Quick Movie Review: La La Land (2016)

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I’ve always said Ryan Gosling was meant to do comedy. I think very highly of the guy, but I hold the unpopular opinion that he’s not necessarily the best dramatic actor in the world. In La La Land he gets a chance to utilize some dramatic-acting skills, but strays away from his usual angst-filled characters as he showcases his humor chops.

It helps that he and Emma Stone have such great chemistry. With their third feature together (Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad) the pair demonstrate why they may be our generation’s Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers–two actors that are paid homage to in this film.

La La Land is about a struggling actress, Mia (Stone), who is constantly being rejected at every audition she has, and a mercurial jazz pianist, Sebastian (Gosling), who dreams of opening his own jazz club. He is a talented musician but often finds himself going against his own integrity playing pop music and simple lounge standards. The two meet in a way that would make any classic cinephile proud, and over time develop a relationship, each dealing with his and her own floundering careers is the process.

The film acts as a love letter to Los Angeles. It’s not necessarily a nice letter, but it’s not a breakup letter either. More like a letter to an abusive partner who you keep coming back to for some inexplicable reason, only for them to spit on you and tell you you’re worthless.

It pokes fun at the city, constantly saying out loud the things most of us would be tried for treason for ever thinking. But they’ve all been actual thoughts lingering in our minds at one point or another.

It’s a quixotical view of what LA is supposed to be–or used to be. The two characters are old souls adamantly romanticizing what they view their ideal careers to be, only to realize that they view this city in an antiquated way that no longer really exists in today’s world. Things such as technology and loss of nostalgia are ruining it, and they struggle to find the balance between the new and the old without wanting to compromise much.

The film, on the other hand, compromises the new and the old very well in its every moment. The songs don’t feel modern, but they don’t feel dated either. They’re not necessarily poppy and affable at first–fitting well into the film’s jazz theme.

Gosling and Stone are not fantastic singers, but they’re not bad either, which makes their performances all the more appealing–they’re one of us.

Much like a non-New Yorker can empathize with a film that pays homage (or lack thereof) to New York, one doesn’t have to be from Los Angeles to get what the film is trying to say. Viewers can see where the movie comes from. LA is everywhere. We experience it in almost every movie we watch in one way or another.

La La Land isn’t just for Los Angeleans. It’s for dreamers and people with big visions. For people who have been rejected over and over and over again, told they’re not good enough, and still, for some reason, keep going back at it. But like anything we love, it takes a lot of work. La La Land makes you believe in your dreams again.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Neighbors 2 (2016)

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If you want to talk about consistency between the two Neighbors films, they do a great job. Unfortunately, the first film isn’t good. And its sequel is perhaps slightly more enjoyable than its predecessor, but suffers from so many of the same fundamental issues (see Neighbors).

I didn’t need to revisit the first film in order to prep for this one. All I had to remember was how much I hated it.

This one features the same unbelievable amount of plot holes, the same immature and derivative humor, yet lacks the somewhat “relatable” theme. However, I can probably say that I laughed a bit more this time around (twice is still more than once, right?).

In Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, husband and wife duo, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, sell their house, which is now in escrow. So the new owners have 30 days to back out if anything seems fishy about the situation. It just so happens that a new sorority, headed by Chloe Grace Moretz, moves in next door. Apparently sororities in America have a strict “no party rule,” but THIS sorority vows to ignore that rule and throws one every night of the week.

One of the things I hate about the first film is repeated once more here. The filmmakers want us to root for both sides, trying to make us empathize with both Rogen/Byrne AND the sorority sisters. But reality is, Moretz and her gang are really terrible people. What halfway-decent person would throw bloody tampons at a window with a 2-year-old on the other side watching? I’m literally not exaggerating.

Then, in comes Zac Efron reprising his frat-guy role from the first film. But he’s not just featured in the film–he becomes a third protagonist. We go into his whole story of being kicked out of his apartment after his roommate gets engaged. Now he feels all alone and is unsure of where his life is going.

So the film is jumping around all three stories and winds up covering zero ground because of it. And Rogen, who’s the only funny person out of the leads, is featured the least. Moretz and Efron are great and all, but they’re not funny. This is a comedy.

Pretty much the whole film consists of the married couple and the sorority going back and forth pranking each other. Rogen and Byrne report them to the university’s administration, so to get back at them, the sorority steals all of their belongings and sells them (?). The filmmakers obviously assume that no one watching this is trying to solve any of these elementary conflicts themselves. Instead, they just keep piling on a series of unrealistic events where nobody is rational at all, and we’re supposed to laugh about it.

The movies boasts a couple of nice cameos, which go underutilized for the most part. And the comedy scenes have no real structure or pacing–the takes are all just thrown in there in a seemingly unorganized way.

So if you loved the first film, you’ll probably love this Neighbors 2. If you hated the first film, you probably won’t even consider watching this one. It’s a win-win!

Twizard Rating: 54

Quick Movie Review: Jerry Maguire (1996)

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I love movies that can’t necessarily be classified by a single genre. Jerry Maguire isn’t a chick flick, but it’s not a sports film either. Nor is it a traditional comedy. It’s possibly all three, but never just one. That’s what makes it great. It appeals to both genders equally without alienating either of them.

