Thursday, January 12, 2017

Arrival (2016)

Arrival is a science-fiction movie with an unpredictable twist, but doesn't really deserve all the hype of being one of the best movies of 2016!

Due to the aforementioned twist, the trailers and talk-show appearances by actors do not go beyond the first 30 minutes of the movie. Following that trend, I'll only talk about the first act: The director - Dennis Villeneuve of Sicario 2015 fame - has created a melancholic and suspenseful atmosphere (e.g., cloudy skies, dark crowded rooms, long close-ups on actors faces). The acting by Amy Adams is pretty good (not exceptional though). And, the pacing of the movie is done somewhat well. In short, it is one of those movies that you can only see once. If I see it one day playing on TV, I would change the channel instantly.

Keep your expectations low, and you might find it interesting. For me, it was a 6.5/10 at best!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

La La Land (2016)

An ode to Hollywood (old and new), La La Land is a Disney-style musical fairy tale! It is easily one of my favourite movies from the 21st century!

Damien Chazelle is a director that I will keep an eye on! He surprised the world with Whiplash in 2014, and now, he showed us that he is a lot more than a one-hit-wonder! As a director and screen-writer with musical inclinations, he is an auteur in this generation! Chazelle's struggles to make La La Land over the last decade have been well documented. I don't blame the studios though - investing (and having faith) in a jazz musical is not the easiest decision to make!

The film opens with a five-minute musical number on a jammed Los Angeles highway! It is not homogenous with the rest of the movie, but sets the tone for what to expect. The first number was filmed without a cut (or maybe one or two very smart cuts) with some of the most sophisticated camera movements. The music and choreography were of course the cherries on top! Then, we get to meet the main characters played beautifully by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Anyone who has seen Crazy Stupid Love and Gangster Squad already knows the chemistry that these two have(*). Gosling's character is a jazz pianist, and Stone plays an aspiring actress. The only minor complaint that I had was with Gosling's singing, as he is not the best at carrying a tune. But now I think it's okay. He is the pianist who sings only in private. He doesn't need to carry tunes like a professional such as John Legend (who also stars in the movie).

(*) Gosling and Stone are the new golden couple of Hollywood - very much like Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, or Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers!

The music is mesmerizing - as was expected by fans of Whiplash (2014). The choreography and cinematography are also fantastic. But the most important component is the story. It is easy for a musical fairy tale to fall victim to clich├Ęs. La La Land, however, has a brilliant story that is simply perfect in my opinion. The message of the movie is that "dreams can come true, but you must be willing to pay the price".

I looked at my watch a couple of times while I was watching La La Land - not because I wanted it to end soon, but for wanting it to last longer! I am of course a fan of this genre, but I'm sure even non-fans would enjoy it - the ratings are evidence to this claim!

If it is not already obvious by all this praise, this was a 10/10 for me!

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Tom Ford, in his second directorial and screenwriting effort, delivered a psychological thriller that is simply top-notch! I don't think even veterans of Hollywood could have done a better job!

I first saw the trailer in September of 2016. It was a very good preview of what to expect. Similar to the trailer, the film itself uses visuals and music in a very effective manner. Tom Ford, being perhaps the best designer of his generation, paints the tapestry of film with the most beautiful shots and colour combinations.

I just have a small gripe with the first few minutes of the movie. I read somewhere that the opening was supposed to be Tom Ford's commentary on the American society! But that was gratuitous in my opinion. Sometimes you see authors using all the three and four-syllable words that they know in the first few pages of a book, and then they calm down and find a consistent voice for the rest of the story. Maybe a similar thing happened here for Tom Ford as well...

Ford was also very effective in directing his actors, as Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal delivered some of their best performances in years. But the best performance came from Aaron Taylor-Johnson. I wouldn't be surprised if he wins the Oscar for the best supporting actor.

Nocturnal Animals is adapted from a 1993 novel named Tony and Susan by Austin Wright. Without spoiling anything, it is a deep and effective story. It even stayed with me for a couple of days after watching the movie.

To wrap up, the acting, cinematography, editing, music, and most importantly the story telling, are all at the highest level. I'd give Nocturnal Animals a 9.5/10.

(*) For those who have seen the movie, I'd recommend this short video. AtZ has done a fantastic analysis on the plot:

Magnificent Seven (2016)

Magnificent Seven has committed actors, good practical effects, and decent music. It is based on a good story that has been told many times - Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954), Magnificent Seven (1960), and Battle Beyond the Stars (1980). Yet, the most recent adaptation fails to capture the magic of the original copies.

The 2016 version has a very diverse cast of good actors who are not necessarily faithful representations of the era! Also, it is hard not to draw comparisons with the cast of the 1960 western, which included giants such as Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, and Eli Wallach. Denzel Washington is one of the best actors of his generation and also probably a better actor than Yul Brynner, but Yul had the western-credit that Denzel lacks. Chris Pratt, although fun in his role, couldn't fill the huge shoes of Steve McQueen either. The only actor from the 2016 version that managed to develop a unique and likeable character was Vincent D'Onofrio! His voice, physique, and belief system were new additions to this old story!

Speaking of the story, it has been told many times - in feudal Japan, old west, and also space! Maybe it's time that we let go of this story and told new ones! To me, that was the major reason for making this film underwhelming! But it was still entertaining for a late Sunday evening! I'd give it 6.5/10!