Tag Archives: Emma Stone

La La Land (2016)

Of all the movie genres out there, I would say the musical is probably my least favourite, followed by romance. There’s just something about suddenly breaking into song and dance that takes me out of a film, and most romance flicks are done so poorly that they make me cringe with embarrassment. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part I try to avoid them. La La Land, the eagerly anticipated follow-up to director Damien Chapelle’s Whiplash, has received a lot of acclaim, and yet I still did not know what to expect because it is both a musical and a romance.

Well, I finally got around to watching it at the cinema today, and all I can say is, “Wow”. I don’t think I have ever watched a movie knowing it has received good reviews and then having it exceed my expectations this much. 

The premise is actually quite simple: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone play a jazz pianist and an aspiring actress, respectively, who come to Los Angeles to pursue their dreams.  That’s pretty much all you need to know, but it is a romance after all. so you know they are going to meet and fall in love. However, it is the way that this is portrayed that makes the film so engrossing. We already know that Gosling and Stone have excellent chemistry from Crazy, Stupid, Love, and here they elevated to a whole other level. There is just something really organic about their interactions, which never feel forced or contrived. It also helps that they are both well-developed and likable characters you want to root for. 

The first half of the film is sweet, dreamy and full of energy, just like the characters pursuing their dreams and falling in love. The second half is darker and more serious as it deals with the practical realities of their lives and careers. I don’t recall a movie in recent memory that got me genuinely smiling (not because of a joke, but because of how joyful it is) and then genuinely on the verge of tears. It’s one of nose rare bittersweet films that sucked me in right from the beginning, warmed my heart, then damn near broke it. I can’t imagine how people who are have really gone to LA to pursue their dreams feel when they watch this movie. As I said, I usually don’t like romance films because they’re so poorly made. La La Land, on the other hand, nails it perfectly.

The other thing I was afraid of, the singing and dancing, surprisingly did not bother me. Part of it is because the songs are so fantastic and catchy, and part of it because the lyrics fit the emotions of the narrative so well. And part of it is because the amazing choreography and the way it was shot is so flawless. I was sold from the opening  sequence that really set the tone for the rest of the film. I had always felt that musicals would be better confined to stage plays, but the incredible long takes and creative camera angles, as well as the way Chazelle blends them in with the stunning cinematography, makes La La Land an experience built for the big screen.

Full credit must go to Gosling and stone for their performances, both of which deserve Oscar nominations if not wins. They play off each other seamlessly, from the silly banter to the serious conversations to the cute duets and dance numbers. It was almost a little annoying to see such highly attractive and fit people be able to sing and dance this well. And who the heck knew that Gosling was such a good piano player?

Chazelle has also made himself a favorite for Best Director and Best Screenplay by proving that Whiplash was no fluke. La La Land is so different from Whiplash, and yet both films exude the same type of self-assured confidence and controlled pacing. I can’t wait to see what Chazelle comes up with next. 

I’ve heard some people call La La Land a love letter to Los Angeles, and I guess you could construe it that way. I just think it’s a brilliant, funny, sweet, heart-felt movie from start to finish. There were a couple of decisions I perceive as minor missteps, though on the whole, there’s really nothing to dampen how I feel about the movie. Perhaps it’s just the dreamer in me talking, but I just can’t believe how much I love it.

5 stars out of 5!

PS: I literally walked out of the cinema after watching La La land to discover that it had won a record seven awards at the Golden Globes with a clean sweep. I’m not usually one for hyperboles, but it’s well-deserved. I still have a few films left to watch that could potentially knock it off its perch, but as of now, La La Land is the best 2016 release I’ve seen.

Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

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Say what you want about the man’s morally questionable private life, but when it comes to movies, Woody Allen only has good ones and disappointing ones, because even at their worst his films are still pretty watchable.

