and foremost this is a musical with some real sing-a-long foot tappers such as the brilliant opening title song performed by a re-occurring gospel / motown trio, as well as stand outs such as ‘down town’, ‘mean green mother’ and the excellent power-ballad ‘suddenly seymour’.  No shock this was based on an off-Broadway musical by the same name.  The cast mostly excell, with Moranis, a stalwart of the put-up-on loser role he did so well in movies like Ghostbusters … proving a surprising singing talent.  Less effective is Ellen Green as Audrey who granted, is meant to be dippy and silly but grates from the moment she appears (that voice).  Thankfully we get Steve Martin in an extended cameo and his rendition of ‘you’ll be a dentist’ is personally the highlight of the movie.  Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops also voices monster-plant Audrey II brilliantly – larger-than-life, menacing and also kinda adorable (initially) …and damn can he belt out a number!  The animatronics and puppetry here is also first class and in this age of wall-to-wall CGI stands up very well indeed, probably looking better than if the movie was done today.

Little Shop Of Horrors is often not mentioned in the same sentence as musicals like Grease and The Sound of Music, but deserves to be – it’s a great deal of fun..  It’s very artificial (often embracing the fact it was all filmed on a set) and quite absurd and over-acted, but this is also much of the charm.  A comedy musical classic not to be missed.

The Blu-ray is a mixed back,.  First it houses two cuts of the movie, with the extended ‘director’s cut’ boasting a lengthy alternative conclusion which I didn’t care for.  Other than that the movies are identical.  The big let down for me is that both versions are not exactly bursting with detail and look rather fuzzy and dark in high-def.  Thankfully the 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack manages  to deliver the songs and crisp dialogue well, so it’s not a complete disaster.  Extras consist of a Frank Oz introduction and commentary on the director’s cut, outtakes, deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes documentary.  Not bad but the underwhelming treatment of the movie itself and the purely curiosity value of the director’s cut still makes this disappointing.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3 /5

Frozen


Viewed – 19 April 2014  Pay-per-view

A Disney movie is always an attractive prospect for me … beautiful animation, a classic storyline and lots of fun characters and sing-a-long tunes.  In recent years with the likes of Pixar and Studio Ghibli earning critical acclaim and doing things a little different, it would be easy to forget the blue print created by the house of mouse.

Frozen

This latest offering is based on the ‘The Ice Queen’ by Hans Christian Anderson and tells the story of Elsa, a princess cursed with the ability to control ice, who after an innocent playtime turns to disaster, is forced to live secluded from her sister, Anna and everyone in their kingdom.

This is classic Disney fair, a fantasy world, enchanted creatures, spells, magic and a wintery backdrop – all topped off with a series of loud and brash songs.  Although think more Broadway than other Disney offerings with some of the musical numbers feeling more operatic than usual, and apart from the enjoyable ‘Let It Go’ mostly blur into one.  Thankfully we do get a decent comedy side kick in the shape of talking snowman Olaf, some fun side characters including a comical shop keeper and plenty of action (a giant snow monster!!).  I don’t know but for me it relied a little too much on Disney tradition, offering little new to an old concept.  I was left clueless as to the origins of Elsa’s curse, surprised by a plot development early on that was just glossed over (ahem, it involves the parents) but impressed by the great twist to a message that was getting hammered home a bit too strongly.

The character of Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) however does lift this out of near mediocrity; all feisty, clumsy and genuinely likeable … and I did feel for Elsa’s plight also.  Yet for Disney this seemed stuck in a past that the likes of Pixar and DreamWorks etc. left behind long ago (for good or bad).  Maybe I’m being a bit harsh, but when a movie makes you feel like you’ve seen it a dozen times before – no matter how well done (and this is well done) – then it’s still doing something wrong.

Verdict:  3 /5

Saving Mr. Banks


Viewed – 26 March 2014  Pay-per-view

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.  I didn’t predict that, but such a versatile and skilled actor can seemingly inhabit the bodies of many characters you may never have pictured him as … Forest Gump springing immediately to mind.  This based-on-true-events tale tells the troubled history to bring much loved children’s book “Mary Poppins” to the big screen, and the difficult relationship that builds between the legendary studio mogul and author P L Travers (Emma Thompson).

Saving-Mr-Banks-008

From the start this is sprinkled with the whimsical, magical feel of the classic movie and has the timeless music and songs showcased throughout, albeit during their inception rather than being delivered by the stars.  Jumping back and forth between the onset of Disney’s acquisition of the rights to Travers’ creation, and her childhood back in Australia … I was swept away by a very moving and emotional story with a brilliantly cranky Emma Thompson at the top of her game.  Her performance may be at times unlikable and a tad annoying but expresses the complex personality and inner-demons of Travers well, and is equally mirrored by Hanks remarkable Disney … eye-opening for those not overly familiar with the man himself, and charming and likeable in a way only Hanks can achieve.  Paul Giamatti as Travers’ chauffer is also good, and his slow-burning friendship with Travers is one of the movie’s highlights.

For me I would have liked less flashbacks (despite a rather good Colin Farrell as Travers alcoholic father) and a bit more behind the scenes of Mary Poppins’ production (no look-a-like Dick Van Dyke or Julie Andrews?  A two second glimpse doesn’t count!). Yet this was still very sweet, uplifting and funny.  Well worth checking out.

Verdict:  4 /5