Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Emma Stone”

La La Land

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, December 25th 2016

4 stars, Rated M, 128 mins

People are going gaga for La La Land, and probably the nicest thing about this fact is that it shows that contemporary audiences once again have an appetite for musicals. Huh? That’s right – it’s important you know there are song and dance routines, because that’s not for everyone, but if anyone is going to convert your long-held prejudices, it’s Damien “Whiplash” Chazelle. And if you’re already sold, just jump on board.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are shaping up to be today’s equivalent of Garland and Rooney, this third outing (after Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad) demonstrating yet again their chemistry and endearing camaraderie. Sebastian is a jazz pianist struggling to turn a dream into reality; Mia is an aspiring actress who serves coffee to actual actresses at one of Hollywood’s major studios. Just as in the MGM musicals of yore, they meet-cute (tick), their initial animosity gradually translates into affection (tick) and they unselfconsciously segue into naturalistic singing and well-rehearsed dancing which is guaranteed to bring a smile to every audience member’s face. The allusions to Singin’ in the Rain are fun to spot, but La La Land’s real charm is in the fact these actors are not indentured musical monkeys from an era 60 years ago, but tangibly real people who give the impression of just being themselves.

la-la-land

Given the eviscerating script and harsh lessons of Whiplash (one of the instant classics of 2014), Chazelle may seem a strange choice to helm a modern-day, feel-good musical. However, the director’s love of jazz is front and centre, and once again his actors stepped up to the “I’ll do this myself” plate, with Gosling playing his own piano numbers, Stone’s breathy voice bringing a naturalistic charm, and the pair doing a damn fine job of mimicking the moves of Reynolds and Kelly in one delightful night-time scene.

As a depiction of Hollywood, the observations are bang-on (the distracted casting directors, the audition waiting room full of clones) but Chazelle masks most of the unpleasant aspects with gorgeous primary-colour-blocked costumes and catchy tunes you’ve never heard before. From the one-shot opening scene in which an unlikely joyous traffic jam turns into a dance routine complete with modern-day touches of parkour and BMXers, through to Stone’s wonderfully powerful closing number, La La Land takes us back to a time when we’d watch movies just to say “now that’s entertainment”.

Birdman

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 11th January 2015

The bravura style of filmmaking which will gradually reveal itself in the opening scenes will totally blow your mind, but since I don’t want to spoil that for you, I’ll stick to raving about Birdman’s incisive performances and excoriating commentary on the ills of show business. But if that’s not enough to compel you to see it, go along for the gimmick.

And so. An unexpectedly handsome Michael Keaton plays a former movie star whose glory days playing a Hollywood superhero (the titular riff on his 1990s role as Batman) are long past. (It’s so meta!) His future now hangs on a self-produced Broadway play whose longevity will be entirely contingent on the write-up of an embittered critic. (Do you think Keaton read the script through before signing up? If so, his willingness to play up this arguably art-imitates-life situation is admirable.)

Over the course of an almost real-time day and night, Keaton’s beleaguered has-been, Riggan Thomas, grapples with the needs of a benevolent ex-wife, demanding young girlfriend, difficult daughter (an eye-rolling Emma Stone), narcissistic new talent (an outstanding Edward Norton) and his own existential crisis.

It’s probably the darkest view of the movie business you’ve ever seen, and it does stoop to some pretty grim levels towards the end. But the manner of execution is so enthralling and the script so relentlessly clever, you forgive the final act flourishes which might put some viewers off recommending the film unreservedly. Perhaps it shows the non-Hollywood sensibility of Birdman’s maker: Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu made Babel and 21 Grams with Hollywood casts but always injects his stories with something of the “other”. Responsible also for writing Birdman, he is to be applauded not just for his photographic panache but delivering a gritty, captivating tale.

The in-joke is that Birdman is as much a comeback vehicle for Keaton as Riggan’s theatrical endeavour (the film has already been lauded with several Golden Globe nominations) – but this is only part of the delight. Seeing Keaton more than hold his own amongst an outstanding supporting cast is heartening; watching Norton play against the incredibly earnest types of his recent career reinforces his great breadth. Naomi Watts is brilliant at sending up artists of her ilk; Zach Galifianakis looks, as usual, to be having a blast.