Sadly, I place Magic in the Moonlight in the disappointing category — though only relative to my high expectations. With a charming cast headed by Colin Firth and Emma Stone and an intriguing premise about magicians and psychics, I had been hoping for a magical experience (no pun intended) in the vein of Midnight in Paris, one of my faves from 2011. Woody was coming off the awesome Blue Jasmine in 2013, so I thought the momentum could carry over.

Alas, the romantic comedy never quite got there for me. It’s a sweet flick good enough to deliver a few laughs and enchanting moments, though it is also so slight and forgettable that it’s hard to place the movie anywhere but in the middle of the road in Woody Allen’s formidable filmography.

The film did hook me in straight away. Set in the late 1920s, the story is focused on a paranormal debunker named Stanley (Colin Firth), who earns his money in disguise as Wei Ling Soo, a world famous illusionist from the Orient. Stanley’s world is turned upside down when he meets a young clairvoyant and mystic named Sophie (Emma Stone), who begins to confound him with what appear to be genuine abilities.

Despite the age gap (what else did you expect from Woody?), the chemistry between Firth and Stone is fantastic, even though the latter doesn’t totally convince as someone from that era. I enjoyed watching the two grow close through an assortment of witty banter and neurosis typically found in Woody Allen movies. The humour is light but effective, but what kept my interest more than anything was the mystery of Sophie’s abilities and the impact it had on a hardcore sceptic convinced of the randomness and meaninglessness of the universe.

The supporting characters are also funny albeit being more like caricatures. I particularly enjoyed the performances of Hamish Linklater as Brice, a well-meaning and very wealthy young man pining after Sophie, Marcia Gay Harden as Sophie’s protective mother, and Aussie legend Jackie Weaver as Grace, a grieving widow perfect for Sophie to exhibit her powers.

I agree Magic in the Moonlight is an interesting and pleasant film to watch — it’s just not the kind of film that will wow you or raise your pulse or even generate any kind of noticeable emotional response. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just would have preferred more energy and a greater sense of wonder to make me care more about the story and the characters.

Perhaps “disappointing” is being harsh, since I enjoyed Magic in the Moonlight for what it was — a bit of lighthearted fun you’ll probably never think of again once the end credits roll. I wanted a little more from Woody than just that, though it’s still not a bad film to check out when you feel like simply sitting back and relaxing on a boring afternoon.

3.25 stars out of 5

Aloha (2015)

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It’s so unfortunate that Aloha, the new Cameron Crowe film, will forever be remembered for its supposed “whitewashing” and controversial casting of Emma Stone as a quarter-Hawaiian character. Because what it should really be remembered for is being a shit movie.

Truth be told, I was ready to play devil’s advocate. I had planned to be the guy to tell everyone to lay off this film. Seriously, all that furore over the lack of Hawaiians and the casting. Who gives a shit? It’s Crowe’s movie. It’s his prerogative to focus on whatever characters he wants, cast whoever he wants. Why can’t a film based in Hawaii focus on white characters? Are there no white people in Hawaii? Are there no white soldiers based there? Why must he tell the story you think he should tell rather than the story he wants to tell? Call it bad casting or writing, but don’t make it political. It would be a different story if the film was based on true events, but it’s not, so what’s the big deal?

To be fair, Stone’s character might have attracted less attention had she not been blonde and her surname not been “Ng”. It may have been wiser to make her say one-eighth or even one-sixteenth Hawaiian, or change the last name to something more Anglo. But you’re telling me there are no blonde quarter-Hawaiians in this world? Or that there are no blonde Ngs on this planet? (Apparently the character was based on a real-life red-head). Don’t shit on the movie because of that — not when there are so many other things you should be shitting on the movie for.

Let’s start with the premise. Bradley Cooper is Brian Gilcrest, a disillusioned, cynical former soldier who has become a contractor for a billionaire played by Bill Murray. Gilcrest goes to Hawaii to help negotiate a deal with a Hawaiian king to support the launch of a private satellite, and while there, he meets young and naive pilot Allison Ng (Stone) and bumps into his ex-girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams), who is now married to Woody (John Krasinski) and has two kids.

