Category Archives: Reviews

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 – Movie Review

The Guardians of the Galaxy return to the big screen to prove they are more than just misfits prepared to save the galaxy. In Volume 2, the Guardians prove that they need to be a family to save the galaxy.

Release Date: May 5, 2017
Writer: James Gunn
Director: James Gunn
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell, Karen Gillan, Elizabeth Debicki

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 starts a few months after the events of the first film. Our brood of heroes, Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are hired as the Guardians to protect a power set of batteries from an inter-dimensional monster. The batteries power the race of conceited aliens known as the Sovereign.

As payment, the Guardians take custody of Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), but as their leaving Rocket steals the very batteries that they were hired to protect. Here starts a series of plots and sub-plots, the main one being the meeting of Peter Quill’s father played by Kurt Russell, who brings Peter, Gamora and Drax to his home planet. For comic book fans, this planet is Ego, the living planet. They also meet Mantis (Elizabeth Debicki), who serves Ego. She has empathic powers.

The other subplots include Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his gang of Ravagers. Yondu has been kicked out of the Ravagers because he betrayed the other clans in the first film. Yondu is then hired by the Sovereign to hunt down the Guardians and return the batteries, but Yondu also had a mutiny on his hands when one of his officers Tazer Face (Pom Klementieff) no longer believes Yondu can effectively act as leader.

While in custody, Nebula plots to get the upper hand on Gamora and ultimately kill her and then her father, Thanos. Rocket continues his own brand of self-destructive and self-loathing behavior and then there’s Baby Groot, who wants to grow up and become a warrior, but he’s only a baby.

There is a lot going on in Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2. You can already see there is literally a shipload of old and new characters. There are about four storylines going on at the same time. Writer/Director James Gunn masterfully manages to keep the storylines interesting and followable which could have easily unraveled at any point.

The main story between Quill and Ego is not the strongest of stories and unfortunately, it is the main spine of the movie. Their relationship feels more like a morality episode of Star Trek. It feels very over-and-done by the end of the movie.

As much as this is a large galactic action movie, the best moments in Guardians are the moments the main characters spend together. Clearly, there is a Sam-and-Diane relationship brewing between Quill and Gamora. So-much-so that Quill calls it out as a Cheers-inspired romance. Drax and Mantis have an opposite relationship, which will make your head spin. Maybe, the sisterly conflict between Gamora and Nebula feels a little forced.

The tone of Guardians of the Galaxy is light, a little gruesome and stands outside the seriousness of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on Earth. But this movie is funny and the rollercoaster of action you expect it to be. For a long movie, the pacing is fast and because it is packed with so much plot, characters and action, you leave wanting more. Finally, please stay to the end of the credits.

 

 

Manchester By The Sea – Movie Review

Manchester By The Sea is absolutely one of the most depressing movies you’ll this year. It will drag you through tragedy, depression while sprinkling a few glimmers of hope.

Release Date: December 16, 2016
Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, Lucas Hedges

Manchester By The Sea tells the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a loner living in Boston. Lee is forced to move back to his hometown to attend to the death of his estranged brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler). Lee is the only adult relative of Joe and it is up Lee to not only plan all of the arrangements of the funeral, but also act as temporary guardian to his teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Lee is not the social type and he finds it almost impossible to maintain any kind of a relationship because of his drinking and his past.

Manchester By The Sea follows Lee as he figures out what to do with his nephew. Lee is adamant about not being his guardian and just as adamant about Patrick not going back to his birth mother, Elise (Gretchen Mol). The history of the Chandler family is told in flashbacks.

Clearly, the goal of this film is to rip your heart out. Casey Affleck is perfect as the loner, who’s past has shut himself off from the world. He plays guilt and self-loathing with ease. Lucas Hedges has great range having to play the angst-ridden teen, who has no relative left other than his non-communicative uncle.

There’s no better way to put it than Manchester By The Sea is a film that punches you in the face, in the guts and just keeps on punching. It’s clear in this movie about tragedy, that over the course of the film, you will find out why Lee Chandler is a loner with no hope for a future and what happened to his happy life and his three super cute and adorable children.

