Tag Archives: Ryan Gosling

Blade Runner 2049

blade4Has there ever been a more beautiful vision of a dystopian society than what Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins serve up in Blade Runner 2049?  Even a photo of a dead tree will be captivating to those around you.  Nuclear wastelands, city-sized garbage dumps, and coastal dams will all amaze.  Visually, this is exactly the sequel that Blade Runner deserved.

Story-wise, Blade Runner 2049 is probably the sequel that Blade Runner deserved as well, though that’s not necessarily a compliment.  The story is muddled right from the hard-to-read title cards that try to bring us up to date on what’s happened in that world’s last 30 years.

The facts in the title cards turn out to be quite important to keep up in Blade Runner 2049’s world as we follow an LAPD officer (Ryan Gosling) trying to solve a 30-year-old mystery involving our old friend Deckard (Harrison Ford).  Though it is unfortunate that the title cards are as dense as they are, I would not have wanted the movie to try to retell its background story, as the 163 minute run time is plenty long enough already!

Refreshingly, Blade Runner’s world is not our world.  It is an alternative future, so there is no attempt to revise the original’s timeline (as you may recall, Blade Runner is set in 2019 in a world where robot slaves are fighting space battles and colonizing other planets for humans, so things did not exactly turn out in our world as the first film predicted).  Interestingly, those differences make it easier for the view to focus on the similarities between their world and ours.  Villeneuve has delivered another very thoughtful, deliberate and satisfying sci-fi film, and it’s easy to analogize to our world every time a replicant is treated as disposable property (which happens a lot).  The film also offers a lot to chew on regarding memory and the nature of reality.  Honestly, I’m still digesting it all as a I write, while also trying to sort out a few of the story’s finer points, and this film is one that I’m going to have to watch again to get everything sorted.

It’s remarkable how closely this sequel resembles the first movie,  in style and substance, despite being released 35 years later.  More remarkably, at the same time it is paying tribute to the original, Blade Runner 2049 is telling a fresh story set in this familiar world, and manages to leave the original movie’s largest question unanswered in a surprisingly satisfying way.  So while Blade Runner 2049 is not the best movie of 2017, it is a good movie made great by its technical excellence, which naturally makes it the perfect sequel to Blade Runner.

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Song To Song

Full disclosure: I haven’t actually seen this movie. It was the opening night gala film at SXSW and despite a near 2-hour wait in line, the theatre reached capacity only half a dozen people too early for me to get in. However, I did spend the rest of the festival hearing about the movie from people who were there – 100% of whom regretted it.

songtosong2To be fair, Terrence Malick is practically a hometown boy, and a huge local crowd turned out to see his latest film, which happens to be set in that very same town – Austin, Texas. The film is set against a backdrop of Austin’s vibrant music scene and SXSW is at the forefront of that music scene. Those factors attracted many people who’d never otherwise flock to a Malick film. Sean and I don’t consistently like them either (who does?) but at least we had a better idea of what we were getting into (we saw a Terrence Malick documentary narrated by Brad Pitt at TIFF this year).

What were some of the issues with the movie?

  1. Although Song To Song is a love letter to Austin, it’s mostly a love letter to Austin’s 1%. The McMansions that feature strongly in the film are not exactly the norm for the city. The whole thing has a much more slick and jet-set feel than laid-back Austin does in reality.
  2. SXSW in particular and Austin in general has an impressive music scene and is a real champion of indie acts. Abounding with local talent and featuring really cool guests from all over, Malick instead went with much more main-stream acts, including Patti Smith, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Iggy Pop, and while no one has qualms with these guys, they don’t exactly scream Austin.
  3. Females as objects: that’s kind of a biggie. Natalie Portman and Rooney Mara co-star in this flick about not one but two love triangles, but basically the women exist only to serve the men in the film, one way or another.
  4. It’s insanely white. I didn’t really think of Texas as particularly diverse, but having visited Austin, it is. It’s young and it’s alive but Terrence Malick’s Austin is very monochromatic.

 

South By SouthWest

The SXSW Conference and Festivals is celebrating its 31st year – 24th year of film, which is our specialty of course – but South By Southwest also has really great music, comedy acts, art exhibits, speakers, and a whole lot more: it’s just a bunch of people who love the arts and want to celebrate them. For ten days (2017 dates: March 10-19), SXSW loads Austin, Texas with the coolest shit imaginable, and you can bend your brain out of shae trying to jam-pack the most into your schedule because YOU’LL WANT TO SEE EVERYTHING.

