Hacksaw Ridge (Spoiler-Free Review)

Movie Review

Verdict: 8/10

Synopsis

Directed by Mel Gibson, HACKSAW RIDGE is the extraordinary true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) who, in Okinawa during the bloodiest battle of WWII, saved 75 men without firing or carrying a gun. He was the only American soldier in WWII to fight on the front lines without a weapon, as he believed that while the war was justified, killing was nevertheless wrong.

The Review

It’s always welcoming when Hollywood produce true stories of real life heroes you most likely would never have heard of in your life (most certainly not in UK schools). The film becomes more than just a two-hour watch. It becomes a great history class you wished you attended when you were growing up. Hacksaw Ridge does that for most of it’s running time, with a second half having some of the most visceral battle sequences caught in film, with the veteran direction (and resurrection) of Mel Gibson, led by a poignant central performance by Oscar Nominated Andrew Garfield.

It’s very hard to make this a spoiler-free review given it’s based on a true story (the synopsis alone from the film distributors sums up the second half of the film). It truly is remarkable to think that there was ever a man like Desmond Doss. The film is a tale of two halves. We begin with a young Desmond who after doing a very terrible act as a child, vows to follow the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” till the end of his days. Years later, nearing the end of WWII, he sees other men around his town going off to war and sees that its his right to go fight as well. The only issue is that he’s a conscientious objector and has vowed that he will never carry a gun. This doesn’t fall well with his new sergeant in command and brothers-in-arms, seeing him as a threat to let them down at the heat of the battle.

Many more things happen within this half, with Desmond falling in love with nurse Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), and the battle he has to go through to be allowed to travel with the soldiers to Japan. It’s a great set up for a polar opposite second half, but the issue I have with the first half of the film is how terribly clichéd it is at times. Some of the dialogue feels straight out of daytime soap operas. It’s really cheesy at some points with some scenes being downright cringe, making some moving moments for me to be not as powerful as Gibson intended them to be. Yes you can argue that the first half was intended to be played out like that to balance out the brutal second half, but for me it was one-too-many whiffs of cheese.

So…the second half. Wow. The moment the soldiers walk on to Hacksaw Ridge till the ending of the film grabs you by the throat and never lets you go. It’s the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan turned up to 11. Blood and guts everywhere. Bombs exploding off. Screams echoing around the battlefield. It’s visceral and relentless and definitely not for the faint hearted. It’s what Gibson does best. Memories of Braveheart with the brutality of Apocalypto and The Passion of the Christ is littered throughout. It perfectly captures Desmond’s beliefs and why Hacksaw Ridge is actually an anti-war film. Garfield provides his most human performance as Doss, giving you a hero that will live on in your memory after you leave the cinema. By the end of the film, Doss becomes a shell of himself and you can’t help but tear up knowing what he’s just gone through and done for his brothers. And the supporting cast is wonderful, especially Vince Vaughn as the no-nonsense drill sergeant and Hugo Weaving as Desmond’s estranged father.

Final Word

Putting aside the near cheesy first half which does well to build up why we should support the beliefs of Desmond Doss, this is a decade-long welcome return for Mel Gibson behind the camera. He gives us a visceral and brutal war film for the ages led by Andrew Garfield’s best performance in front of the camera.

Split (Spoiler-Free Review)

Movie Review

Verdict: 2/10

Synopsis

While the mental divisions of those with dissociative identity disorder have long fascinated and eluded science, it is believed that some can also manifest unique physical attributes for each personality, a cognitive and physiological prism within a single being. Though Kevin has evidenced 23 personalities to his trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher, there remains one still submerged who is set to materialize and dominate all the others. Compelled to abduct three teenage girls led by the willful, observant Casey, Kevin reaches a war for survival among all of those contained within him – as well as everyone around him – as the walls between his compartments shatter apart.

The Review

Oh M. Night Shyamalan. What happened? You made great films like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs…but then went on to make films such as Lady in the Water, The Happening, and After Earth. And don’t get me started with The Last Airbender, given you ruined my all time favourite anime series on the big screen which I still hate you for. So when I start reading from multiple respective outlets that “Split” is a return to form for Shyamalan, it got me all excited. Has he really written something again that was as unique and memorable as The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable?

No. No he has not. Not by a mile. Split is a mess of a movie. I’m angry just thinking about it while writing this review.

James McAvoy plays Kevin, a man who has suffered with dissociative identity disorder all his life, giving him the burden of having 23 distinct personalities. At the beginning of the film, we see one of his personalities, “Dennis”, kidnap three teenagers: Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula), and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). From there we get to see glimpses of his different identities, most notably Barry, a wannabe fashion designer (only appearing in front of his regular sessions with his psychiatrist), Hedwig, a little child, and Patricia, a stern and authoritative woman. It’s the personalities of Dennis and Patricia who have “worked” together to kidnap these girls as they need to ready them for the inevitable appearance of Kevin’s 24th distinct personality, known only as “The Beast”.

The film is littered with so many glaring mistakes it’s shameful, given that it doesn’t help that the plot is extremely stupid as well and can’t keep up with its own unique concept. The second half is down right ridiculous due to how clearly irrational it is.The first quarter of the film is intriguing, unravelling the mental issues Kevin has been suffering all his life, keeping you captivated to understand the purpose of why he has kidnapped these girls. But when the personality of “The Beast” begins to get mentioned, it becomes way too predictable but at the same time doesn’t realise how insulting it is that it’s ending up representing people with similar mental issues to be extremely dangerous human beings in real life.