If that sounds boring to you, that’s because it is. Crowe’s got some interesting ideas on his CV, such as Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, We Bought a Zoo, but Aloha is not one of them. The film never seems to be able to settle on a proper focus, drifting around aimlessly between Gilcrest’s work and his relationships with Ng and Tracy. The problem is, none of those three things are compelling. They’re either uninteresting, cliched or predictable. Crowe is usually pretty good tricking audiences into falling for sentimentality, though in this case I thought all the tactics were far too obvious.

To make matters worse, none of the characters are charismatic, which is an amazing feat given that it stars three of the most charismatic actors around today in Cooper, Stone and McAdams. Gilcrest just seems blase all the time, while Ng is overly enthusiastic about everything, to the extent that her character feels contrived. Tracy isn’t very sympathetic either, and Woody only has a few scenes to provide comedic relief.

Speaking of which, though the film is promoted as a comedy-drama, Aloha is almost completely devoid of laughs. I can’t think of a single joke in the film apart from one very strange scene towards the end, though it is so different in tone to the rest of the film that it just becomes jarring.

I suppose Crowe was aiming for a Hawaiian-themed film similar to Alexander Payne’s 2011 effort The Descendants (the one with George Clooney and Shailene Woodley). That one was also a laid back drama with familial themes, but it was also much better crafted and a lot funnier. Aloha, on the other hand, is all over the place, with a dull premise, poor storytelling and characters not worth caring for. I kept wondering how such a simple story could be such a struggle to follow, and then I realised it was because I simply didn’t care enough. Even without the controversy, Aloha is a real mess, one that even its talented cast could not salvage.

1.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Birdman (2014)

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I was real amped up to see Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). I had zero idea what it was about and had only seen the poster and flashes of the trailer — but I was convinced it would be brilliant from all the critical acclaim and award nominations. Even word-of-mouth reviews were overwhelmingly positive, with only one claim of apparent “pretentiousness.”

And so it saddens me to say I found Birdman a relative disappointment. It’s indeed a remarkable film that deserves the accolades — whether it is the stylish and complex direction of Alejandro González Iñárritu, the worthy Oscar-nominated performances of Michael Keaton, Emma Stone and Edward Norton, or the ridiculously impressive script (co-written by Iñárritu) — but the totality of the viewing experience felt ultimately hollow. It’s a technically amazing work of art that didn’t connect with me at a deeper level for whatever reason.

Birdman is a coal-black comedy; a filmmakers’ film for Hollywood and Broadway insiders. Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a former Hollywood star who once found fame as the masked superhero Birdman but now finds himself fading into obscurity in the internet age. To regain relevance and self-respect, he writes, directs and produces an adaptation of a Raymond Carver story — with himself in the lead role, of course — on Broadway. That’s the core of the film, though there are always subplots spiralling around him, from his feisty rehab-returned daughter (Emma Stone) and ex-wife (Amy Ryan) to his undermining new star recruit (Edward Norton) and occasional fling (Andrea Riseborough). Also in the all-star cast are Naomi Watts, playing a first-time Broadway performer, a slimmed-down and surprisingly serious Zach Galifianakis as Riggan’s lawyer, and Lindsay Duncan as a theater critic out to get him. On top of all that, Riggan has his old character Birdman talking in his ear all the time, AND he might have actual superpowers.

It’s a delicious mess of interesting ideas and characters that moves around at neck-breaking pace, but the script and direction of Iñárritu manages to keep Birdman a very tight and controlled experience where everything is by design. One of the most noticeable things about the film is the deliberate lack of cuts. Apart from a few minor exceptions, most of the movie rolls along as though it was filmed in one long continuous take, with the camera moving around from one set piece to another and following one character after another. On the one hand it keeps the pace up and the action fluid without breaks, much like real life, while on the other it provides a nice contrast to the stage production depicted in the film. I was impressed by it (as I was when I saw Gravity the year before) and didn’t find it a distraction, though at times it felt like a decision intended to add to the “wow” factor of the film’s technical superiority as opposed to something that adds substance to the film’s narrative.

