Tag Archives: Musical

La La Land

“I was a bit curt. Okay, I was an asshole.”

Every year awards season brings out that one film that everyone falls head over heels in love with. Almost every time it’s a film that’s been doing the rounds for months before it gets to us in the UK and we’ve been beaten to death with headline after headline telling us how it’s the greatest film you’ve ever seen, destined to change the world.

It never does.

And neither will La La Land.

Daydreaming jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) seem to keep crossing paths with each other. When the pair eventually give in to their destiny and become a couple, they begin to push each other to follow their dreams.

Time goes on and whilst things on the surface seem fine, life just has a habit of getting in the way. As the happy couple’s aspirations start to pull them in opposite directions, the hard work just gets harder as the pair have to make some tough decisions.

Oh, and it’s a musical.

I really hate musicals. With a blinding passion. I hate them so much that I considered not going to see this preview screening and instead acting the hermit at home watching playoff football.

I dislike this genre so much that I’d rather stab myself repeatedly in the leg with a blunt pencil dipped in Ebola and knob cheese than suffer through a collection of dickheads singing and dancing their way through conversations that would be much more effective if they were just spoken. Like a normal person. Not like a dithering granny who can’t help herself as she bursts into song while washing the dishes.

Saying that, I don’t have an awful lot of time for silent cinema either, yet I gave The Artist a fair shot. It’s only right that I give the same chance to La La Land.

Unfortunately, what should be an homage to the golden age of Hollywood, feels like a grim reminder that the musical has no place in Hollywood any more.

Damien Chazelle, the director behind the sublime Whiplash has tried to capture lightning in a bottle a second time with his love letter to musical cinema. There’s no denying the man has an eye for a good film and the parts of La La Land that work, look great. He’s made a near perfect choice for his leading actors. Both Gosling and Stone are spectacular to watch and are undeniably on top form (as their recent Gold Globes wins can attest to). But the good parts don’t outweigh the poor; and there are plenty of those.

For starters, the film is dull. Just dull. Its overlong runtime of around two hours feels stretched to within an inch of its life as we watch this pair of dullards, seemingly unable to get their shit together, sing and dance through their lives. Apart from the opening salvo of imbeciles dancing and singing over cars on a packed motorway, and a concert with John Legend doing the singing, I’m pretty sure that Gosling and Stone are the only ones doing any vocal work. So dragged out is this damp lumpy fart of a movie that I was begging for it to be over. I was checking my watch hoping to see the time tick away faster. I was sick of listening to their voices.

Let’s be honest about this, whether or not I like musicals, I should be able to remember some of the songs, right? Nope. All of them are completely forgettable. Considering the film’s biggest song “City of Stars” won the Golden Globe for Best Song, it’s pretty bad that 12 hours after I saw the film, I can remember nothing but the opening line. It’s “City of stars”, if you’re wondering.

La La Land shifts its tone so often that it doesn’t feel like I’m watching a musical or a romantic drama. It feels like a mish-mash of ideas splattered onto a page with little regard for how it plays out. As a romance-filled drama, it almost plays well; but just as it looks like it might do something interesting, it bitch slaps you with another rubbish, forgettable song that resets any good will it had dragged from me back down to zero.

The awards it has garnered in the last day and the untold number of people ejaculating over social media, thoroughly in love with this shambles of a film, tell me I’m in a very small minority when it comes to my negative views on this musical farce. But don’t worry friends, I hate it enough to balance the books perfectly. What a complete waste of two hours that I’ll never get back.

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Into The Woods

Watered down for family viewing, this Brothers Grimm musical mashup sails a sea of mediocrity for two hours leaving you feeling that something is most definitely missing.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

into the woodsIt’s a strange feeling to go into a Disney film with lowered expectations. It’s a weird mind-set to have knowing that the last few musicals you sat through knocked out any hope that you might ever enjoy one again. But hey, I grew up on old school Disney animation and can still to this day reel off the lyrics to all the songs in The Jungle Book and Aladdin. So if any film was going to restore my faith in family films I can sing along to with the kids like we used to back in the day, it’s got to be Disney, right? Sadly, I don’t think this is the movie my childhood needed it to be.

I confess, until very recently, I had no idea what Into the Woods was. I hadn’t heard of the stage production and I had absolutely no idea that it was almost 30 years old. When I did get through a detailed synopsis and understood the concept, my initial reaction was surprise. Not that it was being adapted to film, but that it hadn’t been done twenty years ago. Upon continued reading, I thought I discovered the reason for the film’s existence. The story has some quite dark themes. Themes that have been touched upon in a lot of the Grimm fairy tales, but that have never really come to life in the countless animated movies Disney have given us. With the recent success of Maleficent, a film with some very dark undertones, I thought I could see what was coming and I got quite excited about seeing more of the same from Disney’s latest.

Adapted for the screen by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, the creators of the stage show and its music, Into The Woods is the story of a baker and his wife (James Cordon and Emily Blunt) who are desperately trying for a family. Forced to take on a quest to search out items that an evil witch (Meryl Streep) needs for a spell. In exchange for these seemingly benign objects, the witch will remove the curse she herself placed on them to prevent them having kids. A spell she cooked up in revenge of the baker’s father stealing her magic beans.