Another is the portrayal of women in this film, notably the three kidnapped teenagers. One of the personalities, Barry, loves to watch naked girls dancing. Using that as plot point, he asks one of the girls to remove their pants, and another to remove their top. REALLY?!  It’s just an infuriating sexist excuse to ensure they remain like that for the rest of the film. Taylor-Joy’s Casey is the only girl out of the three given a back-story around an abusive past which is handled poorly. There’s even little moments in the film that proves the difference between a good director and a bad one. An example being one of the actresses having gone through a terrifying ordeal just minutes ago, has full on make-up on and looking like they’ve just got of the shower. The only saving grace and why I’m even giving any score is James McAvoy as he is incredible in this film. A performance more crazy than his turn in “Filth”. It’s just a shame his talent is wasted away here.

Final Word

Three words: Split is Shit.

T2 Trainspotting (Spoiler-Free Review)

Movie Review

Verdict: 7/10

Synopsis

First there was an opportunity……then there was a betrayal. Twenty years have gone by. Much has changed but just as much remains the same. Mark Renton returns to the only place he can ever call home. They are waiting for him: Spud, Sick Boy, and Begbie. Other old friends are waiting too: sorrow, loss, joy, vengeance, hatred, friendship, love, longing, fear, regret, diamorphine, self-destruction and mortal danger, they are all lined up to welcome him, ready to join the dance.

The Review

21 years ago, a little film called Trainspotting got released to the UK public. Based on the same novel by Irvine Welsh, the film shocked audience members everywhere for its brutal and honest portrayal of drug addiction, but also how culturally relevant it was of that time, taking on topics such as class status, youth culture, and poverty. The first time I watched it it felt like a punch to the gut. The kinetic direction by Danny Boyle with a soundtrack for the ages lives on in your memory, rightfully placing it as one of the greatest movies of the 90s. Decades later, T2 has arrived, returning Renton (Ewan McGregor), Spud (Ewen Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) back on our screens.

After the events of the first one, we see Renton has been living in Amsterdam for the past 20 years. Spud still can’t let go of his heroin addiction which is affecting his relationship with his wife and son, whilst trying to get a stable job. Sick Boy is still finding dodgy ways of making money, pursuing the life of blackmail on the side, even if he is a pub landlord. And Begbie is still in prison, serving his 25-year sentence and being denied parole.

If you’re expecting the thrill of the first one to be captured again in this sequel then think again. This is a film about memories. Memories of the past that you can’t let go. Even if years have gone by, it hasn’t healed the mistakes that you have made. The main purpose of this film is to show the toil that age takes upon you. We see flashes of the first film stitched into poignant moments reflecting the “best of times” (even with echoing snippets of the first soundtrack), but really shows that our characters aren’t young adults anymore and have wasted their lives away.  It’s also a film about friendship, having moments showing children representing our characters when they were young and how the bond between them began. It’s a more emotional film with a desperation of our “heroes” trying to hold on to what they can of their past, even if the world around them has moved on to a more modern era. It’s welcoming to see that the film embraces the changes that have occurred in the real world these last two decades.

Out of all the main characters, McGregor’s Renton is definitely the one who has aged the most, with Renton being less brash and energetic like he was in the first film. He’s ultimately seeking forgiveness, given what he did at the end of the first film has taken a toil on the rest of the people he is connected with. Miller and Carlyle are still the Sick Boy and Begbie (respectively) that we know, schemers and back stabbers. But it’s Ewen Bremner’s Spud that will carry on being in your head as you leave the cinema. He was my favourite character from the first one and still is in the second one. It’s heartbreaking to see Spud with where he is in his life, given that he is the most likeable of them all.

And that’s one of the issues I have with this film. Other than Spud, none of these characters are likeable at all by the end. You don’t care whether or not they get killed for their actions throughout the film. Another issue is the film doesn’t really have much of a plot. It really becomes some sort of a story near the final 30 minutes. Before that, its a collection of scenes put together (even if some of these scenes beautifully captures the surrealism of the first one), with an okay soundtrack, but Scotland still looks it’s beautiful self on screen.

Final Word

 T2 Trainspotting is about lost youth, broken friendships, and the acceptance of a different era. It’s a welcome return of some of the most iconic characters from film, but never captures what made the first one so unique and special.

“La La Land” receives 14 Oscar Nominations & #OscarsSoWhite is NO MORE!

News

Modern musical “La La Land” landed 14 Oscar Nominations today, tying with “Titanic” in 1997 and “All About Eve” in 1950, with the most Oscar nominations received by any film in the history of the competition.

It’s director Damien Chazelle received two nominations (one for Best Director and one Original Screenplay), with the stars of the film Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling receiving a nod in the Best Actress and Best Actor categories, respectively. It was also nominated twice in the Best Original Song category (“Audition” and “City of Stars”), Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing.

“Arrival” and “Moonlight” each received eight nominations, both included in the Best Picture category, with “Fences”, “Hacksaw Ridge”, “Hell or High Water”, “Hidden Figures”, “Manchester by the Sea”, and “Lion” making up that list.