Let’s also not forget that the tragic flashbacks overlay the films central story, which is the death of Patrick’s father and the current whereabouts of his mother, Elise. More sadness for you, the viewer.

Manchester By the Sea is a good movie. But at the same time, writer/director Kenneth Lonergan presents to his audience an emotionally draining movie. There are times, you wish the actors were not so talented and did not play their characters well, because then you would have a moment to detach from the movie and breath. Ultimately, we do connect with the grief and sadness of the main characters, which I guess is the main goal of the film. This is a film you need to prepare yourself to watch.

The Queen of Crime – Newport Beach Film Festival Review

As part of the Pacific Rim Showcase of the Newport Beach Film Festival, The Queen of Crime is the Korean entrant to this year’s festival. It is the story of a mother, who investigates a $1,200 water bill that was mysteriously charged to her son.

Release Date: April 24, 2017
Writer: Lee Yo-Sup
Director: Lee Yo-Sup
Cast: Soo-Jang Baek, Som E., Ji-Young Park

Mi-gyeong (Ji-Young Park) is the owner of a local beauty salon just outside of Seoul. One afternoon, she receives a mysterious phone call from her son, Ik-soo (Dae-Hyeon Kim). Ik-soo is a law student in Seoul and has somehow managed to rack up a $1,200 water bill in his dormitory. Ik-soo is just 4 days away from taking the bar exam and does not need the distraction of a $1,200 water bill. Rather than just pay the outrageous bill, Mi-gyeong pays her son a visit in order to help investigate the bill.

Mi-gyeong’s arrival is not welcome by her son, who needs to concentrate on his studies in order to pass the bar. Mi-gyeong insists that she will not be a distraction and only needs two days to clear up the matter. In her investigation Mi-gyeong learns that her son’s dorm room shares the water bill with his next door neighbor. Mi-gyeong enlists the help of the building’s maintenance man, Gae-tae (Bok-rae Jo) to help her. In fact, she develops a motherly bond with Gae-tae who has no mother to look after him.

Mi-gyeong finds that her son’s neighbor is less than willing to help clear up the matter. In fact, the other neighbors complained about loud noises and suspicious activities coming from the apartment. It appears there is a larger mystery than the flagrant waste of water. Soon, Mi-gyeong’s meddling begins to interfere with her son’s studying, which leads to him wanting his mother to just pay the water bill and leave.

The Queen of Crime is a light comedy thriller, but very subtle at that. If this were an American film, the story would be littered with goofy over-the-top characters. Everyone would be mugging for a laugh. Refreshingly, The Queen of Crime plays the comedy grounded. These are real people with minor quirks but they could be someone you know. The supporting cast includes a law student, who likes to study outside and has a shoe fetish; a lonely gamer, who left the police academy where her father is the commissioner; and the maintenance man, who is a little slow on the uptake.

The crime story is not complicated. The movie reveals one clue after the other at a nice pace. The real fun is watching Ji-Young Park as the concerned mother, who only wants the best for her son. She plays it normal, not like the stereotypical meddling mother. She has good intentions with the aged wisdom that only a mother can have. She treats everyone vital to the case like only a mother can do with soft assurance that she is their advocate and the stern warnings of a mother lion protecting her cubs.

There are plot holes in the mystery. The film uses flashbacks when witnesses describe what they saw. We start to see the crime played out in interview segments. But there are moments when the camera follows the criminal and although we are a party to the motivation for the crime, there is no way for Mi-gyeong to know any of this information because only the criminal knows this part of the crime.

I enjoy the Pacific Rim Showcase at the Newport Beach Film Festival. It continues to blow my misperceptions of foreign films, thinking that the United States is the best at film and storytelling. There is a level of maturity in filmmaking you see in U.S. films, but one must not confused the cultural differences of foreign films as inferior.

The Queen of Crime is a fun mystery with a fantastic lead in Ji-Young Park. Foreign films are worth the work involved in reading subtitles, but the storytelling is just different than what we’re used to as well as the same.