Seems reasonable to me. You steal my rubbish beans, I curse all your children to an eternity of Brewer’s droop. A good, proportionate response, right?

Anyways. These items are the start of the recipe for a melting pot of fairy tales that plays out almost exactly as you would expect them to. The very good Emily Blunt and the pretty pants James Corden set off into the woods in search of a cow, a red cape, a slipper and a lock of blonde hair, inserting themselves into all your favourite kids’ stories to steal stuff and get in the way. Judging from its genre descriptions on IMDb, I’m almost positive that it’s here that hilarity is supposed to ensue.

What follows is a couple of hours of story with no real direction. Rob Marshall (the guy that made the very good Chicago, the boring Nine and the bland Pirates of the Caribbean 4) doesn’t seem to know where to go with each scene. Having not seen the stage production, I can only assume that this is how it plays out on Broadway, but it just seems aimless. Jack gets his beanstalk in lightning quick time but it takes Cinderella three days to lose her shoe. Red Riding Hood takes seconds to play out her story with the Wolf and we either have a massive decade long gap between scenes or Rapunzel is soaking her head in Miracle-Gro at night. It’s just all over the shop. Each scene comes with a new song and a new reason to roll your eyes. Aside from a couple of the musical numbers, none are delivered with any heart or passion. It’s difficult to describe what feels so wrong with the delivery considering the very point of a musical is to sing the script, but it just feels like the music has been shoehorned in and none of the cast are happy about it.

For the most part, the acting seems just as erratic. But a few, for better or worse, deserve special mention. Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt are excellent in their roles. Streep’s wicked witch routine is sublime. Her hag filmography is starting to fill out nicely with this and Maggie Thatcher vying for the top spot. The usually very good Anna Kendrick’s performance as Cinderella is, maybe ironically, best described as wishy-washy. She doesn’t seem like she’s having any fun in maybe the most recognisable role in the film. The film’s two princes are just embarrassing! Played by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen, they both seem to be channelling Errol Flynn, trying to swash and buckle their way through their respective tales and joining up for a very, VERY camp musical number at the top of a waterfall. Pine’s prince seems the more “Disney” of the two, if you can look past the fact that for his first five or so scenes, I thought it was James Van Der Beek with a bad accent. Nope, it turns out it was Captain Kirk, with a bad accent. But the relatively unknown (at least, to me) Billy Magnussen’s prince is completely out of place. Several of his key scenes have a slapstick element to it which while I expected a comedy, felt like I would find them as deleted scenes on the Robin Hood: Men in Tights DVD.

Finally, Disney have carried on their tradition of trying to sell you everything by having an appearance from Johnny Depp in a silly hat! You’d be forgiven for going in expecting more than the five minutes screen time he gets, but in those few minutes he does a spectacular job of proving that he’s become a real one trick pony. Looking like he’s just tripped and stumbled onto the set while he was on a smoke break from the latest Tim Burton film he’s in, Depp overacts his role as the Wolf clearly in the hope that one day there will be an Oscar for cameos!

Rob Marshall clearly set out with good intentions, and I have to believe that if the creators behind the original show were involved in its adaptation then at least a token show of intent was made to bring all the story’s themes across from the stage. The problem is, in an attempt to sell us a family friendly fantasy, Disney have diluted the second half of the film. Maleficent this ain’t. It’s not even that they appear to have changed things, I just got the feeling that large chunks of story have simply been removed. A whole lot of build-up sadly gives way to a rushed second half and an unsatisfying ending with none of the cautionary tale that I knew should have been there.

Overall, as far as films go, as far as musicals go, even as far as Disney adaptations go, it’s just there. Not as good as Chicago, not as pretentious as Les Miserables and not as crap as Sweeney Todd. It’s just forgettable, inoffensive, uninspired guff.

Into The Woods is in cinemas this weekend. Tune in to our next podcast to here Andrew make his debut and chat about Disney’s latest musical with the rest of the gang.

Failed Critics Podcast: Les Miserables

Do you hear the critics sing?

Podding the thoughts of angry men,

They are the musings of a people who won’t watch Rock of Ages again,

When the bleating of the fool,

Echoes the bleating of the drunk,

There is podcast about to start when tomorrow comes!

That’s right, James has finally managed to persuade the critics back into the cinema to see another musical, and hopefully this time they won’t want to kill him afterwards. Also on our big return we review new releases Gangster Squad, The Sessions, The Impossible, and Quartet.

Join us next week as we review Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. The D is silent, the podcast won’t be…

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

The obligatory Les Misérables review

les mis anne hathawayLes Misérables is my Lord of the Rings. I’ve been anticipating this film for a long time, simultaneously excited and worried they’re going to balls it up.