The title character is played by Tom Cruise in one of his best performances. He’s a slimy sports agent who, one day, has an epiphany, realizing he no longer wants to sell lies to his clients, but real relationships. The only problem is he doesn’t even know how to have a real relationship in his personal life. At work, he sends out a mission statement that lauds the idea of having less clients to improve quality. This sudden life-changing notion wins over the approval of his cohorts, but his high-level agency disapproves and fires him.

Starting from the ground up, Jerry has nothing and no one to work with. The only people that follow him are a low-level employee, Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver, Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.).

The chemistry between Cruise and both of his costars is natural that you can’t imagine anyone else in those roles. You see him seamlessly transform over the course of the film, only taking notice of it in the end. Honestly, it’s very much reminiscent of Pacino in the Godfather–only backwards.

Jerry Maguire equally covers the depth of multiple characters brilliantly. The film not only goes inside the mind of a scuzzbag-turned-nice-guy, but of an athlete. Gooding plays a talented football player with a chip on his shoulder. He’s not on his way out of the league, but he’s no Jerry Rice either. He’s on a middling NFL team and thinks he deserves a bigger paycheck than he gets. He knows he’s good, but no one else sees it. The film brings very relatable themes to seemingly unrelatable people. There is more to the movie than demand for money. It’s about friendship and knowing what’s important in life amidst all the menagerie.

Writer-director Cameron Crowe has a knack for storytelling–already evident by his previous work–but he outdoes himself with this one. Nothing is ever truly predictable, which is an impressive accomplishment considering the type of film. Never is there a dull moment, and the dialogue is so effortlessly perfect without ever feeling contrived. The sappy moments are never that, when any other writer would know no other way. It’s a rom-com for the ages and may even be the pinpoint for redefining the genre.

It has aged so well and is still a great watch to this day. Highly recommended for those of you who haven’t seen it and are arguing with your other half about what to watch on movie night. I promise you’ll both enjoy it.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Moana (2016)

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In recent years it seems like digital animation is becoming more and more advanced with each movie being released. But the changes are gradual and often expected. We talk about how the scenery looks just like a photograph, or how animals look like they could be real. However, actual humanity is the one thing that seems to be taking the longest to become lifelike. This is where Moana comes in.

While still maintaining that cartoon-like feel, this is the first time where actual human characters’ emotions look real. In the past, expressions take on very on-the-nose cliches. Not necessarily over-the-top, but just very obvious. Here, we get facial expressions that look just like yours and mine. It’s eerie. It helps us feel for the characters more–especially when it comes to our title character.

Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) is a teenager growing up on the Polynesian island of Motunui and longs to explore the ocean. However, her father, Chief Tui, forbids her to leave. The one rule they have on the island is that they cannot go beyond the reef. But Moana is stubborn. Even as the island’s resources are running out, she resiliently tries to persuade her father, but to no avail.

Her grandmother gives her a small magical stone known as the heart of the goddess Te Fiti. A thousand years prior, demigod, Maui (Dwayne Johnson), stole the heart, which is causing each island, one by one, to dry up. Moana sets out to find Maui so he can return the heart to the goddess.

Disney churns out a solid formula piece with Moana. This is a criticism in some respect. But it can also work to its advantage. The general storyline doesn’t really give us any sort of new beats. A girl sets off to do something that we all know she will probably end up accomplishing. We foresee each false victory before it occurs. It starts out predictable and pulls from countless of its Disney predecessors. But it does one thing that’s very unusual for a Disney film–it lacks romance of any kind. The two protagonists–of opposite sex–have a strictly platonic relationship. Love isn’t the point of the film at all. It’s so ingrained in our expectations that it catches us off guard and we are constantly reminding ourselves that the movie isn’t about that.

Moana is a captivating protagonist. Whether or not the writing makes her that way. The animation is just that good. There is one musical sequence where they backdrop the characters against a relatively primitive animated background, which has become an ordinary device used in countless films before. But upon looking at the canvas, it almost seems like it has been thrown into a live-action film. In past instances, there wasn’t as much of a discrepancy, but now the juxtaposition shows just how far we’ve come with animation.

I could gush for paragraphs about the visuals of this movie. But that would only end up overshadowing the film’s other strength–its music.

Lin-Manuel Miranda writes some brilliantly catchy songs–perhaps the best, pound-for-pound, in recent Disney musical history. From the refreshingly bright islandy “Where You Are” to the macabre Bowie-inspired “Shiny”, each track hits hard and becomes addicting. All except for Maui’s solo piece, “You’re Welcome.” It’s Dwayne Johnson’s only song and is marginal at best. The others are creative and take melodic turns that you never expect, but this one falls into the basic realm of uninspired, perhaps best appreciated by your toddler child. It merely goes through the motions, and only appears worse amidst its brilliant companions.

The songs may be fantastic, but the dialogue is curiously weak, and unfortunately separates Moana from the past Disney bunch. At times it feels like it was written by a teenager–or perhaps someone who wanted to sound like one. The comedy gets childish in a couple of instances, though, to its credit, quickly snaps back. Then there’s Maui’s character, who can grate on you a bit. His shtick is a little too colloquial and his jokes often fall flat.

But the film heads in the right direction overall. Often times going one step back and two steps forward. It nicely sticks to its narrative with Moana’s perspective, and never seems to be challenged by it.

The story could have been merely a device to flex its aesthetic guns (it’s not), but it would have all been worth it just to experience the beauty of what’s on screen. Here, the movie isn’t just telling a story, but creating a full experience–something unexpectedly rare these days.

Twizard Rating: 92

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