Hell or High Water – Movie Review

Hell or High Water follows the parallel paths of the Howard brothers, who rob the banks that hold their deceased mother’s mortgage and the grizzled veteran lawman assigned to capture the brothers as his last case.

Release Date: August 26, 2017
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Director: David MacKenzie
Cast: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges

Hell or High Water is a movie that plays on every emotion. For example, you want to sympathize with the Howard brothers. Sympathize as much as you like, they are still criminals. It makes no judgment, while judging.

Toby Howard (Chris Pine) is a recently divorced father who is about to lose the farm of his youth. The bank that owns the note on the farm is about to foreclose on the farm and the stress of the situation lead to her death. Toby is a man with nothing and sees the farms as the only thing he can give to his children. Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) is his recently released convict brother. His wild side and impulsiveness is nothing but the foreshadowing of trouble.

The boys have decided to rob the very bank that prey upon their mother and ultimately hope to pay off the mortgage in time before foreclosure. In order to get enough money that have to travel throughout the back roads of Texas hitting one branch after the other.

Following the Howard boys is veteran lawman, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges). This is Marcus’ last case before retiring and he brings along his partner, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), who will eventually take over for Hamilton after his retirement.

The setting of Hell or High Water is intriguing, especially for a West Coaster, like myself. Taking place in the outlands of Texas is a return to the old days of crime investigation. Stripped of the internet and high priced forensics and Hamilton and Parker use the old method of fact, evidence and profiling to figure out the pattern of crimes perpetrated by the Howards and where they will strike next.

High or High Water succeeds as a great movie for two reasons. The movie is a cat-and-mouse caper. The Howards try to stay one step ahead of the law, while never knowing who is chasing them or even if they are being chased. They also have to managed to pull off the perfect crime. It’s one thing to commit a crime and bank robbery is a difficult crime to pull off. But it is also another thing to never be caught and never be considered a suspect in that crime. Oh, and did I mention that Tanner is a hot head?

That’s the mouse, there is the cat. Without the high priced technology of CSI or Law and Order, Hamilton and Parker have to catch up to the mouse and see that justice is achieved.

The other reason this movie is great is the characters. Taylor Sheridan gives you a glimpse straight into the heart of the four leads. For the Howards, you want to sympathize with them. You want to root for the bad guys. But at the same time, you marvel at the brilliance of Jeff Bridges the actor portraying a wise and smart mouthed agent. His back-and-forth with his Native American partner is fun to watch and mildly uncomfortable as it walks the line of friendship and racial ignorance.

It is clear that Hell or High Water deserved its Best Picture nomination. It’s a story that’s been told before where its brilliance comes from its character study.

The Long Excuse – Newport Beach Film Festival Review

The Long Excuse is the Japanese entrant in the Pacific Rim Showcase at the Newport Beach Film Festival. It is the story of grief as a man struggles to come to grips with the death of his wife and becomes the caregiver to the children of the his wife’s best friend.

Newport Beach Film Festival
Release Date: April 24, 2017
Writer: Miwa Nishikawa
Director: Miwa Nishikawa
Cast: Sôsuke Ikematsu, Masahiro Motoki, Eri Fukatsu

Sachio Kinugasa (Masahiro Motoki) is a famous author in Japan and a celebrity on Japanese talk shows. His drinking and temper has lead to an emotionally dead relationship with his wife, Natsuko (Eri Fukatsu). Natsuko and her best friend, Yuki Omiya (Keiko Horiuchi) leave one night on a bus excursion for a girls weekend of fun. While Natsuko and Yuki are away, Sachio takes the opportunity to have an affair with a younger woman in their home.

After a few hours of passionate love-making, Natsuko sees a story of a tragic bus crash on the side of a snowy mountain. The next day, Natsuko discovers that his wife was killed on that bus along with Yuki. As a public figure, Natsuko puts on a brave face for the national news and becomes something of a figurehead for the victims.

