Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Friday, January 13, 2017

La La Land: A Tribute to a Gone By Era

I am not sure why I like La La Land, but I do. It is both a tribute to musicals of the Golden Age and a modern, bitter-sweet romantic comedy. La La Land is built around the simple and classic premise of boy meets girl. They both have dreams. They get their dreams to come true, but it is not necessarily the happy ending of the old musicals. Yet, the ending is uplifting in its way as the time flies in an impressionist tribute to the way time moves and how if La La Land were a 1940's musical it could have ended. The movie isn't that 1940's love story though, and so we remember our first loves but like time life flows onward.

Writer/Director Damien Chazelle, whose credits include the intense movie Whiplash, creates a love letter to the fanciful era of musicals like Singing in the Rain when people burst out into song. It is fun and lively and, like the musicals it pays tribute to, has a storyline that is fairly predictable. Chazelle even manages to show his love of jazz and the conflict that drives jazz as a music form just as he did in Whiplash. 

The story is about the love affair between a struggling actress Mia (Emma Stone) and struggling jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). We follow them on a romp through LA as each seeks their dream. Mia dreams of becoming the great actress and Sebastian of opening a jazz club where he will renew the dying art form. While neither Gosling nor Stone are powerhouse singers or dancers, there is chemistry and magic in their performance. Emma Stone's performance is a tour de force of her talent.  If her charm and big eyes don't reach you, you have no heart. Ryan Gosling is perfect as the struggling jazz artist who is torn between a modern world and the music of a past era. the music of a past era.

La La Land has the feel of a stage style musical or one of those old MGM musicals. It starts with a rather strange song and dance number on a freeway in LA that makes you wonder what on Earth have you've let yourself in for, and then draws you into its embrace. By the end, you will want to sit in your car and lean on the horn. It is one of the better movies of the season. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Collateral Beauty Critics Will Hate It

Yes, I know the Christmas movie Collateral Beauty is about out of the theaters but it is still showing two or so shows a day in a few theaters or you can call this my DVD review or maybe go see it when it goes to the Dollar Cinemas. Collateral Beauty is one hundred percent schmaltz. That's a good thing.

Yes, I know. Professional critics have for the most part universally panned the movie because it is melodramatic, it is sentimental, and it has heavy-handed pandering to our feels. It is why you should go see it. This is not new. Professional critics, as a rule, hate certain kinds of movies. They are going to hate most movies that were adapted from comic books. They are going to hate most remakes. - Okay, I'll give ‘em the remakes one. Most of those are pretty bad. - Most of all, professional critics hate movies that tug at our hearts or manipulate our emotions. For the most part, critics universally hated It's a Wonderful Life, The Wizard of Oz, and Home Alone, just to mention a few. Heck, even Psycho got mediocre reviews. 

Collateral Beauty is everything a movie like this should be. It is sentimental. It is predictable. It manipulates our emotions. It is well acted. It seeks to give us an uplifting message. In this time, we need a feel good time. If there is anything Collateral Beauty lacks is that it could have easily expanded the roles and perhaps even the side stories of it stellar cast. I could have easily had more from the edgy Time character (Jacob Latimore) or Love (Keira Knightly), and of course, who doesn't always want more of the stunning embodiment of acting, Helen Mirren who plays "Death"?

Collateral Beauty is the story of Howard Inlet (Will Smith) who has become a shell of the man he once was. Once a vibrant man, he has become a withdrawn human when his six-year-old daughter dies. He now uses his time at his business to build complicated domino fall rows and writes letters to Time, Love and Death.  His three partners, Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Peña) need to sell the business if it is to survive. They must convince Howard, who has the controlling stock that he must move on. They hire, or so they think, three actors to become Howard's objects of his letters. Oddly, each of the partners must also deal with their own ghosts of time, love and death. They all must learn. While it will never be okay, Howard will learn to deal with the loss of his daughter, just as his partners learn to deal with their own demons. 

In perhaps the heaviest handed symbol in the movie, life becomes like those falling dominos. Beautiful, fragile, interconnected, and having impact that is a moment of Collateral Beauty. If you go see it, take my daughter's advice, "Bring a hanky."

Assassin's Creed Overly Broad

As a sometimes gamer, there is a hand full of video games that I love to play. One of those is Assassin's Creed. One of the things I've loved about the game is one it has a serious plot, an interesting character to play and a broad scope based on history. It is this that causes trouble for Assassin's Creed the movie.