With its tongue firmly in its cheek, Birdman shows there are plenty of tricks left in the game of exciting filmmaking.

Gangster Squad

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 20th January 2013

Gangster Squad is a bit of a mixed bag. You think it’s going to be stuffed to the brim with stolen cash, then discover some of it is actually counterfeit, though there is delight to be found at the occasional diamond rolling round at the bottom.

Set in post-World War Two Los Angeles, a bunch of cops join forces to bring down the city’s chief gangster, Mickey Cohen (a prostheticised Sean Penn, ruthlessly cruel despite looking rather like someone out of Dick Tracy). Jaded by years on the battlefield, the renegade officers shrug off the restrictions of their badges and use all force necessary to fight this latest incarnation of evil. Meanwhile, Cohen uses brute force to extract confessions and penance from hapless henchmen (the opening scene bars no holds in its depiction of someone being drawn and not-quite-quartered).

The all-star cast includes heartthrob du jour Ryan Gosling, playing a much lighter version of his Drive thug with a nonchalant gait and the nerve to seduce Cohen’s girlfriend Grace (Emma Stone, cute as a button but too young to convince as a world-weary moll). Gosling’s morally-flexible cop is one of a motley crew conscripted by Josh Brolin’s honourable sergeant-with-fists-of-steel to help defend the city. Actually, it’s Brolin’s pregnant wife, played by The Killing’s Mireille Enos, who determines who he’ll cast in his band of bad-asses. She needs her man home safely since they are “expecting company”. As clichéd a set-up as that is, Brolin and Enos have an easy chemistry and provide most of the film’s rare moments of quality.

Director Ruben Fleischer made Zombieland, a brilliant pastiche of zombie horror movies that provided hilarity and gross-outs in equal measure. His penchant for stylistic flourishes is somewhat tempered in this 1940s period piece, but the odd slo-mo affectation slips through, feeling slightly out of place in what is otherwise a gorgeously-costumed, lit and photographed evocation of Hollywoodland.

However, the story and dialogue is distinctly undercooked. 1997’s Oscar-winning LA Confidential took a similar tack of having police take the law into their own hands, and did it with far greater grit and panache (catapulting Antipodeans Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe into Hollywoodland for real).

By comparison Gangster Squad suffers from parading one-dimensional characters (what’s someone like Grace doing with a villain like Cohen? Why should we care for her?), while relying on the stereotypically lightweight make-up of its misfit squad: the Mexican (hilariously called Navidad Ramirez), the Negro (as he’d have been at the time), the bespectacled technical nerd, the grizzled old-timer. It’s all fun and games, but frustratingly unsubstantial.

Ultimately all we get is lots of pistol-play, engrossing enough at the time but quickly forgettable. With everything it has going for it, it’s a shame that Gangster Squad wasn’t able to roll out the big guns.

The Amazing Spider-Man

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 1st July 2012

Perhaps it was the 3D Imax experience, maybe it’s the wonderful Andrew Garfield (known for The Social Network, and a Brit who does a flawless American accent) – but having bemoaned the “need” for another Spider-Man film, I left the cinema a convert.

Banish all thoughts of the first three – apparently a “reimagining” can be a good idea after all.

Five years after the last film, we’re taken back to the very beginning, with a hint of backstory that sees Peter Parker left with his doting Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Martin Sheen and Sally Field, putting some weight behind it). Fast-forward to teenage years, and awkward Peter is being pushed around by the school jock, while ducking eye contact with the beguiling Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).

The observant will have noticed that this is a recasting as well as a reboot, but the key role of Parker is what matters most, and Garfield has just the right doe-eyed countenance to carry us through this familiar story as if it’s all new. In fact, the super-hero’s origin story is different and still plausible (well, as much as anything in a Spider-Man movie can be – suspend that disbelief) and treats the love-interest more as an integral part than a mere damsel in distress.