Natsuko must somehow deal with his grief but finds that he is unable to emotionally cope with his loss. Natsuko explodes at a party where his publisher wants him to write about his experiences. At the same time, his agent is worried because Natsuko’s last few books have not sold well. He suggests that Natsuko become the host of a show that spotlights his tragedy.

Natsuko pulls himself out of his situation by befriending Yuki’s husband, Yoichi (Pistol Takehara) and his son, Shinpei (Kenshin Fushita) and his preschool daughter, Akari (Tamaki Shiratori). Yoichi is a truck driver and does not know anything about keeping a house clean, cooking meals and caring for children.

Natsuko decides to watch the children during the day, while Yoichi works. Natsuko can write his next book as Shinpei goes to school and Akari watches television. It turns out that Natsuko is pretty good at this parenting business. It does not take long for Akari to pull away from the television and appreciate Natsuko’s cooking. Shinpei, on the other hand, is frustrated because he is unable to keep up in “cram” school because of the parenting duties he has to take over with the absence of his father.

The Long Excuse is a movie about grief and the inability to move on with life after tragedy. Sachio rarely spends time in his former home and would rather be at Yoichi’s home with the children. Yoichi, on the other hand, has decided to just disappear from life especially since Natsuko is there to “raise” his children. Both men dealing with the same grief in different ways.

The film is no Manchester By the Sea, which takes a heavy hand at grief. In this case, it takes a real look at the average man left behind after tragic circumstances. It is also interesting to see it all from a Japanese perspective. There is a poignant discussion between Natsuko and Shenpei as he tries to explain why it is good not to cry at death, while at the same time explain that Shenpei’s father’s crying is appropriate.

There is also two separate moments with Natsuko and Yoichi need to slap sense into one another, while at the same time both men have no real authority to say anything. Instead they admonish each other from their own flawed viewpoint.

The Long Excuse is a sweet film about two men struggling to go on with life, when grief leaves them emotionally paralyzed. Culturally speaking, it’s hard to see watch scenes of corporal punishment against children, especially when they don’t deserve it. There are also times when you may wonder if the actor is over acting or acting like a person from Japan.

Class Rank – Newport Beach Film Festival Review

Class president Veronica helps her fellow student Bernie run for a seat on the school’s board of education. At the same time, they push one another out of their comfort zones.

Release Date: April 21, 2017
Writer: Benjamin August
Director: Eric Stoltz
Cast: Olivia Holt, Skyler Gisondo, Shawn Kavanaugh, Bruce Dern, Kristin Chenoweth

For Veronica Krauss (Olivia Holt), her high school education is a stepping stone to her aspirations of sitting on the United States Supreme Court. Her dreams are threatened when she finds out that she is currently ranked second scholastically in her high school. She believes that her below perfect position will make it impossible to attend her choice Ivy League school.

Bernie Flannigan (Skylar Gisondo), on the other hand, is an awkward teen who feels his education is being diminished because his school chooses to fund French classes, while Bernie knows that Chinese is the language of the future. Week after week, Bernie attends his local school board meetings in hopes of one day enacting real change in his high school.

Veronica decides that the whole idea of a class ranking system is flawed and wants it abolished. The current school board is not willing to change precedent. With no hope of abolishing class ranking, her only hope is to help Bernie run for a seat on the board of education.

Bernie is somewhat of a social misfit. He lives with his grandfather Oswald Flannigan (Bruce Dern) because his parents passed in skiing accident. He is content writing blogs and submitting articles to the local newspaper. Veronica lives with her mother, Janet (Kristin Chenoweth) who works on Law and Order: Special Victims Units. Janet dispenses wisdom that is best suited for Benson and Stabler, instead of her teenage daughter.

Both Veronica and Bernie are forced to step out of their comfort zones to win the election. They find that they the need each other to help them grow into maturity.

Class Rank is a sweet film about the friendship of Veronica and Bernie. Surprisingly, it is less about the cutthroat world of small town politics, but it’s a story about finding love in unexpected. It is lite storytelling with heart and innocence. This may not be the most original story, but writer Benjamin August and director Eric Stoltz tells an engaging story, that you will fall in love with.