The film also weaves multiple ideas and techniques in a clever way by embracing traditional movie cliches — the aging actor’s last hurrah, the rebellious offspring, the egotistical performer trying to steal the limelight, the biased critic, etc — and putting a twist on it. The choice of Michael Keaton as Riggan/Birdman was obviously intentional, given that Keaton hasn’t exactly done much since he played another masked crusader all those years ago, and I doubt it’s a coincidence that Edward Norton was chosen to play an actor with a reputation of being difficult to work with. Yet both guys run with the roles and deliver arguably two of the best male performances of the year to nab well-deserved Oscar nominations.

With all these established names in the cast, it’s probably more difficult for the acting to be poor in this film than for it to be absolutely terrific, and even watching it you get the sense that the actors are having a lot of fun showing off what they can do.

I actually think Birdman is in some ways very similar to The Grand Budapest Hotel (review here), coincidentally another Best Picture nominee leading the Oscars pack with nine nominations. Both critically-acclaimed films are tightly wound and have bold, supremely confident scripts filled with rapid-fire dialogue that will probably be used as examples in screenwriter classes around the world. Both are also clever comedies, though the humour in Birdman is darker and more subtle.

Just like The Grand Budapest Hotel, however, I also found Birdman difficult to form an emotional connection with. In both cases I was in awe of the production — the script, the direction and the acting — and yet I wouldn’t consider either one as a film I loved, a profound experience, or something I would want to watch over and over again. To put it another way — I can point to truly great things about the films rather than point to the films as truly great. The individual components of Birdman are undoubtedly top-class, but the whole came across less than the sum of its parts. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy Birdman or was not entertained by it, it’s just that I found myself more impressed by it than being genuinely fond of it.

3.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

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I thought The Amazing Spider-Man, the first of the new series reboot from 2012, was OK. I prefer the leads, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, more than their predecessors Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, and the special effects were obviously improved, but the two films were far too close in temporal proximity and contained too many similar plot points and dynamics for my liking.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2, on the other hand, feels very different to its corresponding predecessor. But it’s still just OK. The main problem with it is that it feels generic, unable to distinguish itself from the plethora of superhero flicks out there, and perhaps even among the 5 Spider-Man films in the last 12 years. There’s all the flying around, dangling from building to building, acting smug in front of thugs; the rise of a new villain, or villains; and of course, the romance and the friendships and the family drama, including trying to piece together his father’s mysterious past. Not to say it’s not well-executed, but there really wasn’t anything — barring a couple of surprises– that I hadn’t seen before, and there wasn’t a whole lot to help it stand out from the crowd.

Allow me to backtrack a little. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 picks up not long after the first one ended, with Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) trying, and failing, to stay away from his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), after promising her dying father that he’d do so to keep her safe. Meanwhile, we are introduced to a neglected engineer, Max Dillion (Jamie Foxx), who is about to become Spider-Man’s next villain, Electro, and reintroduced to Peter’s childhood friend, Harry Osborne (Dane DeHann, who was fantastic in the underrated Chronicle), who we know will eventually become…well, yeah.

So there’s not many surprises in the early going, with the majority of the screen time dedicated to setting up the characters and Peter going through his typical internal struggles. On the bright side, director Marc Webb, who gave us the brilliant 500 Days of Summer, knows a thing or two about depicting relationships, and the chemistry between Garfield and Stone is great thanks to their real-life courtship, so the melodrama was not as melodramatic as it could have been.

Personally, I found the Peter-Gwen relationship a little dull, largely because there wasn’t a third party involved to threaten their love for one another. Fortunately, I thought the relationship between Peter and his aunt (Sally Field) more than made up for the central romance and actually contained quite a few touching moments.