Director Marc Webb did 500 Days of Summer which, without wanting to detract from Garfield and Stone’s natural chemistry, may account for how charming their budding romance is portrayed. But the kissy-kissy doesn’t get in the way of some fantastic flying-through-the-city moments and some curiously exciting fight scenes between Spidey and miscellaneous ne’er-do-wells before he encounters The Lizard. Initial misgivings at the sight of Rhys Ifans were swiftly quashed and though I couldn’t tell you if the science holds water, it’s sufficiently flashy to distract.

With an exhilarating soundtrack and all the usual Marvel tropes (including an inevitable cameo from Stan Lee), this Spider-Man‘s amazingness is more than an idle boast.

Crazy Stupid Love

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 21st August 2011

Having married his soulmate at age 17 and raised three children, Cal (Steve Carell) is an uncommunicative, New Balance-wearing shadow of the man he once thought he was.

When wife Emily (Julianne Moore) requests a divorce, “Cal the Cuckold” finds himself propping up a local bar until ladies’ man Jacob offers him some tips, bemoaning: “I don’t know if I should help you or euthanase you.” Ryan Gosling is something of a poster boy for love stories, from The Notebook to the recent, and far superior, Blue Valentine.

Despite his shallow womanising as Jacob, he really should run a course in Break-Up 101 for every sartorially-challenged male, with his impressive portfolio of chat-up lines and photo-shopped physique. But, of course, he too has an itch that can only be scratched by the elusive Hannah (Emma Stone).

The film unfolds into a love hexagram, with everyone who’s fancied, in turn fancying someone else. As a plot this could be tiresome, but thanks to engaging performances from the whole cast, it’s a happyish ride, with a few tender moments. Cameos from Kevin Bacon, Marisa Tomei and singer Josh Groban go for laughs, but the core relationships manage to be sexy, as well as cute.

A for not-quite-Awesome

Easy A

This latest self-referential, incisive, teenage rom-com boasts a star-studded case and zippy script, which is just as well.  Stanley Tucci (providing all the LOLs in the movie), Patricia Clarkson and Malcolm McDowell lend excellent support to Zombieland‘s Emma Stone whose huskily-voiced observations carry an otherwise fairly hollow story along at quite a pace.

Stone plays Olive, a supposedly mousey outcast at high school, who inadvertently concocts a plan to become “somebody” by letting people think she’s sleeping with half the school.  Part-Good Samaritan (Olive’s “conquests” are all no-hopers who pay her to go along with stories that will enhance their reputations, while tarnishing hers), Olive freely admits her own motivation at first is simply to get attention.  Even if it’s the wrong kind which might scupper her chances of being with good-natured, unquestionning Todd (“Gossip Girl”s Penn Badgley, playing, er, “Gossip Girl”s Dan Humphrey, complete with literary witticisms).

Stone/Olive is a vivacious redhead, not remotely mousey – so suspension of disbelief is crucial here.  Similarly, in some instances the cross-referencing to contemporary culture (an homage to John Hughes’ films, mention of Facebook, a fleeting comment about “Gossip Girl” – thankfully not by Penn Badgley himself) serves on the one hand to ground the film in a reality we can all appreciate, but also break down the 4th wall.  The script is zingy and there are plenty of hilarious moments, and Stone is utterly charming as our protaganist.  However, the story is propped up by hyperbolic caricatures of Christian fundamentalism (not clever or new, so simply not funny any more) and a slightly cringy subplot involving Lisa Kudrow’s guidance counsellor, played the same as every character Kudrow’s ever done.  There is never any tension between Olive and her kooky, supportive parents, her wise and witty teacher (welcome back Thomas Haden Church!) or hunky Todd.  So the enjoyment resides in the performances, which, as heralded above, are thankfully terrific.

The movie seems to strive for a place in the hallowed hall of fame that includes Pretty in Pink and the seminal Breakfast Club, but I doubt it will live long in people’s memories.  It is an enjoyable piece of fluff, however, and we can expect an onwards-and-upwards rise of Emma Stone’s fame.  Get her while she’s hot.

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