In a day of contentious politics, Class Rank puts the political ideology in the background. Bernie’s ideas for the local school will make any liberal and conservative cheer and boo.

Ultimately the acting and character interactions are what makes this movie fun. The character of Bernie is awkward and quirky and could be considered borderline Asperger, but Gisondo manages to give him sympathy while at the same time make him a viable candidate for the small town. Holt manages to walk the line between being a school leader and the insecurities of being a school loner.

There is also the joy of watching Bruce Dern play Bernie’s grandfather. What easily could have been the grumpy old man, Dern’s portrayal of Oswald shows a man who loves his grandson, wants to see him succeed and take advantage of his senior status.

Class Rank is a simple story of pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones and allowing our friends and family become the catalyst for change.

Take My Nose Please – Newport Beach Film Festival Review

Joan Kron, Editor-At-Large for Allure, dives straight into the center of image, aging and plastic surgery. It is easy to believe that Hollywood favors the beautiful far above the average. Take My Nose Please is screening at the 2017 Newport Beach Film Festival.

Newport Beach Film Festival
Screening Date:
April 22, 2017
Director: Joan Kron
Cast: Emily Askin, Jackie Hoffman

Take My Nose Please follows two comedians before, during, and after their journey into cosmetic surgery. Emily Askin is an improv comedian and actress, who desires a more refined nose. Veteran Broadway comedian, Jackie Hoffman considers herself ugly and has made a career from it, finally decides to get the face-lift she wanted since she was a teen.

Take My Nose Please is a masterful treatise on fixing beauty for women, who for the most part struggle with imperfect appearance far more than their male counterparts. It examines the facts that from the dawn of Hollywood beauty is what sold and many actresses lost their jobs by the age of thirty. In the early years and even today, women have become victims of fake plastic surgeons and/or succumb to the addiction of plastic surgery.

Director Joan Kron also features celebrities, who are most notable for their enhanced appearances including: Roseanne Barr, Phyllis Diller, the late Joan Rivers, Judy Gold, and Lisa Lampanelli. While following the leads Askin and Hoffman, their decision to get plastic surgery was less a decision but more of a convincing to do it now and a soothing of guilt for the decision they made.

Take My Nose Please is not an anti-plastic surgery movie. While at the same time, it is not a pro-plastic surgery movie. It is a complicated subject about a complicated decision with complicated ramifications and Kron does a masterful job in presenting plastic surgery with all its complications.

Kron made the smart choice of following two comedians. As comedians, Askin and Hoffman are deeply introspective about their thought and feelings about the procedures they undertake. They can express their conflict and experiences in a way that the average civilian or even ordinary actress can do. You feel for the plight of Askin and Hoffman and ultimately feel great sympathy for the decision they made.

Take My Nose Please does what exactly what a documentary should do: tackle truly perplexing issues, present the facts, drop us in the middle of the struggle and give us enough information to form a personal opinion.

Hidden Figures – Movie Review

I thought I knew everything about the space program and the first Americans to land on the moon, but low and behold something new. Hidden Figures is the story of three brilliant African-American women: Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe). Taking place at the beginning of the 60’s Civil Rights Movement, these women played a vital role in the space race against Russia.

Release Date: January 6, 2017
Writer: Theodore Melphi
Director: Theodore Melphi
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Jim Parsons, Kevin Costner

In the early 60’s, computers were a new thing. So new that even NASA did not have a computer. The high-level calculations required to successfully launch a man strapped to the front of a rocket, get him into orbit and find the right trajectory to bring him home safely was left to a small pool of mathematicians. This mathematician was Katherine Johnson played beautifully by Taraji P. Henson. Johnson’s job was to double-check the work of the NASA engineers.

Johnson faced several challenges. As important as her work was, Johnson lived in the segregated United States. She couldn’t drink coffee from the same pot of co-workers and the only colored bathroom was on the opposite end of campus. Her work was also hampered by the top-secret material she was asked to work on and a great deal of information she needed was redacted with a large black marker. Also, her department was far behind in its work and the Russians were outpacing the U.S. to space. Outside the box thinking was needed to create the math required for safe space flight.