In the acting categories, Casey Affleck, Andrew Garfield, Viggo Mortensen, and Denzal Washington were nominated with Gosling in the Best Actor category, and joining Stone is Isabelle Huppert, Natalie Portman, Meryl Streep (a record 20 nominations now), and surprise nomination Ruth Negga make up the Best Actress category.

Mel Gibson is nominated again 20 years after Braveheart for Best Director, with Barry Jenkins, Kenneth Lonergan, and Denis Villeneue making up the category with Chazelle.

With the big news for the past two years being the no-show of non-white presence in the Oscars Acting categories (and others), #OscarsSoWhite is no more with seven non-white actors and actresses being nominated over the four main acting categories. Good to see the shakeup that was promised last year by the Oscars president really working!

The nominations were announced early this afternoon in a completely unconventional way from what we are used to, with a pre-recorded video of past winners and nominees telling their stories what it felt like learning that they had been nominated. A bit weird and very infomercial like…let’s see if it carries over the coming years.

For the full list of nominees click on the link here. I will be writing many more articles following the run up to the big event which will be on February 26th so look out for those!

A Monster Calls (Spoiler-Free Review)

Movie Review

Verdict: 9/10

Synopsis

12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall), dealing with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) illness, a less-than-sympathetic grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), and bullying classmates, finds a most unlikely ally when a Monster appears at his bedroom window. Ancient, wild, and relentless, the Monster guides Conor on a journey of courage, faith, and truth. Toby Kebbell plays Conor’s father, and Liam Neeson stars in performance-capture and voiceover as the nocturnally visiting Monster of the title.

The Review

For a 12-year-old child, the world should be a vast open space to explore, make new bonds, make mistakes but learn from those experiences, and above all else, be fun. But what do you do when the world around you needs you to be more than a 12 year old. The cards that you have been dealt with makes the world need you to deal with issues and situations that even an adult finds difficult to contemplate and resolve. “A Monster Calls” is a visually heart-breaking coming-of-age story about a boy whose life is crumbling before his eyes only to find solace in the form of a Monster.

It is tough being 12-year-old Conor O’Malley. His single mother has terminal cancer and he needs to make sure he can take care of her as much as possible. He goes to school like all other children but has no friends, and gets beaten and bullied every day by a few of his classmates. His father lives in the US with his new family but visits whenever he can. He doesn’t get along with his cold and strict grandmother and does not want to live with her when the inevitable happens. To top it off, he has the same nightmare every night, vivid and terrifying. He is alone. He is isolated. There is no one who can help him to take the pain away. Until one night, at 12:07am, the big yew tree that he watches in the distance outside of his window suddenly starts cracking apart to reveal a gigantic tree man who comes to his house, grabs him out of his bedroom, and tells him that he will be coming every day to tell Conor three true stories. After the stories are told, Conor will need to tell the Monster his own story: the truth behind the nightmares he has been having.

Spanish film director J.A.Bayona brings his visual flair and storytelling to this film like he did in “The Orphanage” and “The Impossible”. It’s extremely dark and gothic, echoing Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” and of course the works of Tim Burton. But like the films of those two directors, we’re watching a fairy tale play out right in front of our eyes. The three stories that the Monster tells to Conor are told in gorgeous water colour animation; visual paintings that you see in your favourite children’s books come to life. I’m glad Bayona went that route as the stories are key to help drive the underlying metaphor that helps Conor accept his ultimate fate, and ensure we remember that this is still a film aimed for everyone, even if it is tackling very adult themes.

A Monster Calls has a great cast: Felicity Jones has knocked another performance out of the park here (after Rogue One just under a month ago) playing the terminally ill mother trying to stay strong in front of Conor, even if she is withering away slowly in front of his eyes. Toby Kebbell does great as the absent father who’s struggling himself trying to take care of his new family over the pond. As much as Sigourney Weaver is a great actress, she was the main flaw in this movie. Not because she acted terribly here (she does great as the strict grandmother) but she turns in a very weird English accent which I found difficult to adjust to throughout the movie, distracting the flow of the story. Ultimately the film belongs to the shoulders of the two main characters, Conor and the Monster, and they are both incredible.

The visuals of the Monster are stunning: terrifying to look at with red-hot burning eyes and a force to be reckoned with, but deep down is gentle and caring. I hope the visuals department gets the recognition it deserves come Oscars nominations. The Monster is the courage and bravery that Conor so desperately is missing in his life. The one to give him the nudge to take the next step. Kudos for casting the best voice in Hollywood and ultimate bad-ass Liam Neeson to do the voice work. Lewis MacDougall is the heart of the film and a future star in the making. The journey we take with Conor is every bit as harsh and heart-breaking for us as it is for him. MacDougall can switch from being strong when required, to being fragile and isolated by the click of a finger. He has to tackle the themes of losing a mother, the separation of his parents, bullying, having no friends, and also question his sanity when seeing the Monster. Not many adult actors can say they’ve tackled all these topics at once in a single film.

Final Word

I can’t say I’ve seen many coming-of-age films in recent times as beautiful as A Monster Calls. A heart-breaking, tear jerker of a film that uses fantastical visuals to tell a fairy tale about a little boy (with a star-turning performance by Lewis MacDougall) struggling to find his inner courage, and accepting the fate he has been dealt. Go watch it on the big screen before it goes.

Silence (Spoiler-Free Review)

Movie Review

Verdict: 6/10

Synopsis

Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” tells the story of two Christian missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who face the ultimate test of faith when they travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor (Liam Neeson) – at a time when Christianity was outlawed and their presence forbidden.