Check out their schedule for all the details, but here’s just a taste:

  • Joe Biden’s in the house! On Sunday March 12, he’ll be at the Austin Convention Center to talk about the Biden Cancer Initiative. SXSW’s social conscience is taking on cancer in a bid to make it history; they’re amassing entrepreneurs, innovators, industry executives, venture capitalists, celebrities, philanthropists and us regular folk to get together and make sense of this thing. If you can’t make it to the VP’s talk, SXSW will be generously posting it to their website at a later date.
  • Speaking of Veeps, the cast of Veep will be on hand. If you prefer your Vice Presidents to be fictional and funny as fuck, Selina Meyer has a thing or two to say about what happens when the real president out-buffoons the people meant to be satirizing him. The panel will look towards their 6th season, and feature writer/executive producer David Mandel, executive producer/star Julia Louis-Dreyfus and cast members Tony Hale, Anna Chlumsky, Reid Scott, Matt Walsh, Gary Cole, Tim Simons and Sam Richardson. Catch them on March 13.
  • Ramblin’ Freak, a documentary by an Austin film maker, will make its SXSW debut and challenge your notions of grieving, film making, and navel-gazing. A man sets out cross country to meet “the man whose arms exploded” and ends up making a completely different movie altogether. It’s raw and authentic. Its world premiere is March 13th at the Alamo Ritz with additional screenings March 16 & 18 at the Alamo Lamar.
  • Comedian Wyatt Cenac is hosting Night Train at Esther’s Follies on March 11, and will be joined by stand-up comedy greats like Tim Dillon, John Hodgman, Dulce Sloan, Joel Kim Booster, and Janeane Garofalo.
  • Austin-born Terrence Malick is opening the festival with his new film Song to Song on March 10.  The film is inspired by Austin’s awesome music scene and stars Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara, and Michael Fassbender. Malick is pretty press-shy but we know Fassbender will be in town; he’s also promoting Alien: Covenant with a screening of Alien (1979) later that night, with Ridley Scott and Danny McBride.
  • Cindy Wilson (formerly of the B52s) is performing her new (and very different!) material at The Sidewinder March 13.
  • SXSW has a ‘Virtual Cinema’ with an impressive lineup of innovative, virtual-reality movies that run throughout the festival.
  • Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy, is giving a talk and will likely cover topics ranging from #OscarsSoWhite to this year’s #EnvelopeGate.
  • Buzz Aldrin, NASA’s first astronaut with a doctorate, and constant advocate for human space exploration, will be in conversation with Time Magazine’s Jeff Kluger at the Austin Convention Center on March 14.
  • A visually stunning documentary called Through The Repellent Fence: A Land Art Film mixes politics and art by following Native American artists as they put up an art installation along Donald Trump’s proposed border wall between USA & Mexico that instead seeks to unite the two countries and cultures. It screens at the Rollins Theatre March 11, and then again on March 13 & 17 at Alamo Lamar.
  • Oscar winner Justin Hurwitz is discussing the music of La La Land at a cocktail reception at Cedar St Courtyard on March 12.

Sean and I spent literally hours combing through the bountiful schedule and there just aren’t enough hours in the day. SXSW includes networking meetings, mentoring programs, and 263 films from new and emerging talent, including lots of female directors. We’re particularly excited to check out Baby Driver, Atomic Blonde, Free Fire, and so many indie movies our hearts will explode (if the delicious BBQ doesn’t get us first).

Texas here we come!

Actors-Cum-Singers

I had heard she had some sort of music career fallback, but I didn’t really understand that I’d been hearing her on the radio consistently for quite some time. Hailee Steinfeld: you may know her as the little girl from True Grit, or else the young woman in The Edge of Seventeen, but a whole lot of young folk know her as a top 40 pop artist. She “broke out” after appearing in Pitch Perfect 2 and just like that she had a record deal and a music video.

 

Of course you may know that Pitch Perfect alum Anna Kendrick also landed on the Billboards with her annoying song, Cups. The music video, which I’ve neglected to see before today, is a bit aggravating since she’s play some working class baker in a horrid little diner that apparently refuses to sell drinks. Anyone else start bleeding from the eyeballs when this comes on? Anna Kendrick’s gotten singy in a whole bunch of her movies, including Trolls and Into the Woods, so it seems unlikely that her vocal stylings are going anywhere soon (god help us all).

