What I’ve Been…Watching : La La Land

My thoughts on La La Land? I am tempted to post a photo of me shrugging and leave it at that, but I won’t.  What I will say is that this is a movie that seems to do a lot of things well on the surface:

There’s the extremely talented cast who play their roles well, both in terms of character work, but also with the singing and dancing required of a musical. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are both excellent, and the few supporting roles that aren’t there for the ensemble musical numbers are good as well.

It nails the visual style of the old musicals it is emulating (more on that in sec), and the s0ngs are all certainly listenable, even if none of them really stand out as amazing numbers in their own right.  So too the dance numbers: some visually distinctive things happen, and the movie uses modern film making techniques to break away from the old timey feel on a couple of occasions in some (very) interesting ways.

So why did it not remotely click for me?

Partly, I think, was that there was only the thinnest skein of story on top of all the pretty people dancing and singing prettily in pretty locations with pretty, over-saturated colours.  The actors themselves give engaging performances, but nothing at all that they are doing is really all that interesting. Even for a genre where plot typically takes a backseat, it is noticeably absent here, as is any depth to the characters beyond the Act 1 journey from snarky arseholes to madly in love.

I referenced it above, but the film is not so much a loving homage to old musicals as it is directly lifting from them, the only difference being the time period the film is set in and modern day nods to visual and audio effects, as well as diverse casting (and I say nods here, because the supporting roles are almost non-existent, and the two main characters are white). The issue with emulating that old style so slavishly is that you have to be at least as good as – and, crucially, as memorable as – the movies you are mimicking.

La La Land is nowhere near as good as those musicals. The story and characters are not at all memorable, but worse than that, neither is the music.  A few of the dance numbers go places with their visual effects, but that is a small bright spot in an otherwise completely bland film.  The most notable thing about La La Land for me was how sadly mundane the whole thing was.

What I’ve been…

…watching at the movies (again!)


Rogue One (spoiler free)

Oh…oh my. That movie was amazing!

I freely admit that I’m a Star Wars tragic. I’ve been one ever since my mum showed me A New Hope as a child. I loved everything about those movies and even the godawful prequels couldn’t hurt me too much.

However, the thing that really captured me the most was the setting itself. Jedi were cool, and the space battles were cooler, but what I loved were the little glimpses of the day to day in this amazing universe. I loved how lived in it all was, how weird the aliens were, the glimpses at what society was like under the oppressive Empire.  The Extended Universe got into a lot of this stuff, but it had only ever been captured on film as incidental detail around the hero’s journey of Luke and his friends.

Rogue One is everything I ever wanted from a Star Wars movie.

This isn’t a story about a single hero rising up and saving the day. No, Rogue One is not about that, despite what trailers might have hinted at.  This is a war movie and a heist rolled into one – a gritty look at a rebellion against an oppressive government across multiple and wonderfully varied locations and what rebelling actually means; what it costs the people who are fighting and doing what might be considered bad things for what history will hopefully show were good reasons.

This is not a hero’s journey. Rogue One is dark without being dour. Adventurous without being trite.  Serious, but with that sense of humour and hint of hope that typifies Star Wars. It wasn’t a perfect movie – characterisation was a bit slim at points, I kind of hated Forrest Whitaker (not something I’m used to saying), and there were a few uncanny valley incidents that took away from certain scenes.

But overall?  This is Star Wars like I dreamed it could be. As much as I liked Force Awakens, it was a retread – A New Hope with a new coat of paint.

Rogue One is not a retread.  It is new and different and gorgeous and glorious and the standing ovation it got in the cinema I watched it in was well deserved.  I’m not sure yet where it will sit in my personal canon of Star Wars movies, but I’m pretty damn sure it’ll be high on the list.

An easy 5/5 for me.

 

What I’ve been…

A not-at-all creatively titled new series of posts I’ll be doing about the various things I’ve been reading, watching, listening to, writing, etc.  Let me know what you think!

…watching at the movies

I caught Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them over the weekend. I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan- I read the books quite late and thought they were decent but unspectacular (I enjoyed the later ones the most), and feel much the same way about the films. I’m not immersed in the Potter-verse, and knew basically nothing about Fantastic Beasts heading in.

I’m not normally a fan of spending a paragraph qualifying, but it feels necessary in this situation due to the simple fact that I really enjoyed Fantastic Beasts.

It was a fun story in a really interesting setting (1920s New York), well-acted and gorgeousto look at – I particularly liked Scamander as a lead and enjoyed the little nuances Eddie Redmayne brought to the role, but all the supporting actors were great as well, even where the characters were a little bit shallow.

There were some fun little call outs for fans of the series, but this is an excellent standalone piece of fiction in its own right, completely watchable for anyone who isn’t hugely familiar with the preceding movies/books.  It felt like a darker (but not grim) tale than Rowling’s previous work, but still retained the sense of whimsy and wonder that is missing in a lot of modern fantasy.

In short, it managed to tickle me just right despite my non-existent expectations, which is always my favourite experience when I go to the movies. At a time of year where the only hotly anticipated movie I’ve got left for 2016 is Rogue One, this was an awesome surprise and one I definitely recommend.

Have you seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? What did you think?  Let me know in the comments.