Of the villains, I thought Foxx and DeHann did what they could with the characters but both should have been a lot more. Electro, in particular, isn’t even a real villain per se — he’s just some poor, bullied guy with an obvious mental illness. His powers are formidable — he’s a mix of DeHann in Chronicle, Emperor Palpatine, and the dude from the PS3 game Infamous, plus a touch of Billy Crudup from Watchmen — and yet when he goes up against Spidey his abilities suddenly become less unstoppable. And that’s a big part of the problem with the film — you never feel as though Spider-Man is ever in any real danger, even when he’s being battered and tossed around like a ragged doll.

The action sequences, filled with high-definition slow-motion movements, are impressive and something we haven’t seen before in the franchise (at least I think that’s the case). But Spider-Man’s apparent invincibility and the video-gamey nature of the fights take away a significant chunk of the realism and sense of danger, leaving us with pretty albeit emotionless action that ought to have been more exciting.

I also found the storytelling lacking in focus, resulting in an uneven film which struggled to keep track of all the strands of the narrative and the excess of characters. More doesn’t always mean better, and I think it would have been a better film if Webb had pared back the silly 142-minute running time to something more manageable, and in doing so take out some of the unnecessary plot points and character/relationship development moments. One of these would have been Paul Giamatti’s character, a Russian mobster who would become what I assume is a villain in the next instalment.

And yes, there will be at least one, potentially two more instalments in the rebooted franchise. There isn’t nothing strictly wrong with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — Marvel rarely makes “bad” superhero movies and this is neither great nor terrible, just visually spectacular, above-average generic entertainment — but they’ll have to take a fresh approach and mix things up a bit if they wish to revive the franchise in 2016.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (2D) (2012)

 

I have mixed feelings about The Amazing Spider-Man, the reboot of the Sam Raimi franchise which began in 2002 and ended just five years ago. On the one hand, it is a spectacular action film with cool special effects that is arguably more faithful to the comics (Spider-Man’s web, for instance, was invented by Peter Parker rather than biological), but on the other it felt too similar to the 2002 film.

I had high expectations for The Amazing Spider-Man, and it’s not just because I am a much bigger fan of the two new lead stars, Andrew Garfield (Eduardo Saverin from The Social Network) and Emma Stone, than the original duo of Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. And it’s not because the film is directed by Marc Webb, who was at the helm of one of my favourite movies, 500 Days of Summer. It’s simply because I think Spider-Man is a cool superhero and an interesting character. And because the reboot of the Batman franchise with Christian Bale has been so ridiculously awesome and different to the Michael Keaton/Val Kilmer/George Clooney one that I expected a completely new spin on the character and story.

Unfortunately, The Amazing Spider-Man is not all that different to the film made 10 years ago. Yes, there are some major differences in the story, such as a new love interest (Stone plays Gwen Stacy — who was played by Bryce Dallas Howard in Spider-Man 3) and a new villain, The Lizard, played by Rhys Ifans. Both are actually upgrades on Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson and Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin. Yes, this one also has a slightly more in-depth origin story that is linked back to Peter Parker’s parents (though more will probably be revealed in the inevitable sequel). But a lot of the plot points were virtually identical (without giving anything away), begging the question of why they needed to reboot the franchise in the first place.

If you haven’t seen the 2002 version or it’s not fresh in your mind, then you will probably have a great time. For some reason, I still remember a lot of it vividly, and as a result I kept getting a sense of deja vu. I know a lot of it was inevitable because they are core plot points in the Spider-Man origins story, but it certainly sucked the freshness out of it. I never got that feeling watching Batman Begins, which was a genuine “reboot” in every sense of the word.

On the bright side, The Amazing Spider-Man is exciting. The action sequences are clearer and more fluid than they were 10 years ago, and also very creative in the way they play out. I didn’t watch the 3D version but I suppose 3D effects could have enhanced certain scenes.