Kendrick’s not the only co-star of Hailee Steinfeld’s to have music on the radio. Her True Grit co-star Jeff Bridges is super musical too. Of course you were likely blown away by his performance in Crazy Heart, but that’s not a one-off. He studied piano as a kid but now he’s usually seen with one of several guitars in hand, on set and everywhere else. In 1980, while filming Heaven’s Gate, he’d often jam with his co-star, singer\songwriter Kris Kristofferson, between takes. Kristofferson helped inspire Bridges’ Crazy Heart character, Bad Blake, who is described as being the fictional 5th Highwayman, alongside Willie Nelson, Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash.

A bunch of actors tour with bands in their down time. Steve Martin’s bluegrass sound isn’t surprising to anyone who’ll recognize his banjo from his stand-up comic days. He’s put some real time and effort into his second career as a musician, and he’s picked up some Grammy awards to show for it. Billy Bob Thornton has released music with The Boxmasters and Tres Hombres. Michael Cera plays bass in Mister Heavenly. Kevin Costner’s band, Kevin Costner and Modern West, tours the NASCAR circuit. Keanu Reeves’ band Dogstar reportedly gave Weezer their first touring gig opening for them in the early 90s. Kevin Bacon makes music with his brother in (you guessed it) The Bacon Brothers. Russell Crowe started out with 30 Odd Foot of Grunts before he was super successful over here, and then graduated to Russell Crowe & the Ordinary Fear of God once he did. And perhaps most famously (or at least most successfully), Jared Leto formed alt-rock band 30 Seconds to Mars the minute he was done with My So-Called Life and has always gone back to it between film projects, ensuring the stability of the black eyeliner industry.

Jamie Foxx revealed his musical talent in the movie Ray, and then followed it up with a convincing Ray Charles impression in Kanye West’s song, Gold Digger. Foxx has also been feature on a Drake track (another actor turned musician; Canadians will never let him forget that he got his start on the Degrassi reboot). Solo, he’s released 4 R&B albums since Ray. His most commercially successful single, the heavily auto-tuned Blame It, has a music video that weirdly “stars” Jake Gyllenhaal, Ron Howard, Forest Whitaker, and Samuel L. Jackson. Never mind the Grey Goose sponsorship deal. Feel free to check it out and let me know what gives.

One of my favourie actor crossovers is Zooey Deschanel, who has a good thing going with M. Ward called She & Him. She’s pretty legit – she plays keyboards, percussion, banjo, and ukulele – and M. Ward lends a lot of blues\folk credibility. We know she can sing from her duet with Will Ferrell in the movie Elf, but she’s also appeared on a Coconut Records album, a band by fellow indie actor Jason Schwartzman. In this She & Him video, she’s helped out by her 500 Days of Summer co-star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

In case you doubted that Ryan Gosling was singing (he was a Mousketeer alongside Justin Timberlake you know!) and playing the piano long before La La Land ever existed, here’s a pretty raw video of him and his band Dead Man’s Bones. The sound’s not great because it was recorded live, but you’ll get the gist.

There are many more besides who tried to sing and probably shouldn’t have, and I’m not even sure if William Shatner belongs on that list. He’s released so many albums at this point that I have to take him at least semi-seriously, or as seriously as the Shatner spoken-word singing can be taken. Which is still better than Cory Feldman sing-ranting about the pitfalls of being a former child actor. And I can only begin to imagine the highs and lows contained on an album by Steven Seagal, Bruce Willis, or David Hasselhoff, and apparently there are 18 of those in existence! Can you even believe it? Well believe it:

 

Who is your favourite actor-musician?

Oscar Nominations 2017

For some reason, the Oscar nominations were not presented in front of a live audience this morning. Pre-taped bits with past Oscar winners like Jennifer Hudson (best supporting actress, 2010 for Dreamgirls) and Brie Larson (best actress 2016, for Room) preceded an automated list announcing the Oscar nominations for 2016’s best movies, interrupted with a commercial for itself. The Academy Awards will take place February 26th, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. I just realized that I won’t be in the room to win my Oscar pool this year – Sean and I will be in Philadelphia, perhaps not even watching the ceremony!