The Review

For the past 26 years, Martin Scorsese has been trying to develop this passion project and bring it to the screens. Based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Shusaku Endo, “Silence” is about the test of faith and religion, questioning what lengths you would go to maintain your spiritual relationship with a higher power, but Scorsese’s film is 30 minutes too long and over-indulgent.

The film opens in 17th century Japan, in the time of Kakure Kirishtian, where Christianity has been outlawed, Christians can only practice their beliefs in hiding, and Buddhism is the one true religion.  We see Jesuit priest Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), captured by the Japanese army, watching in horror Japanese Christian believers being tortured for following the “wrong” faith. Cut to a few years later in Macau, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver) have been informed that a letter has been discovered where it states that their mentor Ferreira has committed apostasy; he has renounced Christianity and all its beliefs. Both not believing this and worried about the state of the religion in Japan, travel to the country in secrecy with the help of a drunken Japanese, Kichijiro (Yosuke Kobuzuka), only to find it is much worse than they first imagined.

Scorsese asks his viewers a lot of questions through the trials and tribulations the two Jesuit priests endure, most notably Garfield’s Rodrigues. How far will you go for your religion? Is martyrdom the true way to paradise? Will you let others suffer for your beliefs? Why isn’t God interfering and stopping this suffering? Just because you are men of God, does that mean you have the power of God within you? These questions are visually analysed through brutal, uncomfortable sequences of torture. Christians are burned alive. They are tied to crosses and placed in oceans to be killed by the waves. They are hanged upside down to bleed out slowly. It’s relentless and Scorsese wants to make sure you understand this troubled time of the religion, which is admirable and you can clearly see why he calls this his passion project.

The film however is way overindulgent and too long for its own good. The punishments are a bit too much and by the third scene of torture (and there is a lot), you just go “I get it. They are suffering. You don’t have to keep on showing this again and again”. Not because I as a viewer had reached my limits of seeing people suffer like Rodrigues did from watching this happen in front of his eyes, and I get it’s a trial of how faithful he can still be. But at some point before the 120 minute out of 160 minute mark of the film, I was ready to just switch off. It becomes too preachy, and in one particular scene, Rodrigues looks at a reflection of himself in water and sees not himself, but of Jesus. Really? After seeing all these poor Christians die in front of you and let themselves die in the name of Jesus?

The film is beautifully shot by Rodrigo Prieto, making Japan look so harrowing at this awful time in their history. The acting is great from all involved, especially Garfield, but his Portuguese accent is very much a hit-and-miss in my book. But it’s Kichijiro, played by Kobuzuko, whose character stood out for me. A drunk Japanese with a terrible past who repeatedly comes to Garfield’s character for redemption.

Final Word

If you’re going in expecting something like “The Wolf of Wall Street” or “Goodfellas”, this is not. This is a tale about the tests of faith and morality. A slow burner of a film which Scorsese has tried to make for so many decades, which at times is riveting. It asks you many ethical questions, but these questions get drowned in its very long running time and one too many torture sequences.

Manchester by the Sea (Spoiler-Free Review)

Movie Review

Verdict: 10/10

Synopsis

After the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is shocked to learn that Joe has made him sole guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Taking leave of his job, Lee reluctantly returns to Manchester-by-the-Sea to care for Patrick, a spirited 16-year-old, and is forced to deal with a past that separated him from his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and the community where he was born and raised. Bonded by the man who held their family together, Lee and Patrick struggle to adjust to a world without him.

The Review

We deal with personal tragedy differently. We can be expressive and show to the world how hurt we are, hold it all in and let it kill us slowly inside, or just brush it aside and carry on with our lives. What it does is break off a piece of our heart. Something we can never mend again. “Manchester by the Sea” is a heart-breaking portrayal of the love and loss of people that have built you into who you are, driven by a central performance for the ages.

Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a secluded janitor living in Quincy, Massachusetts. He quietly goes through his days fixing peoples apartments and not getting the gratitude he deserves. He shovels the snow off his front porch every day for a tiny basement apartment he lives in, and gets into bar fights at nights if anyone looks at him differently. One day while shovelling the snow away off his porch once again, he gets a phone call from a friend of past times saying that his brother Joe has had a heart attack. He rushes to his aid but is too late, as he finds that he has passed away. The family lawyer informs Lee that his brother has left him as sole guardian of his son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) making Lee reluctantly leave his job and come back to the town of Manchester-by-the-Sea to take care of him; a town he’s a legend to the people who reside in (for all the wrong reasons)…a town he once thought he has truly escaped from.

Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, the playwright has written a tragedy littered with black comedy that makes the mundane things in life riveting. Like life, we don’t have perfect conversations with people. It’s never a simple back and forth but rather a conversation full of hesitations, awkward silences, or those one or two “umms” in between. Lonergan has written characters that are like people in real life, and that’s what makes Manchester so special. It captures those tragic moments where it’s heart-breaking and soul destroying, but at the same time it’s never played out the way you would think it would play out like all things in real life. For example, funerals aren’t always a sombre affair. There will always be that one person who makes that one inappropriate joke. Or if someone close to you has been diagnosed with a life-changing disease, it will always bring out the dysfunctionality of any family during that tough time. These moments captured on screen, all beautifully shot, make this a rather special film because there are moments in this film that make it relatable, and credit has to be given to him for writing such a human script.

