La La Land

Every year, there’s a select number of films that are predicted to sweep the awards and earn critical acclaim. One of those predicted very early on was La La Land. This film has been at the top of my watch list for a while so I was thrilled when I received the opportunity to finally view the 7 Golden Globe winning (record-breaking) musical La La Land for myself.  I went in with pretty high expectations and I am so pleased to report that they were fully met!

La La Land tells the story of a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) who meet and fall in love in Los Angeles.

I loved La La Land, I really did. It is a truly magical experience and a wonderful film to see. Everything about it was perfect; from the cinematography, to the production design, costumes, choreography, performances, music, La La Land scored high. The music is great and will make you walk out of the theater humming and playing the soundtrack on repeat all the way home. The film really does make you wish your life is a musical!

The performances in particular were strong. Both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone brought depth to their multi-faceted characters, infusing both drama and comedy into their performances. Needless to say, their chemistry was great. Gosling’s performance in particular stood out as he easily delivered some of the best lines in the film, providing a surprising number of laughs and proving again his versatility as an actor. He also learned how to play many of his piano pieces which is impressive enough. The film really showcases some of the surprising musical talents of both actors. Though the character development for Mia and Sebastian could have been stronger, in particular with Mia, the two characters still manage to effectively captivate the audience with their love and personal story.

Visually La La Land is simply gorgeous. A classic musical, there were many homages to the old Hollywood style musicals mixed in with the contemporary LA setting. From the dance numbers (Who can forget that beginning freeway scene?) to the elaborate stage sets, the film was able to achieve an impressive mixture of classical and modern film elements. While I am not aiming to name La La Land as the first ever modern musical of its time, I do think the film is worthy of praise for rejuvenating a genre that has become somewhat rare nowadays.

I cannot praise La La Land enough. While its aspirations may seem lofty at times despite some flaws, the film still has so much emotion and heart that cannot be overlooked. After every musical number, I simply wanted to re-watch the whole scene again. The film is deeply satisfying and the love story,while sweet, is more focused on the journey of two people trying to achieve their dreams in the romantically painted town of Los Angeles, which I really found beautiful. I wholly recommend La La Land, and even try to see it in theaters if you can. La La Land provides a magical movie-going experience.

ALL IN ALL: La La Land is a beautifully done and visually gorgeous film, with excellent performances and music that captivates and warms the heart of audiences alike.

LA LA LAND 4.5/5 Ticket Stubs

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Director: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend

Run time: 128 minutes, PG-13

Year: 2016

image from: http://www.lalaland.movie/gallery/12

Passengers

Two strangers alone on a spaceship. Make that Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence alone on a space ship. Sounds intriguing right? I mean I would want to see that movie. Passengers has all the ingredients for a solid movie. An interesting premise, cool sets and effects, two of the hottest actors in Hollywood. All it really needed was a well crafted story. What a story it lacks though.

On a spacecraft transporting thousands of people to a distant colony planet, two passengers (Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence) wake up from induced hibernation 90 years too early.

Okay just read that premise. Again does it not sound interesting? That is the movie the trailers were advertising. That is the movie that I went in thinking I would see. Sadly it is not. Here is my main issue with Passengers and what I gather has been many people’s: Passengers is misleading. It really is. However I am going to refrain from giving anything away. The film was marketed in a way that was not fair to its actual material and to the people paying money to see it, and I personally found that frustrating. It also makes it very hard to overlook the true premise, which is a little more difficult to accept.

Not only was the film misleading, but the story itself was pretty lackluster once you get past the revelations not given away in the promos. The film felt sort of like Titanic, Gravity, and a bit of The Martian all rolled up into one. The action was severely anticlimactic and the character development poor. Good chunks of the movie were solely devoted to showing off how hot the main actors are. It only goes to show my theory that if one of the two characters was not as attractive, then none of the events in the film would have happened. It all felt vain at times and I found myself with many questions at the end.

All this is not to say there are no positive aspects of Passengers because there are! Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence’s performances were great, as was their chemistry. They were not given the best material to work with though. Michael Sheen was actually a bright standout in the film as the robot bartender Arthur. His character was charming and his performance was simply refreshing. The costumes and sets had a nice aesthetic to them and while more could have been done with the visual effects, I found them overall satisfying.

To put it simply, Passengers made me frustrated. Not only was I upset with how the story developed but I also felt that there was so much missed opportunity with the film. Again all the key ingredients were there. It just needed a better story. That being said, I enjoyed Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence in the film. While I might not recommend seeing Passengers in theaters, I feel like some may still enjoy watching the film.

ALL IN ALL: Even with great chemistry from its two leads, Passengers still comes up short with a misleading and lackluster story.

Also, introducing our new ticket stub rating system (thanks Aimee J)!