Let’s tackle the elephant in the room first of all. And no, I don’t mean the actual Elephant of the Bastille monument that the students lark about on in later scenes. I mean Russell Crowe‘s really shit singing. Here’s a little tip for any other theatre producers thinking of transferring their global phenomenon stage musical to the big screen: if there are rumblings about one of your leading actor’s singing not being up to scratch, don’t give him the opening line of the sodding film! My first thought was ‘oh god’. My second thought was ‘I can’t work out what he sounds like and it’s going to bug me for the next 157 minutes’. And my third thought (don’t worry, I’m not going to document every thought that entered my head throughout the film, that would be terrifying) was ‘oh yes, I’ve worked it out’.

The first few minutes are all a bit random really. Crowe’s Javert is great at riding a horse, and being downright menacing, so long as he isn’t carrying a (nasal) tune. Hugh Jackman‘s Valjean looks as rough as someone who’s spent 19 years in prison lugging boats around has every right to and, when he speaks, he sounds like he has a mouthful of spoons. That, coupled with the fact that they’re doing this weird sing/talk hybrid, and I can see why newcomers and reluctant viewers might have been a little put off. I struggled to enjoy it at first, and I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Les Mis fan. Ideally, they should have swapped it around a bit, and started the film with one of the more solid performances. But I guess they felt that telling the story out of chronological sequence, Pulp Fiction style, was unbecoming. Bloody theatre snobs.

Luckily, while I was still wondering whether this was actually going to be any good, Anne Hathaway turned up, had all her hair chopped off, sang a song, won an Oscar, and promptly died, all within the space of about 15 minutes. Nailed it, Hathaway.

By now, eight years have passed and Valjean’s had a chance to have a wash and remove all those spoons from his mouth, and scrubs up pretty nicely indeed. Hello Mr Mayor! It’s like that bit in Friends where Monica & Rachel mistake some guy for a yeti, but then he cuts his hair and he’s really hot. Or, you know, a reference to something far more highbrow. He sets off to rescue little Cosette (neatly skimming over the fact that he was kind of responsible for her mother’s untimely death) and give her a better life. Which means that she’ll get to wear pretty bonnets and no longer have to fetch water from that scary well, but she’ll never have any mates ever, and will always have to be ready to abscond at a moment’s notice, because her dad’s in some kind of unexplained, self imposed witness protection scheme.

At this point you should insert a new song, which we all know was crowbarred in to add one more Oscar nomination to the haul. The lyrics should be reminiscent of something Westlife would sing, while perched atop stools on a Top of the Pops stage.

Another nine years pass and, while the French revolution rumbles away in the background, Javert is still hunting for Valjean. Tip: he’s the one lugging the giant candlestick wherever he goes. Meanwhile Cosette falls in love, Valjean prepares to do another runner, and some students get pissed and shout ‘red’ and ‘black’ over and over again. This is all leading to the most rousing, and my absolute favourite, song of the stage show, One Day More. On screen I’m not entirely sure it meshed perfectly, but I’d have to see it again to be sure. At the theatre, this juncture would be your interval. But there’s no time for a gin & tonic at the cinema, people. The bleakness is unremitting as we immediately plough on with act two.

The thing is, I don’t actually find it all that gloomy. Within the context of 19th century France, I’d say they’re quite a cheery bunch really. Nonetheless, the Thénardiers are important for the purposes of comic relief. You would have thought that noted comic actors Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter would have pulled this off with aplomb. But I’m sad to say they did not. Master of the House felt like a dress rehearsal of something that could have, eventually, been great; while other killer lines are lost in the direction altogether. Shame, really.

While I don’t want this review to be entirely about Russell Crowe’s singing (I only want it to be 95% about that), his performance of Stars cannot go unmentioned. Stars is Javert’s big moment. His Anne Hathaway, if you will. Maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt, and suggest that the director was more concerned with having him balance along the edge of a really tall building than hitting some/any of the big notes. But Stars has been dumbed down so much it is rendered almost meaningless. And I know these songs, let me tell you. I’ve seen Les Misérables probably five times on the West End, plus a couple of school/college performances, and have driven the length of the M5 listening to the CD on more than one occasion.

There is plenty of enjoyment to be gained for fans of the show. The always ridiculous runaway cart becomes the fallen cart, seemingly because they couldn’t even be arsed to push it down a hill this time. The obligatory Cockney kid screaming ‘Vive le Francais!’ is good for a wry smile. And Enjolras pulls off a very fine version of the barricades death back-flip. There is also the amazing moment where, after dragging his future son-in-law (rather than just a bag of shoes and some money laundering paperwork) through endless sewers, Jackman emerges covered head to toe in shit, save for his beady white eyes. It’s brilliantly horrific.

I’m a fan, I’m predisposed to like it. There is good (outstanding) and bad (embarrassingly disappointing). But, ultimately, Les Misérables is more than the sum of its parts. Even if one of those parts is a New Zealand-born Australian actor who sounds like he’s making a three pints down attempt at “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears on Sing Star.

One final note of thanks to the impeccably behaved audience of the completely sold out 8pm showing at Leicester Showcase on Friday night, who watched the film in total silence and applauded at the end. You restored my faith in cinema-going.