None of this can be played out without his actors and there are three particular performances that need to be called out here. Michelle Williams plays the estranged divorced-wife to Lee. We see her mostly through Lee’s flashbacks; unravelling more about why he’s become the man he is. She’s her own woman and won’t take shit from anyone, but at the same time can shatter like glass with an instant tap. It’s another wonderful addition to a plethora of past performances from Williams. Lucas Hedges, who plays Lee’s nephew Patrick, is a future star in the making. Patrick has brushed off the death of his father like it was yesterday’s news and wants to carry on life like usual. He’s got other teenage problems to worry about, like girls and his band. He doesn’t want his uncle there to take care of him. He can take care of himself but doesn’t realise how much his uncle needs him to keep sane, and without Hedges, Affleck couldn’t give half of the performance that he gives in this film.

And what a performance. Back in October in 2016, when I first saw this with my brother at a gala screening in the BFI London Film Festival, we agreed that Casey Affleck should be rewarded with every acting accolade there possibly was for his performance as Lee Chandler (a role which Matt Damon was originally cast for). This is a masterclass in acting. He portrays a man who’s been in so much pain for such a long time, it’s become the armour of his life. He’s become someone who knows nothing else but sadness, so much so that his reaction to those moments are…well there is no reaction. He walks hunched like all the troubles in the world are on his shoulders. When people compliment him for doing something, he brushes it aside. Affleck and Lonergan unravel Lee through flashbacks, letting us understand more about the man who used to be the once heart of the town. When that big reveal happens of why Lee is like the man he is now, it’s a silent gut-wrenching and harrowing moment. And one scene that will surely be used in acting classes in years to come, the long overdue conversation between himself and his ex-wife is a tear-jerker, showcasing two actors at the top of their game.

Final Word

A film that portrays life and tragedy at its most genuine, and it’s most raw. Like life, it shows you can always find the funny side of things in those moments of sadness and heartbreak. Lonergan has created a film that will be studied for its purest portrayal of everyday life, with a flawless performance by Casey Affleck. It will make you cry (well it made two grown men cry).

La La Land (Spoiler-Free Review)

Movie Review

Verdict: 10/10

Synopsis

Written and directed by Academy Award nominee Damien Chazelle, La La Land tells the story of Mia, an aspiring actress, and Sebastian, a dedicated jazz musician, who are struggling to make ends meet in a city known for crushing hopes and breaking hearts. Set in modern day Los Angeles, this original musical about everyday life explores the joy and pain of pursuing your dreams.

The Review

2016 was to many people a terrible year. The political landscape changed (we don’t know if it was for better or worse just yet). Many of our role models that we grew up watching or listening to had passed away. For me it was 50/50: alright first half, amazing second half. Within that amazing second half, in the evening of Friday October 7th at the Odeon Leicester Square, I was lucky enough to grab a ticket to the headline gala screening of “La La Land” at the BFI London Film Festival. The seat was terrible (on the side and way up high) but I didn’t care. That was just a tiny footnote of the 130 minutes of what I had watched. Because what I watched wasn’t just a film, it was something special. And after 3 months since that evening, it has finally been released this week here in the UK, and what a way to kick off 2017. La La Land is a musical masterpiece. A joyous, modern classic. Be prepared to read a lot of gushing below.

Mia (Emma Stone) has moved to LA to become an aspiring actress. Her only form of income is working as a barista in a café located at a studio lot. She goes to audition after audition trying to get that big break. But she gets rejected…a lot. And it isn’t just a simple rejection. At times they are brutal. Can she carry on taking this rejection any longer and become the actress she dreams to be? Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a talented but struggling jazz pianist. A man who feels that the art of jazz is dying and it’s his mission to save it. But his only source of income is playing Christmas tunes at restaurants or being hired by cover bands to play at costume parties. Can he achieve his dream of being the manager of his own jazz club one day?

It’s a pretty simple romantic story of two struggling performers who end up having a chance meeting one evening, and together aspire each other to follow their dreams and never give up. What’s so special about that? You and I have seen that a million times on screen. But if it’s written and directed by Damien Chazelle, the man who wrote and directed the sublime “Whiplash” (a film which is in the complete opposite spectrum to La La Land), and something he has been trying to get made for 6 years, you know there’s going to be a twist. From the moment the film opens to the moment it ends, it’s like watching a beautiful painting. The screen is full of gorgeous colours, the set designs are eye-popping, and Los Angeles has never looked so sun-soaked stunning on film. It’s a modern film but Chazelle pays so much homage to the golden era of Hollywood in the 30s’, 40s’ and 50s’ it feels nostalgic. The time when Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and Ginger Rogers were dancing and singing their way into the hearts of viewers with films like “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Top Hat”. But its most notable influence is “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” by Jacques Demy, given the fusion of realism and dream like sequences in both.