PASSENGERS 2.5/5 Ticket Stubs

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My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

Out of all the movies coming out in 2016, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 was probably one of the ones I was looking forward to the most. I know, surprising right? Thing is, the first My Big Fat is actually one of my all time favorite movies. I  have seen it so many times with my sisters to the point where we own our own copy and can quote lines directly from it. It’s just one of those films that you can relate to so much and it will always be a classic for me. As many of you may know, I am not a huge fan of sequels at all. At all. So of course I was skeptical of a sequel to a movie that came out fourteen years ago. Sure my skepticism had good reason, but it was honestly so much fun to be reunited with the Portokalos family again!

With her daughter about to graduate and head off to college, Toula Portokalos (Nia Vardalos) is struggling to let go while also dealing with marital problems with her husband (John Corbett) and family problems when her parents realize they were never officially married. Thus, the whole Portokalos family comes together again for an even bigger and fatter Greek wedding.

Let me just start off with this: if you are a fan of the first My Big Fat, you will like this film. If you are not or you have not seen the first one: then don’t watch it (I don’t know why you would if you haven’t even seen the first one anyways). It is as simple as that. Fans of the first will enjoy the movie because it definitely makes you feel nostalgic. There are tons of references to the first film and it so awesome to see all those beloved characters back again. When I say all of them, I mean all of them too! Even the most minor characters are back and it really feels like a huge reunion.

When I first saw the trailer, I was not a huge fan of the whole fed-up teenage daughter subplot, but it actually turned out to be fine. The actress who plays the daughter, Elena Kampouris, even favorited my tweet about the movie so shout out to her! Also the characters really do look the same, have they even aged? John Corbett is a stud as always, and of course my favorite character Aunt Voula steals the show every scene.

That’s another thing, the film really tries to give more screen time to many of the supporting characters and develop their story lines more. While for me that’s fine since I love them all, I can see why that might have been a criticism of the film. Sometimes it felt like too much was going on at once. The writing was not as strong for me either when compared to the first film. A few times there were just awkward moments that fell short and made me cringe.

Nevertheless I liked My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2! It was fun to watch and so great to see all the characters back again. The central message is still there too: family is always first and will always be there for you.

ALL IN ALL: Fans of the first film will enjoy My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, full of sentiments, nostalgia, and of course the fun and beloved Portokalos family.

image from: http://cdn3-www.comingsoon.net/assets/uploads/gallery/my-big-fat-greek-wedding-2/cw192dju4aao657-jpg-large.jpg

Crimson Peak

It’s October, which means Halloween is coming around the corner, which also means that it is the time for scary movies! Now I like scary movies. I do not watch them all the time, but I do love a good horror film once in a while. Since it is currently the season of screams, I wanted to see a film with my friend, who also appreciates scary movies, that would give us some thrills. Crimson Peak caught our eye right when the trailer was released, so naturally we went in to see it. We came out with some surprised and mixed reactions.

Directed by master of horror and fantasy Guillermo del Toro, Crimson Peak tells the story of Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), who after a family tragedy, marries the mysterious but charming Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Swept away to live with him and his sister (Jessica Chastain) in their remote and dilapidated mansion in England, Edith soon encounters ghosts haunting her new home. Her search for the truth leads her to the real monsters of the house.

I think it is important to point out that Crimson Peak is not a horror movie. Though there were thrills and some gore, the actual scary parts were minimal. In the film, aspiring writer Edith describes her newest manuscript not as a “ghost story” but rather a “story with ghosts in it”. This description can actually serve for the film itself as well. The role of the ghosts in the film was actually not as large as I initially thought it would be. I was not expecting the big reveal of the film to be what it was either, though I had hunch in the beginning, because the whole time I was assuming a more supernatural aspect to take part.

Besides this initial confusion, I feel like as a whole I did enjoy Crimson Peak. It was not a typical scary movie, but it contained some really gorgeous visuals. The Gothic costumes and set designs were fantastic! Seriously, some of the shots that del Toro creates are truly beautiful. All of these elements combined along with the strong use of color imagery created the signature creepy atmosphere of the film.

So Crimson Peak is definitely not for everyone. Those who do not like horror movies should stay away because though that aspect of the film is toned down, it is still present. Other than that, it really is just stunning visually. Sure, the plot got a bit messy and outlandish with more than few loose strings left in the end but I would suggest ignoring all that. Let Guillermo del Toro take you on a journey to Crimson Peak.

