Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Live By Night 2016

Sometimes I really regret my unwavering decision to never read reviews before watching a film. I could have been saved so much misery if I had read the reviews for Live By Night. Universally panned, this film adds nothing to the 'gangster' genre or the Prohibition-era dramas.

Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is a small-time crook, dating a notorious Irish gangster's moll (Sienna Miller). He gets punished for this indiscretion with a beating that leaves him inches from his death, while his beloved girl is reportedly drowned for her folly. After recovering from his wounds, and serving a sentence of just a few years for robbery, Joe joins a rival Italian gang, moves to the south and starts working with Cubans to expand the alcohol trade, while steering clear of drug money. He is instructed to set up a legalised gambling business, which he fails at, because the recovering drug addict daughter (Elle Fanning) of the Sheriff (Chris Cooper) is able to whip the church goers into a frenzy about the evils of gambling - which prevents this from becoming a legal trade. Eventually the enraged Italian mobster makes a deal with the Irish gangster we met at the start, they both come down south to kill Coughlin and to hand the business over to the Italian gangster's son. Of course, Coughlin kills everyone, finds out that Sienna Miller is still alive, has a pointless chat with her and goes back to his Cuban wife (Zoe Saldana), who produces a son, and promptly gets killed in a drive by shooting. The film ends on some half-hearted message about karma.

The film potters clumsily from one scenario to the next, with cringe-worthy dialogue, terrible acting and interminable scenes. There are possibly two or three rare moments of clever writing, which are instantly followed by the characters explaining the joke or the trick in detail (for anyone who has seen the film, think of the 'marked bottles' trick, or the 'Digger' joke, both of which were killed by the moment after you finished smiling).

This film exploits the mediocrity of 'talents' Ben Affleck possesses. Awful writer, check. Terrible director and producer, check (honestly, no one has ever been able to get Chris Cooper to act so badly. EVER). Charmless actor, check (he has a smirk and a frown - that's the sum total of expressions on his wooden face - and he's no Bruce Willis so he can't even make those expressions work to his benefit). Whatever respect he garnered with Argo (2012), he has lost again. Maybe, it was Jennifer GARNER who had turned his life around - and with his baby gone, he's a loser again. Bad joke? Sure. It's a terrible joke. But it's better than any line from the film. So there!

The year is barely 2 weeks old - and this is probably the worst film I'll see all year. AVOID at all costs.

Monday, 16 January 2017

La La Land 2016

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Dancing. And singing. In an old-school musical, set in the present day. What could go wrong? Lots apparently; not that the Golden Globes have noticed.

Sebastian (Gosling) and Mia (Stone) are both hopefuls living in LA. One wants to be a great jazz musician, with his own club that will revive the tradition of jazz, while he plays Christmas jingles at run-down restaurants. The other wants to be a great actress, known for her talent, while she serves coffee in the local cafe. They meet, they fall in love, good things happen, bad things happen, life happens. All with a song and dance to keep you entertained. The end.

Now we don't expect a musical to have a ground-breaking story. I mean there is a pattern to the genre, and to give the film its due, the pattern is followed well here. But what you expect from a musical is flawless dancing...set pieces that make you gush...songs that are not only well-composed and memorable, but are sung beautifully. Just a few years ago, we forgave Pierce Brosnan (or did we) and Meryl Streep for trashing Abba's repertoire - and we did that because the songs were well-known, we have all sung them badly, and the actors seemed to be having a great time on a Greek island; so we all felt like we were on a holiday with them.

But La La Land, in some way, seems to be pretending to be better than that. In its heart it seems to believe that it is to the Musical, what The Artist (2011) was to the Silent film. It thinks it's a revival. isn't. The dances aren't flawless, the choreography isn't breathtaking, the tunes aren't that memorable, the singing is REALLY nowhere close to good. And honestly, Bollywood produces about 200 films every year that do a better job at creating set pieces worth watching.

If it wasn't for Emma Stone's unbelievably emotive eyes, and Ryan Gosling's heart-melting expressions, I would wonder why this film got any attention at all. Dancers they may not be, singers they are not, but actors they definitely are the best of. And they deliver an entertaining film, with their combined effort...and effortless, natural chemistry. Their dancing appears cute, their singing sounds sweet, and you want to give them points for trying. Plus, the last 15 minutes of the film are more poignant and beautiful than the entire rest of the film.

Worth watching, because it does make you smile. But lower those expectations that the record 7 Golden Globe wins may have raised - because the film isn't all that good.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Assassin's Creed 2016

I once used to boast that I 'found' Michael Fassbender first...such was my devotion to his acting and persona that I felt the need to claim him. This was, of course, before he acted in a long list of films that disappointed me to the core. To be fair to him, even in the unbearable Macbeth (2015), he was the sole bearable component. Barely, but bearable nonetheless...

But now he's really done it. He's ended my blind fandom. I went to see Assassin's Creed for him. I thought, "He's a wonderful, brooding actor. He'll do a great job with this multi-dimensional (literally) character". But I should have broken my own rule, and read a review or two before watching this film. If nothing else, I would have learnt that the film not only stars Marion Cotillard, a consistently disappointing actress whenever she performs in the English language, but also that this scifi-fantasy-thriller-drama was directed by the same criminal (Justin Kurzel #neverforget), who slaughtered my favourite Shakespeare play just the year before...with the same two actors in the lead.

The film is inspired by the video game franchise, but features an 'original' story that goes thus: a bunch of convicts have been rounded up by the distinctly French Sophia (Cotillard) and her distinctly English father Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), as they are the direct descendants of the Assassins, who were protecting a prince in Granada in 1492. Star convict Callum (Fassbender) is a direct descendant of star Assassin Aguilar (also Fassbender), who seems to have hid an Apple (yes, an apple) that was central to Adam and Eve being cast out of heaven (and yet the apple remains whole...where's the bite???), which was being sought by the Templars back in the day, as it holds the genetic code for free will (oh dear God, my head will explode). So Callum is strapped to a machine and he enters the 'Animus', meaning he gets to relive Aguilar's memories. Yada yada yada, cut to the chase, Sophia is doing all this in the name of science, while her daddy is the modern day Templar, whose sole purpose was to get at the Apple. The film is called Assassin's Creed and the main Assassin is played by Michael you really think the Templars will win this?

The dialogues, the acting, the direction, EVEN the action is all so bad that each minute feels interminable. A lacklustre project that somehow pretends to have depth by throwing in some scenes in Spanish, some mindless religious mumbo-jumbo that makes no sense at all, and some heavy, brooding moments...except it all comes across as super lame, thanks to the terrible writing.

Please, please, please don't watch it. Don't encourage them to make another one. Please.