Now in their third film together, Stone and Gosling are definitely this generation’s classic film couple. I couldn’t think of anyone else more suitable to play the role of Mia and Sebastian. It’s their career-defining performances, especially from Emma Stone. Gosling is funny and charming throughout the film, but Stone gives us the rainbow of acting as her character goes through everything a person does to try to make their dreams come true. Of course we see them singing and dancing throughout the film but they’re not the best singers and dancers in the world. And they’re not supposed to be. These characters are people who are trying to achieve their dreams, their falling in love, and going through heart break like all of us are every day in our lives. Chazelle makes sure he wants the viewers to feel that this is realistic and something that they could see themselves being in and not be unfathomable, but also at the same time concoct up something so extravagant to express how they feel in particular moments. For example, the moment you fall in love feels like you’re literally dancing in the stars, or when you feel lost, the world around you literally feels like it’s stopped. It’s breath-taking to watch (credit needs to also be given to cinematographer Linus Sandgren and editor Tom Cross) but at only 31, Chazelle has stamped his mark on Hollywood as one of the best visionary directors out there.

I can’t finish this review without mentioning the key component of the film, the music. Justin Hurwitz has written and composed a beautiful soundtrack with some of the catchiest songs you could find in a musical. From elaborate orchestrations to just a simple piano solo, it weaves its way through your ears, winning your heart instantly. It’s got big production numbers and ballads that any classic musical would have but enough that wouldn’t put you off. It’s perfect for the (at times insane) choreographed dance numbers this film has (bravo Mandy Moore!), and has two sequences both at the start and the end of the films that should be preserved in the historical vaults of the best moments from film that has ever graced our screens. They pay for the ticket price alone as it’s unlike anything you have ever seen.

Final Word

It will make you smile. It will make you cry. It will make you believe in Hollywood making great musicals again. It will make people who hate musicals start loving them. But above all else, it will make you a believer. Make you believe that you can achieve your dreams. This is for the hopeful. This is for the imaginers. This is a love letter for the era gone by. La La Land is a masterpiece that everyone should watch…again…and again…and again.

Golden Globes 2017 – Predictions

Opinion Piece

Tonight, Hollywood will be hosting it’s first major awards show of 2017 with the Golden Globes. One of the few major award events that has both film and TV categories placed together, and the most unpredictable given the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) being notorious for being different and, at times, stupid with their choices . Usually for the TV side of things, it doesn’t really give any indication of what to expect in terms of major players as the Emmys will happen all the way down in September. And the HFPA usually like to give away awards to the new shows that have just come out, with history usually showing they have not gone onto doing well come Emmy time. But for the films side of things, this is a major indicator of who could go on to win the coveted prizes at the Oscars at the end of February so all eyes will be on those categories. So far, its been either “La La Land”(who leads with seven nominations) or “Moonlight” who have had the momentum of winning all awards given by the US critics (and I won’t expect that momentum to falter this evening). But here are my predictions of who I want to win AND will go on to winning tonight! Let me know your predictions in the comments section below:

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Best Motion Picture — Drama

Manchester by the Sea – Want to Win

Moonlight – Will Win

As I said earlier, I don’t see Moonlight losing its momentum here and going on to win the final prize of the night, but Manchester by the Sea is equally amazing (and one of my favourite films of last year) so it could sneak in for the win.

Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy

La La Land – Want to Win & Will Win

I’ve been an advocate of this film since last year and its a given for winning the prize on the night. A true shock if it doesn’t.

Best Director — Motion Picture

Damien Chazelle (La La Land) – Want to Win & Will Win

What Chazelle has done to revitalise the modern Hollywood musical is truly visionary so I’m expecting him to be rewarded his dues.

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Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama

Amy Adams (Arrival) – Want to Win

Natalie Portman (Jackie) – Will Win

I love everything that Amy Adams does, and her work on “Arrival” just portrays an Actress at the top of her game. She could end up winning on the night given the HPFA’s past love for her. But the buzz and awards that Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jackie Kennedy has been getting won’t surprise me one bit if she wins the award on the night.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Drama

Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) – Want to Win & Will Win

The best performance of last year by a mile. Casey Affleck will go on to win on the night and then at the Oscars.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical

Ryan Gosling (La La Land) – Want to Win & Will Win

La La Land will win nearly all of its categories and I won’t expect it to falter here. Gosling’s charming performance is an important cog that makes the film work so well.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical

Emma Stone (La La Land) – Want to Win & Will Win

Gosling’s great in the film, but the stand out and what makes the film truly special is Emma Stone. She’s the heart of the film and she will be reading her acceptance speech tonight.

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Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture

Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) – Want to Win & Will Win

Another lock in tonight’s Golden Globes. Ali has been winning all the major awards for his performance in Moonlight and I’m expecting him to go on to winning.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture

Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea) – Want to Win

Viola Davis (Fences) – Will win

This is a really tough category to predict. Michelle Williams was outstanding in Manchester, opposite Affleck. And the buzz that Naomie Harris has been receiving for her performance has a drug-addicted mother in Moonlight has been strong. But the odds on favourite is Viola Davis’ towering performance in Fences, a character she has played in Broadway before.

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Best Motion Picture — Animated

Kubo and the Two Strings – Want to Win

Zootopia – Will Win

I loved Kubo and placed it in my top ten films of 2016, but I could see Zootopia taking this, given the messages on inclusivity it preached throughout the whole film.

Best Screenplay — Motion Picture

Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By the Sea) – Want to Win & Will Win

The only award which La La Land will not win. Kenny Lonergan’s screenplay is perfect and he should be rewarded for it.

Best Original Score — Motion Picture

Justin Hurwitz (La La Land) – Want to Win & Will Win

Another deadlock. An original musical where all the songs are great!

Best Original Song

“City of Stars” – La La Land – Want to Win & Will Win

You can’t stop whistling this song once you hear it for the first time.