Let's face it; most movies based on video games have problems to overcome. Most video games have little in the way of a usable movie plot or characters that are paper thin.  Then there are games like World of Warcraft which is basically huge in scope and reliant on a character the gamer creates. No real plot but a series of loosely related adventures. A few video games are the opposite problem. The scope of the game is huge and has a cast of characters with one or two fleshed out characters and the rest basically included for gaming action. No back story really needed. They exist because without them the game character has no one to challenge him or her. What this all means is that for the most part, video games turned into movies seldom work. 

Assassin's Creed has the last problem. The story is just too vast. Even though the movie tries to condense the story, it has the problem of dealing with the world that gamers are immersed in while playing but movie viewers aren't. The movie is entertaining and has some really good action sequences, but it has so many stories it wants to tell that it fails in the end to become the action movie it wants to be. Its cast is a stellar one with Michael Fassbender as the assassin Cal in the present and Aguilar in the past. The problem is that because of the dueling timeline stories, we don't really get the relationships that the assassins seem to share in both past and present. The creation of characters that don't exist in the video game also doesn't really lessen this issue. 

Then there is the bad guy, Rikkin, played by Jeremy Irons. Irons is always a great villain. Assassin's Creed utterly fails to use this talented actor. The final conflict between Cal and Rikken is, to put it bluntly, anti-climactic. It is clear that the movie was supposed to be good enough that its sequel will be automatic which according to rumors is already in the works. Maybe the sequel will help, but the scope of the story needs work.

The movie was enjoyable enough if you like solely action sequences and amazing CGI. The movie does also capture some of the more amazing scenes that are straight out of the game. That flavor is there, but Assassin's Creed is just too sprawling in the story it wants to tell to succeed in what it wants to accomplish. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Passengers: A Bit Thin

THERE BE SPOILERS HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The movie Passengers is an entertaining enough as a movie. The actors do their job. Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence have really good chemistry on screen. It also has a visually a nice look, but I wouldn't waste the money on 3-D. 

Passengers also has a multitude of problems if you spend any time thinking about a movie that has a very thin plot and characters lacking any sort of depth. The problem is that Passengers suffers from one of those misleading advertising campaigns that don't really capture the film. 


The premise is fairly simple. Five Thousand souls plus crew are placed in animated suspension on a 120-year journey to a new life. The problem is that the ship runs into a huge meteor storm which causes one of the systems to fail. This failure results in waking Chris Pratt's character Jim ninety years too soon. What the trailers don't tell us is that Jim lives on the spaceship for just over a year before considering suicide and then falling in love with one of the sleeping passengers, Jennifer Lawrence's character Aurora. In his desperate loneliness, Jim struggles with whether he should awaken Aurora. He, of course, does awaken her and for a while pretends that she too has been brought to consciousness by accident. The suspension chambers are only meant to keep them asleep but do not have the capability to re-initiate the process once someone awakens. After another year, Aurora discovers what Jim did and of course hates him for it.

At its core, Passengers is a love story. The decision whether to awaken Aurora is the moral problem, unfortunately, it is not enough to drive the movie's plot which is more than a bit predictable. Jim is capable of fixing things and building things like robots and even opening the occasional locked door. Yet, Jim who is a mechanic with incredible abilities cannot seem to open the doors he needs to enter or even reprogram food dispensers to give him a better coffee even though he has convinced the computer that he can have access to better rooms and can bypass other systems on the ship like sleeping pods.

They live on a ship that has an amazing human-like android bartender (Michael Sheen) but has waiters that look like, well, robots. It is a ship that has no robots or androids that can repair systems when they go awry. It doesn't even have instructions to awaken a crew member when major systems fail. I think you begin to see the problems with the plotline. After establishing that Jim and Aurora are unable to access the bridge, the crew quarters, or get answers from the computer, we meet Laurence Fishburne's character Gus. In order for the plot to move forward, another character, this time a crewmember finds himself conscious. He helps Jim and Aurora discover what needs to be done to save the 4998 sleeping passengers plus crew. Gus then dies since his sleeping pod failure apparently causes catastrophic physical failure by its sudden awakening that didn't happen to Jim or when Jim bypassed the programming to awaken Aurora. 

The characters have little to no backstory for us to become involved in. We never understand how it is Jim described as a mechanic can do some pretty amazing things but fail at doing other things. Aurora is the wealthy daughter of an apparently famous writer. She is a self-described journalist. That's it. It's all we know about Jim and Aurora. Gus could've been a great character but he is little more than a plot point. Arthur the android and somewhat humorous bartender too is unused and has a great character possibility. Should I point out that Sleeping Beauty's name in the Disney film is Aurora or is that too much?

Passengers is entertaining enough but it is a simple love story. It is built around the moral choice of Jim, and Aurora has to learn to deal with that choice when she finds out. It doesn't make for a strong movie, just an okay one.