The only bright spot is the project team leader, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), whose job was to find the math by any means. The goal was the prize and it didn’t matter who or what came up with the solution as long as the solution could be found.

While the film focused primarily on Katherine Johnson, there was also Dorothy Vaughn who worked in the pool of American-American office temps. While she worked there, she was really the one in charge and served as the administrator of that pool. The problem was she was asked to do the work of a manager, but without the title of manager nor the salary of one. Her requests for promotion turned to the dear ears of her supervisor, Vivian Mitchel (Kirsten Dunst).

Finally, there is Mary Jackson, who is assigned to engineering specifically by it’s team leader, Karl Zielinski (Olek Krupa) because he saw in Mary Jackson the tools necessary to become a NASA engineer. Jackson’s problem was that she did not have the education needed for the job and the education she needed could only be obtained from a whites-only school.

Hidden Figures hits a lot of notes. First, it’s an inspiration film about an inspiration story. The 60’s was a time when you could not sit around and wait for someone to rescue you from adversity. You had to rescue yourself. For Johnson, Vaughn and Jackson, they fought for their place in history. They fought hard and succeeded (Spoiler Alert!)

Hidden Figures is also a civil rights and women’s rights film. History shows that the most unreachable goals, like landing on the moon, cannot happen if you leave it to just the white men. You have to expand your circle of knowledge and creative thinking, especially when your answer does not lie with someone of your same gender or ethnicity.

Finally, Hidden Figures is a math movie. Nerds and geeks rejoice, math was just as cool in the 60’s as it is today (Not sure this is the most convincing statement).

Hidden Figures manages to overcome the problems that many biographical film face. The story moves smoothly and does not feel like a series of one happy event to the other. The moments of character revelation feel real and the moments of heroism from Johnson, Vaughn and Jackson don’t feel heavy handed. Although my favorite line from the movie comes from Costner’s Harrison character, “At NASA, we pee the same color.”

Fine acting. Films like Hidden Figures succeed with you have great actors in great roles. These fine actors help build the credibility of the people they portray. The lead actresses, especially Henson, manage to bring dimension to their roles and create three distinct characters. Each actress fights through her individual problems uniquely.

Hidden Figures is an amazing story about the mission to the moon. A story that until now would have gone unnoticed. It’s also a film of inspiration. The lesson to keep fighting to be who you were meant to be.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast – Movie Review

Disney Studios continues to churn out remake after remake of their classic animated features and Beauty and the Beast is the latest of these remakes. But the live feature has a lot to live up to, especially since it is a remake of the classic Best Picture nominated film. Although the film is beautiful and well told, it doesn’t live up to the Best Picture status of the original film.

Release Date: March 17, 2017
Writer: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ewen McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Kline, Audra McDonald

Based directly on the 1991 animated classic, Beauty and the Beast is the story of a prince (Dan Stevens), who is transformed into a beast because he was selfish and showed no mercy or love to an old beggar woman. The prince and his servants live in a forgotten castle under a curse. The prince/beast must learn love and be loved by Belle (Emma Watson). Belle lives in a nearby village as an outcast because of her beauty and intellect. She is shunned when trying to teach the local girls to read. It is her beauty, though, that has captured the attention of village hero, Gaston (Luke Evans) and his companion LaFou (Josh Gad). Gaston is looking for a bride to grow him and family of good-looking boys. If you’ve seen the original millions of times, you know the rest.

Let’s just say it. Beauty and the Beast captures the beauty and spirit of the original movie. All the songs from Howard Ashman and Alan Menken are left intact. The story is relatively the same and what makes this version better than the original is that this film hits all the emotional moments perfectly. Director Bill Condon somehow manages to make you believe a beast and a beauty can fall in love. It is this one thing, that make Beauty and the Beast worth watching over and over and over again.

In theory, the live action version of an animated feature that was nominated for Best Picture, should be better than the original. Further, this new movie should be Best Picture worthy. As wonderful as the new Beauty and the Beast is, it will likely fail In its quest for Best Picture. Any failed attempt at greatness does not necessarily mean a movie is bad, but remaking he greatness of the animated classic is almost a fool’s errand.