Rhys Ifans makes a wonderful, tormented semi-villain, and Dennis Leary has great presence as the city’s police chief. And how awesome is it to have Martin Sheen and Sally Field playing the uncle and aunt?

The new Peter Parker, Andrew Garfield, is more likable than Tobey Maguire. Interestingly, I thought Garfield looked pretty good for a high school student, but he’s actually 28, and a year older than Maguire when the latter played Spider-Man in 2002. I did have a slight problem with the character in that he wasn’t exactly geeky or nerdy enough. He’s thin, but taller and lankier than Maguire and also rides a skateboard. And it didn’t take much for Gwen Stacy to fall for him. It didn’t really make a whole lot of sense for him to be bullied or ignored by girls at the start of the film.

Emma Stone is also quite good as Gwen. Strong personality with just the right amount of feistiness and teenage angst. Funnily enough, I thought she looked too old to be a high school student, even though she’s five years younger than Garfield at 23.

The weakest link, though, had to be Irrfan Khan as an employee of Oscorp. He was plain bad and unintentionally hilarious at times.

I had a couple of other issues with the film’s editing and tonal imbalance, but these are relatively minor. Even though the film was more detailed than the 2002 version overall, at times I felt they rushed a few key scenes, while others might have been dragged out longer than necessary. And at 136 minutes it was, as usual, about 15 minutes too long. And am I being anal when I say the music score of the ordinarily dependable James Horner was occasionally distracting?

So at the end of the day, if Tobey Maguire’s 2002 version of Spider-Man is still fresh in your mind, chances are you won’t be wowed by this film. For me personally, The Amazing Spider-Man, while spectacular at times and very enjoyable in its own right, was not quite “amazing.”

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Help (2011)

Even before I saw The Help I knew it was going to be a polarising film.  While some called it the best film of the year, I had also heard that the film was accused of trying to ‘glamorise’ what some African-American maids had to go through during the Civil Rights era of the early 1960s.  I can’t say I know enough about it or history to make any sort of meaningful comment on that, so instead I simply approached the film as a piece of entertainment.  And as such, I would say The Help worked on most levels, even though it didn’t blow me away like it did for many others.

The Help, based on the book of the same name by Kathryn Stockett, is about Skeeter (Emma Stone), a young white journalist who decides to write a book from the point of view of black maids as they work for their white bosses and look after their white children. Skeeter herself was more or less raised by a black maid, and unlike many of her peers, such as the insufferable Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard), sees them as people rather than something a lot less. Two of the maids central to the story are Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer), who are both initially reluctant to help Skeeter with her book for obvious reasons but eventually take it in their stride.

I guess it’s easy to view The Help as a “good white person saves black people” kind of movie, because to some extent, it is. Skeeter is so obviously “good” and characters like Hilly are so obviously “bad” — there’s really no middle ground. As a result, I can see why some people felt the film was trying too hard to skew audiences in one direction, as Hollywood films often tend to do.

However, what prevents it from being more than merely a melodramatic feel-good movie aimed at making white people feel better about themselves are the awesome performances from Davis and Spencer, both of whom received worthy Oscar nominations. Spencer, who won the best support actress gong, was especially brilliant and stole the show as the outspoken Minny.  By making the film more about these extremely strong black characters rather than Skeeter, The Help ended up being a lot more entertaining and touching than I initially expected, without making me feel like I was being over-manipulated.

Also unexpectedly good was fellow best supporting actress nominee Jessica Chastain, playing the outcast Celia, who gave the film a different dimension with her affable naivete and sweetness. This is the type of film that would have been a complete flop had it not been for the strong ensemble cast. Full credit has to go to director and screenwriter Tate Taylor (who adapted the book) for eliciting such solid performances and penning an adaptation that utilises humour so well. Yes, although it tackles some serious themes, The Help comes across as generally quite light-hearted and contains plenty of funny moments.