An accounting firm called PricewaterhouseCoopers has taken care of the Academy balloting process for over 80 years. They send out the nomination forms in December and tabulating them in January takes about 1700 hours. There are over 6000 voting members of the Academy, and they’re all industry professionals. Each branch has different rules as to who can become a member – visual effects supervisors have to be active for a certain number of years, while an

actor must have a credited role in at least 3 films, and a writer should have at least 2 credits, and all must have “achieved distinction” in the motion picture arts and sciences. The tricky part is that you can only be a member of one branch, so someone like Ben Affleck has to decide whether he wants to be there as an actor, a director, or a writer. Each category votes only for itself – on editors can decide who will be nominated for best editing, and only actors vote for best actors nominees. Everyone can vote for best picture, however.

For a film to be considered, it has to meet some basic requirements: it must be over 40 minutes, it must have had at least a 7-straight-day run at a paid-admission L.A. theatre, and it can’t have debuted on television or the internet.

When an Academy member receives a ballot, they get to list their 5 nominee choices in order of preference, and are encouraged to “follow their heart”. The ballots are counted by hand, and the accounting firm looks for the “magic number” – the number of mentions it takes to turn a name into a nomination. The formula they use is: total # of ballots, divided by total possible nominees plus 1. So for Best Director, say you have 600 ballots, and you get to have 5 nominees (plus 1 = 6), that’s 600 divided by 6, or 100 ballots to become a nominee.

The counting starts based on a voter’s first choice  until someone reaches the magic number. Once Damian Chazelle (for example), reaches the magic number, all the ballots that had him as first choice will be set aside. The director with the fewest first-place votes is automatically knocked out, and those ballots are redistributed based on the voters’ second choice (the directors still in the running keep their calculated votes from the first round).  Once the nominees are announced today, the accounting firm will now send out new ballots and everyone can vote in all categories for the actual awards, although people are discouraged from voting for categories that they don’t understand.

Now on to the nominations!

Best Picture

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell Or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land

Lion

Manchester By The Sea

Moonlight

Best Director

Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge

Damien Chazelle – La La Land

Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester By The Sea

Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Best Actor

Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington, Fences

Best Actress

Ruth Negga, Loving

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Emma Stone, La La Land

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Supporting Actor

Lucas Hedges, Manchester By The Sea

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Dev Patel, Lion

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Cinematography

Arrival (Bradford Young)

La La Land (Linus Sandgren)

Lion (Greig Fraser)

Moonlight (James Laxton)

Silence (Rodrigo Prieto)

Documentary

Fire At Sea

I Am Not Your Negro

Life, Animated

OJ: Made In America

13th

Documentary Short

Extremis

4.1 Miles

The White Helmets

Watani: My Homeland

Joe’s Violin

Foreign Language Film

Land of Mine

A Man Called Ove

The Salesman

Tanna

Toni Erdmann

Live Action Short

Ennemis Entreniers

La Femme et le TGV

Silent Nights

Sing

Timecode

Sound Editing

Arrival

Deepwater Horizon

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Sully

Sound Mixing

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Rogue One

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Production Design

Arrival

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Hail, Caesar

La La Land

Passengers

Visual Effects

Deepwater Horizon

Doctor Strange

The Jungle Book

Kubo And the Two Strings

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Costumes

Allied (Joanna Johnston)

Fantastic Beasts (Colleen Atwood)

Florence Foster Jenkins (Consolata Boyle)

Jackie (Madeline Fontaine)

La La Land (Mary Zophres)

Original Screenplay

Hell or High Water (Taylor Sheridan)

La La Land (Damien Chazelle)

The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou)

Manchester By the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)

20th Century Women (Mike Mills)

Adapted Screenplay

Arrival (Eric Heisserer)

Fences (August Wilson)

Hidden Figures (Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi)

Lion (Luke Davies)

Moonlight (Screenplay by Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney)

Makeup & Hairstyling

A Man Called Ove (Eva von Bahr and Love Larson)

Star Trek Beyond (Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo)

Suicide Squad (Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson)

Original Score

Jackie (Mica Levi)

La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)

Lion (Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka)

Moonlight (Nicholas Britell)

Passengers (Thomas Newman)