Elaborate set pieces, enhanced CGI effects and filling in plots holes does not mean you are making a better film. It just means your adding more details and sometimes added details means you are adding noise. Let us discuss the differences.

Elaborate Details and Noise. Gone are the clean lines of animation. Here are the intricate designs of million dollar artists and production designers. This great visual noise. Although beautiful it pulls away from the action you should be focusing on. Lumiere and Cogsworth are a real candelabra and clock standing only 10 inches tall. Objects this small blend with a detailed background. During the Be Our Guest sequence, the simple lines of dancing plates and utensils is lost with realistic plates and utensils against an artistic walled background and set pieces.

New Songs. Beauty and the Beast utilizes all of the songs from the original and none from the Broadway musical. Several new songs are added to balance the film. Most are forgettable, but the Beast’s “Evermore” is Oscar-worthy.

That’s enough complaining. Although it really should serve as warning to any studio, who thinks they need to remake classics. Did this film need to be made? Not necessarily, but it was and its fantastic.

 

La La Land – Movie Review

There’s a lot going on with La La Land, including a great deal of Oscar buzz. If you’re a fan of the early movie musicals like Singin’ in the Rain, you’re going to love this LA homage to the musicals of the past.

Release Date: December 25, 2016
Writer: Damien Chazelle
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

La La Land follows with romance of frustrated jazz musician, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and struggling actress, Mia (Emma Stone). Sebastian languishes playing in piano bars hoping one day to open his own jazz club in Los Angeles. Mia works as a barista in a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers studio lot. She hopes one day to become a successful actress.

Through a series of coincidental and non-coincidental encounters, our heroes meet, fight, one-up each other and fall in love. Did I mention this is a musical? All this happens through song and dance.  Did I also mention the movie takes place in Los Angeles? All this happens at various iconic LA landmarks.

The love story of La La Land intertwines the dreams of our two star-crossed lovers. Mia is a struggling actress looking for that all important first role. After a series of rejections and disappointments, Mia produces her heartfelt one-woman show as her final chance to be discovered.

Sebastian, on the other hand, laments the decline of jazz. He gives Mia an impassioned lesson on jazz theory and turns her into a convert (sort of). Sebastian hopes, one day, to open his own Jazz club…and start a relationship with Mia. Though, neither pays enough to support his dream–let alone a relationship.

If you like musicals, La La Land was made just for you. Writer/Director Damien Chazelle offers his homage to the Hollywood musical of the past. La La Land is clearly the over-the-top musical from opening number featuring dozens of singer-dancers strutting their stuff on a gridlocked freeway traffic, dancing in the stars at Griffith Observatory to the surreal ending akin to Gene Kelly’s ballet finale of Singin’ in the Rain.

The songs also have the feel of the musicals of long ago. Composer Justin Hurwitz wrote actual songs for our characters and not the sing/talk songs of Broadway. The music of La La Land is above average. The musical themes are fantastic, but sadly the lyrics are forgettable. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are above average dancers and average singers, but they convincingly play the roles of lovers and artists. I don’t know if Gosling can actually play the piano at the level his character should, but the way the piano playing is shot is extremely convincing.

La La Land is a hard sell to the non-theater geek. It’s clearly not for everyone. Actors instantly break into song. They dance in inexplicable locations and the story follows one cliché after the other. I get it. It’s weird, but musicals have the ability to lift our souls to the heavens (with a little suspension of disbelief). The song and dance of La La Land convey the beauty of love, the giddy fun of falling in love and the melancholy of losing your dream. That’s why we go to musicals.

By no means is La La Land a perfect movie. It drags severely in the third act. I really wanted to see this movie wrap up quickly. Like many of this year’s Oscar contenders, the ending saves the movie. Good movies tap into your emotions and force you to feel and connect with the emotions of the characters good or bad. The ending of La La Land connects with you and uplifts your spirits with the love of the two main characters.