At the end of the day, while it does oversimplify the situation a little (or a lot, depending on your point of view), I found The Help to be an entertaining feel-good film that generated exactly the type of emotions I expected it would. It’s not perfect and it’s not the type of film that usually appeals to me, but I think it’s a little unfair that the film is being criticised for not being certain things when it probably never intended to be those things in the first place.

3.5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)

Never been a huge fan of ‘romantic dramedies’ (thanks, Mr Judd Apatow) but Crazy, Stupid, Love is somewhat of an exception.  While it’s far too long and suffers from some of the tonal unevenness often seen in such films, I found myself thoroughly enjoying this clever meshing of different stories about the beauty, excitement, angst and heartbreak of love and life.

Crazy, Stupid, Love is driven by several damaged but very likeable characters.  There’s Cal (Steve Carrell), a middle-aged man who discovers his wife (Julianne Moore) has been cheating on him with a colleague (Kevin Bacon).  There’s Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a wealthy playboy and expert in the art of seduction who takes Cal under his wing until he meets Hannah (Emma Stone), a young lawyer stuck with a loser boyfriend.  And there’s Cal’s 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo), who is obsessively in love with his babysitter Jessica, (Analeigh Tipton — who apparently was a high ranking contestant on America’s Next Top Model?!), who has a secret crush of her own.

It’s a ridiculously amazing ensemble cast that also features the always-brilliant Marisa Tomei (who almost steals the show) and everybody’s favourite husband from Fargo, John Carroll Lynch.  The performances really elevate the overall quality of the film, and I was personally surprised by Carrell’s drama acting chops as well as Gosling’s comedic acting chops.  For me, the standouts were Tomei, Gosling, Bobo and Tipton, but there were no weak links.

What impressed me most about Crazy, Stupid, Love was that the comedy side of it was genuinely funny (perhaps not gut bustingly so but amusing enough) and the drama side of it was actually romantic and emotionally effective too.  There aren’t many romantic dramedies I can think of in recent times that tick both boxes.  It also did a fabulous job of linking all the characters and stories together in a way many ensemble cast stories do but in a cleverer way.  This was not one of those sugar-coated, lovey-dovey movies with a predictable ending, even though it’s at times (bitter)sweet and full of heart.

I still don’t like romantic dramedies but if they can all be like Crazy, Stupid, Love (except a little shorter than its 118-minute-but-felt- longer running time) then I might be more willing to give them a try.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Easy A (2010)

I went to see another preview screening last night, one I had extremely low expectations for — Easy A.  Even though it was showing at a mainstream cinema, I thought the turn out was going to be relatively small.  Boy was I wrong!  The cinema was packed out with people lining up way in advance to see this Will Gluck-directed teen comedy, featuring an all-star cast headed by the up-and-coming Emma Stone (I last saw her in Zombieland).  Luckily, with my (ahem) press credentials, I avoided the crowd and the security check.

My first instinct was that Easy A was going to be another hopeless teen flick that’s stupid, vulgar, and not particularly funny.  Wrong again.  As it turned out, Easy A was, suprisingly, a rare teen flick that’s actually funny and clever!

Emma Stone plays Olive, a super-nice, witty and “normal” high school girl who one day decides to lie about a sexual encounter to her best friend.  And before she knows it, the school rumour mill turns Olive into the local skank.  As her life spirals out of control, Olive begins to see the parallels between her life and that of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s literary classic, The Scarlet Letter (hence the “A” in Easy A).  I know it doesn’t sound all that great but don’t let that put you off.

Easy A‘s impressive all-star cast is led by Emma Stone, who carries the film from start to finish as the immensely likable and endearing Olive.  If this film takes off she’s going to be huge.  Amanda Bynes plays her arch-nemesis, the ultra-religious Marianne (with Cam Gigandet from Twilight as her dim-witted boyfriend), while Penn Badgley plays the too-nice, always-around Woodchuck Todd (it was worth putting up with him just for the Gossip Girl reference) and Dan Byrd (from The Hills Have Eyes) is Brandon, the obvious closet homosexual.  Others include Thomas Haden Church as the wonderful teacher, Lisa Kudrow as the guidance counsellor, and Malcolm McDowell as the principal.  But it’s Olive’s quirky parents, played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, that absolutely steal the show with their crazy antics.