Original song

Audition – La La Land

Can’t Stop the Feeling – Trolls

City of Stars – La La Land

The Empty Chair – Jim: The James Foley Story

How Far I’ll Go – Moana

Animated

Kubo And the Two Strings

Moana

My Life As A Zucchini

The Red Turtle

Zootopia

Animated Short

Blind Vaysha

Borrowed Time

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Pearl

Piper

Editing

Hacksaw Ridge (John Gilbert)

Arrival (Joe Walker)

Hell or High Water (Jake Roberts)

La La Land (Tom Cross)

Moonlight (Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon)

Supporting Actress

Viola Davis, Fences

Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Nicole Kidman, Lion

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams, Manchester By the Sea

Wow, we’ve seen a lot of these! What have you seen, loved, hated, felt was overhyped? Surprises?

La La Land: Discussion

If you’re looking for a spoiler-free review of the film, please check it out over here. I wrote it all the way back in September, fresh from seeing it at TIFF, and I’ve been waiting all this bloody time just to talk about what for me is the best film of the year. I was absolutely giddy for this movie, how it made me feel, how it made me think, how it whisked me away into something both surreal and familiar. We exited the theatre from La La Land and rushed on to the next (I think it must have been Lion) but between the two, I wept. I wept for heartbreak, and for beauty, because La La Land abounds in both.

If you’ve kept reading, then you know by now that La La Land, for all of its romance, does not have a traditionally happy ending. But are the characters unhappy? Mia and Seb separate in part because their ambitions overshadow their love. Was this the right move? Do they have regrets? Certainly they’ve both gone on to achieve the success they so coveted. Mia is married, la-la-land-1with children. When she sits in Seb’s club at the end, we are treated to an alternate version of events in which they manage to stay together. Do they wish that this was so? Do they still love each other? Have they moved on?

One of Chazelle’s unspoken themes must be “Is it worth it?” – is it?

During their courtship, the movie takes cliches about love and makes them true: love lifts them, they dance on air, they sing from rooftops. Did this feel organic to you in the movie? I often felt that when things felt intense to them, they broke out into song as a metaphor for feelings that are too fervent to verbalize. When words fail, they’d sing, or dance, which is often the way we feel in our excited little hearts when we’re first falling in love (reminds me of a certain scene in 500 Day of Summer).

Sean noticed that when the relationship got rocky, the movie got a little more boring, and frankly, a little repetitive. The songs are reused. But in time he felt like that was sort of the point: that the newness and wonder of the relationship had worn off, that they were beyond the first crush and settling into patterns and habits and less passion. The film itself reflects it. Did you find new meaning in songs as they were revisited? During the second half of the film, during the relationship’s demise, there is noticeably less music, which means less joy, less intensity. Their world goes a little drab when the shine has worn off. Did you miss the music when it was gone? Certainly when it returns in that final scene, it’s a heart breaker.

Originally Chazelle imagined that Miles Teller and Emma Watson would fullfill the lead roles. I can’t picture Teller ever being right for the part. Watson left the project so she could do another musical, Beauty and the Beast. Ryan Gosling ended up turning down the opportunity to play the Beast so he could do this instead, with frequent collaborator, Emma Stone. Chazelle has stated they were hired together intentionally, because they’re a modern-day version of an old-Hollywood couple, frequently working together and already having an established chemistry. Do you think anyone else could have pulled off these roles? Do you think either of them has a legit chance at an Oscar?

Seb states that jazz has to be experienced. He’s disgusted by people who use it as ‘background music.’ It’s a special language that he teaches her and she comes to appreciate. He takes full advantage in the final scene, telling her he still loves her using only his music, and he plays so passionately that she can see how he wishes things had been different. However, there’s an interesting part in the movie, the “sellout” phase where Seb is playing jazz in the background during a scene. Is this where it all went downhill? What would you say was their final straw?

Chazelle has deliberately taken this musical off the backlots and grounded in modern-day Los Angeles. The opening number, though originally not my favourite, helps set the tone. This is the world in which they live, but both are outsiders among that set. At the end of the number, Gosling gives Stone the finger before driving off. The offramp used in this number is the same one they used in Speed, where they had to jump the gap. Lots of real locations were used in the film – even Seb’s apartment is an actual apartment, not a set. Let’s not forget that the movie isn’t called Mia or Seb, it’s called La La Land: the city is also a character. City of stars, city of dreams. Did the locations help give the movie a sense of reality to you?