Best Foreign Language Film

Toni Erdmann (Germany) – Want to Win & Will Win

Another one that’s hard for me to predict, given they haven’t been released yet here in the UK. But I’ve already added Elle and Toni Erdmann as films I need to watch this year, and predict Toni Erdmann to take it given the universal acclaim it has received.

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Best Television Series — Drama

Game of Thrones – Want to Win

Stranger Things – Will Win

No begins the unpredictable categories. In an ideal world, Game of Thrones would win everything. But HFPA always give awards to new dramas and I don’t expect that trend to differ this year. So my prediction is the awesome Stranger Things winning on the night.

Best Television Series — Musical or Comedy

Atlanta – Want to Win & Will Win

Donald Glover’s Atlanta was the best new comedy I saw last year. Original and bold, I’m expecting it to win big tonight.

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Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series — Drama

Winona Ryder (Stranger Things) – Will Win

Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld) – Want to Win

An incredibly strong year for female performances. I fell in love with Evan Rachel Wood last year with her performance as android Dolores, but if Stranger Things wins best drama on the night, the return of Winona Ryder on our screens will be given the reward.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series — Drama

Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) – Want to Win & Will Win

Malek’s incredible performance in Mr Robot will again get the award tonight. He is the best thing on the show and the only reason why I kept on watching it last year given it wasn’t as great as the first season.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series — Musical or Comedy

Donald Glover (Atlanta) – Want to Win & Will Win

Glover should be rewarded for his talent and he will tonight if Atlanta wins best comedy. Childish Gambino FTW!

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series — Musical or Comedy

Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep) – Want to Win & Will Win

She’s the queen of comedy and no other comic actress is out there like her. She didn’t win it last year but I see that changing tonight.

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Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story – Want to Win & Will Win

It won all the awards in last year’s Emmys and it will go on to dominate in the Golden Globes tonight, and so it should. The trial of OJ Simpson was simply thrilling to watch.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television

Courtney B. Vance (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story) – Want to Win & Will Win

Amazing performances nominated in this category, but Vance as the late Johnnie Cochran was as bold and sleazy like the man himself. He won the Emmy for it last year and will win again tonight.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Sarah Paulson (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story) – Want to Win & Will Win

Marcia Marcia Marcia. Paulson is the tour-de-force in the show and she will win again tonight.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television

Sterling K. Brown (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story) – Want to Win & Will Win

Paulson and Vance wouldn’t have given those amazing performances without Sterling K.Brown’s Chris Darden opposite them. A sweep for “The People Vs.”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television

Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) – Want to Win

Thandie Newton (Westworld) – Will Win

The only category where I won’t have regret if either Headey or Newton went on to win. Both were phenomenal in Game of Thrones and Westworld (respectively) so credit is due to either of them.

 

Films of 2017: My Top 12 Picks

Opinion Piece

Happy New Year Ladies and Gentlemen! Yes we are all now suffering the post-holiday blues,  and to make up for it we’re already showing off on our countless social media accounts how we’re in the gym sweating off that built up holiday fat, or even torturing ourselves with a “dry” January  (even though the UK isn’t going through a water shortage). Without dawdling on unrealistic expectations, what we can expect and rely on is another brilliant year of releases in UK cinemas. Here are my twelve picks (one for every month) of my most anticipated movies of 2017. Let me know in the comments section below what film(s) you are most excited to see in the next twelve months!

January

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Top Pick: La La Land (12th January)

With awards season in full swing, the UK will be provided an abundance of movies hotly tipped to be nominated for the upcoming Oscars at the end of February. BUT none of these were close to the film that I chose as my top film of 2016. Be ready to watch a musical masterpiece as “La La Land” is finally released here in the UK. A film that is pure joy from the beginning to the end. If you need a date movie, this is THE ONE to watch with that special someone! (Watch the trailer here)

Runner Up: Manchester by the Sea, A Monster Calls, Silence, Jackie, Lion, Split, Christine, Hacksaw Ridge, T2 Trainspotting

February

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Top Pick: Moonlight (17th February)

My top pick and one which is La La Land’s real competition in winning Best Picture in this year’s Oscars is Barry Jenkins’ critically acclaimed “Moonlight”. A story that follows the life of an African American over three stages of his life, whos trying to come to terms with his sexuality is vital and relevant viewing, given the awful acts that have happened in the US in the last year towards the Black and LGBT community. (Watch the trailer here)

Runner Up: Toni Erdmann, Loving, Fences, The Lego Batman Movie, John Wick: Chapter 2

March

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Top Pick: Logan (3rd March)

It’s the last ever outing from Hugh Jackman as Wolverine that is my top pick of March. After 17 years spread over 8 films, Jackman will finally hang his claws playing the character that has made him a household name in the movie industry. We will see a very old Logan who’s healing abilities are now failing, trying to protect a teenage girl with the same mutant abilities as him, whilst taking care of a dementia stricken Professor Xavier (Sir Patrick Stewart). Am I finally gonna get the Wolverine from the comics? Gotta have to wait and see. (See the trailer here)

Runner Up: Free Fire, Ghost in the Shell

April

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Top Pick: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (28th April)

