Friday, February 10, 2017

La La Land - here’s to the ones who dream...

movie review

La La Land

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, J. K. Simmons
Written and directed by: Damien Chazelle
Tagline: Here’s to the fools who dream.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few months, you certainly must have heard of La La Land, the musical comedy drama that has been the talk of Tinseltown ever since its release in December. With the Hollywood award season in full swing, Damien Chazelle’s brainchild has emerged as a leading contender for some of the film industry’s highest accolades, and has indeed bagged numerous trophies at various ceremonies. So just why is everyone going gaga over La La Land? Simply because this ode to Hollywood is itself a glorious example of movie magic.

The film follows the story of two struggling artists who fall for each other in Los Angeles while trying to realize their ambitions.

Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress who works as a barista at a coffee shop on the Warner Bros. lot. Despite going for a string of auditions, she hasn’t landed any roles and her acting career hasn’t made any head way. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist who hopes to open his own club but has to make a living by performing in bars.

As the two struggle to achieve their dreams, their paths cross. Sparks (eventually) fly, but their dreams and romance take bittersweet turns over the course of a year, the changing of each season announced on the screen.

A beautiful love letter to passion, art, and classic cinema, La La Land is mesmerizing from start to finish. Everything from the cinematography and camera work to the acting and direction is impressive. Chazelle – who both directed the movie and wrote its script – knows how to make the audience feel the heartache that his characters experience, and has created a modern day masterpiece that harks back to the era of the mid-20th century musicals which clearly inspired this project.

But Chazelle isn’t the only one who merits props here; equally deserving of praise is Justin Hurwitz, who composed the beautiful music that drives the film. His score covers the spectrum from buoyant and joyous to haunting and heartbreaking (often simultaneously), gently becoming an integral part of the narrative.

The film also benefits from the captivating performances delivered by both its leads. Stone and Gosling may not be the most amazing vocalists and dancers, but that appears to be exactly what Chazelle is going for; the sequences aren’t as intricate or demanding as some of the most celebrated moments from classic musicals, but the actors’ limitations have been designed to add to the beauty of the film, making their performances more relatable, more charming.

Visually stunning and emotionally resonant, La La Land proves to be a memorable cinematic experience, both because of its artistry and poignancy. This musical romance will touch your heart, leave you humming its catchy songs, and make you marvel at the effort that has gone into the conception, preparation, and execution of this project.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

- Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 10th February 2017 *

Friday, February 03, 2017

The Lego Batman Movie preview

trailer review

The Lego Batman Movie

The Academy may not have given the film its proper dues – and yes, some of us may still be a tad miffed about this major award show injustice – but the fact remains that The Lego Movie (2014) was downright awesome. Both joyous and thought-provoking, the wildly entertaining animated romp ushered us into the zany Lego realm. Now, three years later, we finally get the chance to revisit Lego land in the spin-off instalment The Lego Batman Movie.

The flick is centred on the character of The Dark Knight (voiced by Will Arnett) and its trailers promise an amusing adventure in Gotham City.

As per the prevue, Bruce Wayne’s trusty butler Alfred Pennyworth (Ralph Fiennes) is concerned about his lonely lifestyle, and urges him to raise the young orphan he adopted (Michael Cera), just as Batman squares off against his old nemesis The Joker (Zach Galifianakis).

Off the bat, the project seems quite amusing; the ribbing of the superhero franchise in particular is entertaining. But by the looks of it, the film (obviously) lacks the novelty of its predecessor. We’re already familiar with the Batman world, plus The Lego Movie masterminds Phil Lord and Christopher Miller created such a (surprisingly) interesting, detailed world and filled it with so much excitement and joy that for this very reason the follow-up doesn’t seem as imaginative as the original. Still, their efforts do give director Chris McKay a uniquely fascinating universe to explore.

And even though we have seen Batman in so many incarnations already, this Lego persona still feels fresh and fun. Based on the few glimpses we’ve had of the film so far, it is very likely that The Lego Batman Movie will be better than the recent DC Comics films, like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad (simply because almost everything is better than Suicide Squad). So far, it certainly looks smarter and wittier than the latest DC offering. Here’s hoping the film lives up to its potential.

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune Blogs - 3rd February, 2017 *

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Passengers - an absurd cliché of a film

movie review

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, and Laurence Fishburne
Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Tagline: There is a reason they woke up.

Why do good actors choose bad projects? That is the biggest mystery that runs through Passengers, a clunky sci-fi vehicle that can neither justify nor make the most of the star power at its helm.

The film is set aboard the Starship Avalon, an interstellar starliner that is on a voyage from an overpopulated Earth to the colony world of Homestead II. Its 5000 passengers and 258 crew members are in hibernation, and are set to spend 120 years in suspended animation before they are awakened upon reaching their new home.

But a malfunction brings one passenger, mechanical engineer James Preston (Chris Pratt), out of hibernation 90 years too soon, leaving him stranded and alone on the ship. His only companion is an android bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen). James comes across the sleeping beauty, journalist Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), and, struggling with loneliness, makes the hard decision to wake her up. But he doesn’t tell her he is the reason she is awake, instead blaming it on hibernation pod failure.

This secret looms over the proceedings, and Passengers promptly collapses under its implications. While you do empathize with the morally difficult circumstances that James finds himself in, the story unfolds in a way that feels more creepy than romantic. The movie doesn’t have the guts to delve into the intensity and heartache that the setup demands and instead settles for absurdity and clichés.

At times, Passengers feels like Titanic in space, only way worse. Plot holes abound; there are issues that the film doesn’t even try to make sense of. Things are either left unexplained or are downright unexplainable.

As for the cast, while their individual performances are serviceable, Lawrence and Pratt lack on-screen chemistry and mostly seem to be there for their overinflated paycheques. And even though Sheen is quite charming as James’s robot friend, the dull script doesn’t give his character anything original to say or do.

The premise at its core – a man stranded on a spaceship – is promising, and in the hands of a better filmmaker, this theme could have led to an interesting, compelling exploration of loneliness, love, survival, and sacrifice. But director Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Jon Spaihts emphatically falter in their attempt to create affecting drama here. Passengers starts promisingly, then veers into disturbing territory before lurching towards a preposterous, nonsensical climax, and ultimately leaves you feeling uncomfortable and underwhelmed.

Rating: 2 out of 5
- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune Blog - 2nd February, 2017 *