The one criticism I’ve heard from this movie is that it never addresses the true roots of jazz: does La La Land “whitesplain” jazz? Is it racist in its portrayal? Did Damien Chazelle fail us by casting white actors in a movie about jazz? Then I wondered – wouldn’t Whiplash have faced the same controversy? It’s another movie about jazz starring two white dudes, but I don’t recall

hearing any hooplah over it [turns out the criticism was there all along]. Of course it’s not for me to say, but I can understand how it might sting a little to have an art form that was “invented” by African-Americans, music by black people for black people, to be told by white people. Not to say that jazz belongs to any one people, but if these are the only stories being told about jazz, then maybe the stories belong to the people who truly wrote them. And it does feel regressive in 2016 to see a white man play jazz, and a white woman dance to it, while people of colour make up the blurry background characters surrounding them, out of focus, besides the point. What do you think – is there cultural misappropriation going on here? Is Ryan Gosling a “white man saviour” in his quest to save jazz?

Mia and her friends are resplendent in primary colours because they’re young, and they dream in technicolour. She’s dressed in emerald, saphire, yellow. At the end of the movie though, she’s wearing white. She’s supposedly made her dreams come true, but she’s leached of colour. What’s that about?

TIFF: La La Land

Damien Chazelle has bested himself, and everyone else. With just 3 feature films to his name, he has established himself as a visionary, an innovator, a pusher of boundaries, a seeker of beauty.

Sean was immediately aflame with praise. He wasn’t just finding a spot in his top ten of the year for it, but dusting off old standbys in his all-time list to make room.  And let me remind you that this is a musical. Not normally Sean’s cup of tea. Sean needs one of three La La Land (2016) Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)things to love a movie: sports, explosions, boobs. La La Land has none of those. It has singing and dancing and old-fashioned romance. Yet Chazelle has breathed new life into the genre, with riots of primary colour, energy so vivid you can taste it, and music that evokes deep troughs of emotion. And by ‘breathed new life’ I mean that he’s actually found a way to bring great musicals from cinema’s past into modern times. Forget made-for-Broadway musicals like Chicago or Into The Woods, their theatre sets turned into movie sets – it’s more reminiscent of Singin In The Rain. La La Land takes place in the streets of Los Angeles and Chazelle takes advantage of its sprawling landscape, and its glittering skyline.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, in the two lead roles, don’t just burst randomly into song. You very quickly get to sense that they sing when ordinary words just won’t do. They play Seb, a jazz pianist, and Mia, an aspiring actress, both a little down on their luck when the meet. The song and dance make up their courtship. The pair do not meet-cute; they meet-ugly several times until it takes: toes tap, together. New love is exhilarating. You feel as though you could sing your lover’s name from the rooftop, as if you could dance on air. It just so happens that in La La Land, they do these things literally. And it’s glorious. The fluid, ethereal dance steps will remind you of Fred and Ginger. Chazelle weaves magic, and a touch of fantasy, into their story, and even though you may never have waltzed among rs-248320-emma-stone-ryan-goseling-la-la-land-sing-dance-trailerthe stars in your sweetheart’s arms, you sort of know how it feels. But this great passion never lasts. It tapers off. Songs repeat. Sean felt himself longing for the exuberance of the beginning of the movie, and realized that was the point. Seb and Mia were missing it too.

If you’ve watched the gorgeous trailer, you’ll recognize the song that Ryan Gosling sings. The lyrics go: “City of stars, are you shining just for me?” But the movie reminds you that L.A. isn’t just a city of stars, it’s a city of dreams, and Seb and Mia are there to chase theirs. They haven’t come to Los Angeles to find love, but to find meaningful work. To become famous and\or successful. La La Land is about following your dreams, and it’s about the cost of following those dreams.

So Sean, whose movie reviews often consist of just three words (“It was good”) can’t shut up about this film. He’s fumbling to find the right words, but he knows he hasn’t just seen a good film, but experienced something unforgettable. I, on the other hand, have been oddly silent in the 24 hours since we saw it. Not for lack of trying, it’s  just that every time I open my face to speak, more tears fall out of it. And lest you start to worry that this is some tragedy wherein Ryan Gosling ends up shot, it’s not. These aren’t just tears of sorrow, but of joy and of wonder. This movie has made me feel. It has made me feel all the feels. I can’t even make it through this review with any dignity. La La Land is why I go to the movies. It’s unselfconscious and unabashed, a cake among pies, and as soon as I’ve finished weeping, I want another slice.