April sees the release of “The Handmaiden”, the next film from master South Korean director Park Chan-Wook (if you don’t know who he is, go and check out the incredible “Vengeance” trilogy by him). Yet it is overshadowed by the first of three releases (my most anticipated of the lot) from Marvel Studios, and the sequel to the most successful gamble Marvel Studios have ever made with superheroes no one has heard of. The loveable misfits that are Starlord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and BABY GROOT are back on the big screen for Volume 2 of their adventures (most likely backed by an incredible 80s soundtrack). The first film I expect to reach a billion dollars in cinema ticket sales this year. (See the trailer here)

Runner Up: The Handmaiden, City of Tiny Lights

May

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Top Pick: Alien Covenant (19th May)

The “Alien” series for me has always been hit-and-miss. The first two in the series are movie masterpieces, but all the sequels that have come out after “Aliens” have either been mediocre or utter sh*te. Given the release of the trailer to “Covenant” at the end of 2016, Ridley Scott’s sequel to “Prometheus”, and second prequel to the original Alien series, the footage echoes the original horror and tension that the first film had so masterfully portrayed. Expect gore, screaming, and another gruesome chest bursting scene. (See the trailer here)

Runner Up: My Life as a Courgette

June

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Top Pick: Wonder Woman (2nd June)

One of the few great things from last year’s disappointment that was “Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice”, Gal Gadot dons the infamous superhero outfit to play the Amazonian Princess (first appearing in comics in 1941) who goes to help the fight in World War I. Given the trailers that have been released, the visual direction looks stunning and certainly looks like the female superhero movie that the world needs,  given the already extremely male dominated genre. Warner Bros. needs this to be a success to justify their future DC comics superhero movie releases. No pressure then. (See the trailer here)

Runner Up: The House

July

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Top Pick: Dunkirk (21st July)

So this was a tough month to choose my top pick as all the films that I have placed as runner ups are worthy for the top position of July for a number of reasons. But any month that has a release from Christopher Nolan will always edge out everything else. Ever since I saw “Memento” nearly 12 years ago, he has gone onto direct some of my favourite movies of all time, so I’m always on high alert for anything Nolan related. Based on the incredible true events of the evacuation of allied soldiers from Dunkirk, France in World War II, expect this to be classic Nolan: epic and needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible. (See the trailer here)

Runner Up: The Dark Tower, Spider-Man: Homecoming, War for the Planet of the Apes

August

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Top Pick: Baby Driver (11th August)

Oh Edgar Wright. Ever since you created one of the greatest television comedies in the last twenty years in the form of “Spaced”, you have gone on to make classic film after classic film. From zombie masterpiece “Shaun of the Dead” to cult comic book classic “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”, Wright always makes movies that are unique and have his signature eccentric flair. Not much is known about the film other than it being about a young getaway driver trying to leave the life of crime, but Wright has recently revealed that music is the biggest influence of this action thriller, with 35 songs to be played throughout the whole film. God I can’t wait for this. (No trailer released yet)

Runner Up: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, The Coldest City

September

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Top Pick: Kingsman: The Golden Circle (29th September)

The first Kingsman movie came out of nowhere,  turning out to be a great and funny spy movie with some inspired action sequences (the insane church fight is one of the best choreographed action sequences in recent memory), so I’m excited to see what direction Matthew Vaughan takes this. With Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, and Halle Berry joining the great cast from the first film (Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong), Vaughan is definitely expanding the universe as the Kingsman Secret Service go to America to work with their US counterpart, Statesman, after their fellow neighbours-in-arms are attacked by a criminal mastermind. (No trailer released yet)

Runner Up: Flatliners, It

October

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Top Pick: Blade Runner 2049 (6th October)

Its insane to think that after 35 years (and several hundred versions of Blade Runner) we are finally getting a sequel to one of the greatest science fiction movies ever created. Do I feel a bit worried it might suck? Not.One.Bit. Why? Because Harrison Ford returns as Rick Deckard, with an amazing cast led by Ryan Gosling, with a screenplay written by one half of the original writing team of the first film, and it’s being directed by Denis Villeneuve who showed with “Arrival” he can do intelligent science fiction. The trailer alone shows they’ve perfectly captured the distinct unique feel that the first film was renowned for. I just hope the score is as mesmerising as Vangelis’. (See the trailer here)

Runner Up: Thor: Ragnarok

November

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Top Pick: Justice League (17th November)

Its the biggie of 2017 for superhero movies. Warner Bros are hoping to mirror the success of The Avengers movies with their take on the epic superhero mashup. We will see Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Superman (Henry Cavill) team up to take on Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) and his army of Parademons. Its a massive gamble given the critical slating that BvS took in 2016. Its a film that will set up future individual superhero movies. Its a film I am praying turns out to be great. Zach Snyder…please make this as good as Watchmen! (See the trailer here)

Runner Up: Red Sparrow, Paddington 2

December

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Top Pick: Star Wars: Episode VIII (14th December)

I mean…its the sequel to the third-highest grossing movie OF ALL TIME and the next chapter to one of the most successful sagas in movie history. With how The Force Awakens had ended, Rey is now on her journey of learning the teachings of the force and becoming the Jedi she was destined to be. Plus, we will finally get to see Luke Skywalker being a frickin’ Jedi Master!  Its my most anticipated movie of this year, not only because of it being a Star Wars movie, but it will be the final time we will see Princess Leia, a.k.a the legendary Carrie Fisher, to ever grace our screens after her untimely death on Christmas Eve. May the force be with you always…(No trailer released yet)

Runner Up: Coco