My problems with Easy A are relatively minor.  First of all, it’s hard to buy Emma Stone (as pretty and sassy and witty as she is in this film) as just an “ordinary” girl who was virtually invisible at her school before gossip made her notorious.  Why the heck would she not have been a superstar at school?  Secondly, it doesn’t really make sense that someone as sensible and intelligent as her would ever want to perpetuate vicious rumours in order to become more “popular” amongst her peers.  And thirdly, there were times when she was simply too nice to be believable.  But if you can overlook those things, Easy A is a stand-out teen comedy in almost every other way.

Easy A is a throwback (or even a homage) to those classic 80s films made by John Hughes, such as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Beuller’s Day Off (there are numerous references to them throughout the film).  There’s a huge cast of characters, mostly caricatures but at least with interesting quirks.  The story is compelling but grounded and at least semi-plausible.  It’s funny without being outrageously hilarious or over-the-top.  And there’s a social message about high school life (in this case, how gossip can get out of hand) that adds a dash of poignancy to the whole affair.  It doesn’t quite reach “classic” status, or at least not yet, but considering the crap teen comedies that have been churned out in recent years, Easy A is a refreshing, pleasant surprise.

3.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Zombieland (2009)

If I had to sum up the zombie comedy Zombieland in five words, it would be “Pretty good but not great”.

Directed by Ruben Fleischer (no previous work worthy of noting), it has a premise we’ve seen a few times before – the country (America) being overtaken by zombies and an unlikely hero trying to survive against all odds.  That’s about as much as I want to give away.  As with most films, try and avoid the previews if you can.  Plenty of great scenes, lines and jokes were unnecessarily ruined by the previews I had the misfortune of coming across.  If I hadn’t seen them in advance I probably would have liked the film more.

What sets Zombieland apart from other zombie movies of late is that it is more comedy than horror, and what sets it apart from other zombie comedies is that it is actually pretty funny.  It’s definitely more Shaun of the Dead than 28 Days Later, but the laughs aren’t as silly or outrageous – not quite, anyway.  Much of the humour stems from the quirky character traits of, and the witty banter between, the two leads, played by Jesse Eisenberg (from Adventureland, who seems forever destined to battle Michael Cera for all the goofy, awkward boy roles) and Woody Harrelson (last seen by me in 2012, the movie not the year).  Rounding out the main quartet are Emma Stone (Jules from Superbad) and Abigail Breslin (My Sister’s Keeper, Little Miss Sunshine), who both put in solid performances without stealing the show.

Zombieland knows exactly what kind of movie it is trying to be.  Extremely gory (no shortage of over-the-top blood and guts), tongue-in-cheek, and nonchalant about the fact that the whole country (and probably world) has been overrun by zombies who just want to eat human flesh.  And yet, Zombieland does have charm and it does have heart, though it never steps over the line into melodrama as that would mean caring too much – and that would just be too uncool for a movie like this.

That said, Zombieland is far from perfect.  There are a number of slower bits strewn throughout the film, far more than there should be.  And while it is funny, not all the jokes hit the mark, and sometimes it even risks trying too hard to be amusing.  And of course, though it is technically a comedy/horror, the film is not particularly frightening.  The zombies are there more for the laughs than the chills, and you never get the sense that there is any real danger.

Weighing up all the pros and cons, I’d probably say Zombieland is a 3-star movie that is worth watching, but to be honest I wanted it to be much more than just a sweet, mildly enjoyable film.  However, there is a special surprise in Zombieland that is worth a whole half-star by itself – hands down the most unexpected, insane, hilarious cameo I’ve seen in…possibly ever!  Accordingly…

3.5 stars out of 5!