 

If you’re as desperate as I am to keep reading (and talking! and weeping!) about this wonderful movie, please visit our discussion section – SPOILERS – be warned.

 

The Nice Guys

2016’s summer blockbuster season is just getting started but is already getting crowded. With competition between franchises getting fierce, is there really room for a stand-alone action movie from an original screenplay? How about an R-rated comedy that is in no way connected to Judd Apatow?

Apparently not so much, considering its unremarkable performance at the box office so far, despite generally good reviews and two big stars. It can be hard to find the time to see everything that’s out there and I know priority has to go to seeing the latest installment of all your favourite franchises but I am quite sure you won’t regret making some time for The Nice Guys.

A thug-for-hire with a heart of gold (Crowe) and a cynical private eye (Gosling) team up to search for a missing girl who seems to be connected to a murdered porn star and has somehow caught the attention of the justice department. And it all takes place in 1977 Los Angeles with an excellent sense of time and place.

After A Good Year, Crowe’s last attempt at headlining a comedy, it’s a pleasure to see one finally play to his strengths. The Nice Guys uses his tough guy image to its advantage instead of trying to make us forget about it. Paired with the ever-versatile Gosling, they are just as hilarious as writer-director Shane Black’s previous pair of  detectives in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

The Nice Guys works because the escalating insanity rarely feels contrived or forced. As a team, Crowe and Gosling are just dysfunctional enough to be funny but competent enough to be almost believable. Best of all, the movie has just enough darkness to it that it’s not easy to forget.

The Big Short

If you were one of the many Ron Burgundy fans who felt let down by Anchorman 2, the movie to blame is finally here. Adam McKay, Head Writer at Saturday Night Live during the late 90s and the director of all the most Will Ferrelly of Will Ferrell movies, was not the obvious choice to adapt such a serious book as The Big Short and reportedly only agreed to write a second Anchorman to sweeten the deal.

The Big Short, which I have not read, was written by Michael Lewis and documents the story of the big short 2the small group of people who foresaw the collapse of the housing market in 2007 and took a giant gamble by betting against the banks. Now, I’ve seen Inside Job, 2010’s Oscar-winning documentary about the financial crisis and I’ve seen Wolf of Wall Street but still manage to get my dividends and my CDIs mixed up. With Inside Job going so far over my head, I couldn’t help but wonder how a writer best known for “Go fuck yourself, San Diego” would handle such potentially confusing material.

the big short 3It turns out that Mckay is the right guy to make a financial crisis movie for someone as financially illiterate as I am. He consistently finds creative ways to pause to explain the trickier concepts, often by breaking the fourth wall with outrageous celebrity cameos of which I wouldn’t dare spoil the surprise. There are enough jokes, often poking fun at the conventions of movies that are “based on a true story”, to hold our attention better than Inside Out or Wolf or Wall Street could hope to without ever abandoning the appropriate level of outrage at how so much greed could cause so much suffering.

How Hollywood could make a movie- a comedy no less- from Lewis’ book wasn’t the only reason to be curious about McKay’s film. It also boasts one of 2015’s most intriguing casts. Brad Pitt, one of The Big Short’s producers, has the smallest role of the four names above the title but stands out for his uncharacteristicallyy understated performance. I didn’t even recognize him in the preview. (I thought he was Peter Dinklage).  I couldn’t help noticing though that casting himself as the one guy who gets that “this is just not right” is becoming a bit of a self-serving the big shorthabit of his. (See: 12 Years a Slave). Ryan Gosling, last seen in 2013’s Only God Forgives, makes his triumphant return to the big screen. As Jared Vennett, he channels all the handsome-and-he-knows-it smugness that we saw in Crazy Stupid Love and The Ides of March. Come to think of it, he’s versatile enough to have played pretty much any of the major characters so his talents may have been better served with a better part but he plays it well and has some really funny lines.

Christian Bale and Steve Carrell- believe it or not- are competing for the Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical Golden Globe. Bale plays Michael Burry, the brilliant hedge fund manager with Asperger’s who loves to air drum. He’s good but has been better. He plays the eccentric genius a little like he did the eccentric in American Hustle but he has some strong scenes, especially when he starts to let his humility show towards the end. It’s Carrell, though, who steals the show. With the other characters so impressed with their own coolnees or brilliance and so focused on how much money they’re going to make if their gamble pays off, Carrell brings the humanity. He plays money manager Mark Baum, based on Steve Eisman. He’s had it out for the banks ever since his brother lost all his money and jumped off the roof of a highrise. (I’m not sure if that happened to Eisman or not). His shock and anger is palpable in every scene. Because he’s played by Steve Carrell, he’s still funny. But McKay counts on him to remind us that, while laughing at the stupidity and recklessness of Wall Street can be a lot of fun, a lot of real people got hurt.

I’ll be cheering for him on Sunday.

Back to School

Detachment – Wow, this was a crazy-angry movie. Adrien Brody plays a substitute teacher who keeps severing his connection to the students by moving on from one job to the next. This detachment-trailermovie shows a one-month period in a high school where the students are apathetic (at best) and the staff (including principle Marcia Gay Harden, counsellor Lucy Lui and teacher Christina Hendricks, all excellent) are all burnt out. It’s tough to watch; director Tony Kaye slaps us over and over in the face with such consant degradation that we too become detached, and the sorrow is less effective. This is an ode to the failures of the public school system, and though I know it has its flaws, it seems downright impossible that there is nary a student nor administrator in all of Queens who has ever experienced even a singular moment of happiness. Nothing here is implausible, it’s just that not every bad thing can possibly happen does happen, and certainly not all before lunch. It’s like Kaye has gleefully scraped together a big pile of dog shit, and he’s intent on rubbing our noses in it for as long as we hold out (which makes me feel dumb for sticking it out).

There’s a lot going on stylistically – the chalkboard occasionally gets animated, and there are sporadic interviews that made me wonder at first if I’d accidentally stumbled onto a documentary. But then the drama kicks in, and we quickly overdose from it. Tony Kaye is notoriously difficult to work with (the only other feature film he was able to bring to screen caan%20danner%20etcforced Edward Norton to pull rank and recut American History X himself)., so it’s suprising so many stars returned his calls to get this film done. It would seem, however, that some have sincelearned their lesson. Bryan Cranston has said that he has not seen the film “Because I felt that Carl Lund, the writer of Detachment, wrote a really beautiful, haunting script. And I didn’t feel that it was honored. I was upset with that. I really was. And so I didn’t see the movie. Tony Kaye is a very complicated… interesting fellow. I don’t believe that I’ll be working with him again. I didn’t not get along with him on a personal level. But I just honor the writing. I really think that writing is the most important element there is. It is the springboard. It is where everything starts. And if you don’t honor that – which I didn’t feel it was – then where are you? And I’m not the only actor on that film to feel that way.”

Half Nelson – Ryan Gosling’s character in Half Nelson, Dan,  is a lot like Adrien Brody’s in Detachment. They can both get it together in their rough classrooms, but their personal lives are 50125_Half-Nelson-2in tatters. An ex-girlfriend rattles Dan to the point of getting high in the school locker room, where he’s discovered by his student, Drey (Shareeka Epps). The friendship that grows out of this encounter is sweet and wary, and Dan feels understandbly uncomfortable being so vulnerable in front of one of his kids. Drey sees his addiction the way Dan sees the bad influence of drug dealer Frank (Anthony Mackie) in her life, but they can’t seem to resist going down their own wrong paths, let alone keep each other from doing the same. Dan is terrific with his students but can’t get through a day without freebasing cocaine. It’s tough to watch, but so much more rewarding than Detachment, because although we see real gritty misery, there are also small veins for hope.

Although I enjoyed the performaces in Detachment, there were almost too many sub-plots to serve any one story well. Bryan Cranston and Blythe Danner and James Caan were pratically 655throw-aways. In Half Nelson, Gosling, Epps, and Mackie dazzle with performances that are really nuanced and subtle. You get the sense that Kaye wants to knock you over the head with his themes whereas Half Nelson is more comfortable asking you to make your own decisions. There may not be any great heralding sense of triumph, but neither do we bask in self-pity. Gosling earned an Oscar nomination for his work on the film; and it was scored by a talented Canadian band by the name of Broken Social Scene.

So there you have it, two uplifting movies just in time for back to school! Are you ready for a new school year at your house? Did you have a favourite teacher growing up? Were they mostly sober? How about a favourite school movie?