ALL IN ALL: Do not be fooled by the horror label on Crimson Peak, and while the plot turns a bit to the extreme, the visuals in the film are gorgeous and not to be overlooked.

image from: http://ia.media-imdb.com/images/M/MV5BNTY2OTI5MjAyOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTkzMjQ0NDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_.jpg

Far from the Madding Crowd

 

So I have a pretty weird dream. I want to walk across an English field in an old-time, long dress at sunrise. Okay I know this is a very super weird and random daydream, but it’s movies like Pride and Prejudice and Far from the Madding Crowd that make this vision come so alive in my head. Unfortunately, if there was a movie like this, I would most probably not be cast since I do not exactly fit the character descriptions but who doesn’t love a good period piece?

Based on Thomas Hardy’s classic love story and set in Victorian England, Far from the Madding Crowd revolves around independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) who attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer; Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a prosperous and mature bachelor.

Let’s start with performances because they were all pretty fantastic. Though it should not have surprised me, Carey Mulligan was perfectly cast as the ever bold and modern Batsheba. She took the role by the horns and brought a fresh fierceness . I was not a fan of Tom Sturridge’s character but that is because he succeeded majorly in being so despicable. In his review for Film Comment, Michael Sragow comments, ” Troy provokes the flashiest filmmaking. When the soldier thinks he’s been stood up at the altar by his true love, Fanny Robin (Juno Temple), [director Thomas] Vinterberg prolongs a close-up of intense humiliation coursing across his face. (Sturridge is superb in that scene.)” I could not agree more! That scene was an interesting turning point and move for Vinterberg to make.

The real star to me was Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak. Maybe it is because Gabriel Oak is by far one of my new favorite movie characters, but Schoenaerts portrayed the quiet and ever-loving Oak brilliantly and with such subtle power that it is impossible for the viewer to not feel the heartache and struggles he undergoes. Batsheba frustrated me so much by the end of the film due to her poor decision-making and apparent blindness to the obvious choice that it was all I could do to not throw a heavy object at the screen. The ending though was beautiful and made up for all my pent-up madness.

The costumes and especially the score by Craig Armstrong (check out the “Opening” theme) were beautiful. The pacing of the film at times felt a bit off at times but that is one of the only complaints I have. For fans of period pieces, Far from the Madding Crowd will be enjoyable.

ALL IN ALL: Far from the Madding Crowd (2015) is a lovely adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel and blends classic romance and drama into one alluring package of a film.

image from: http://www.goldposter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Far-from-the-Madding-Crowd-_poster_goldposter_com_6.jpg

 

The Fault in Our Stars

I’m sure many of you have heard about this phenomenon of a book/movie. I read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green earlier this year and absolutely loved it. The writing was superb and the emotions run high. Perhaps it was a bit too philosophical for its young protagonists, but still enjoyable. High expectations were given for the film adaptation and they were met when I finally got to see it, along with some annoyance.

The Fault in Our Stars (TFIOS) tells the story of sixteen year old cancer patient Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) who is forced to attend a cancer support group. Here she meets the devilishly charming Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) and subsequently falls in love.

I thought the film was great! Perhaps I am a bit biased because I fall in the film’s young female target audience, but I still thought it was a good adaptation of the book. The actors played their characters perfectly. Shailene Woodley’s performance was beautiful and natural. Ansel Elgort (who fun fact: played Woodley’s brother in Divergent) was simply Augustus. There were so many moments between the two characters were I just felt myself beaming. Their chemistry was palpable and refreshing, as was the story. A few scenes were left out, but you don’t really notice until afterwards. I personally liked the soundtrack as well. There is one criticism I have but it lies outside of the movie.

Practically everyone I know who has seen this film always claims to have cried. It’s a sad story no doubt about it. No, I did not cry (though I did tear up during the book). My lack of emotion during the film can be pointed to two reasons. One: I read the book already so the plot was not much of a surprise to me. “What?”, you say, “How can you have no heart?!”. I know, I know. Seeing some more of the emotional scenes on-screen should have done the trick but nope. My focus was not on the movie but on the large group of crying girls in front of me, reason #2.  I do not cry much during movies anyway but I could not enjoy TFIOS fully with these sobbing girls passing tissues to one another and choking so hard that you would think they too went through the same ordeals. I cannot fathom what it would have been like if I saw this movie opening day. A word of advice to those with little patience who also like silence during a movie: skip the theater for TFIOS and watch it at home.

Aside from that little rant, I truly did like The Fault in Our Stars. I think I need to see it again, by myself, to truly appreciate it more though. It is kind of targeted for young girls but I think its’ abundant warmth and humor can be enjoyed by many. By many, for years to come.

ALL IN ALL: The Fault in Our Stars really has no essential faults and can valued as the Love Story of this generation.

Rated PG-13, 125 minutes

image: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/2/22/Fault_in_our_stars.jpg/220px-Fault_in_our_stars.jpg

 

Divergent

 

Earlier this year I read the novel Divergent by Veronica Roth and totally enjoyed it! It brought me back to my Hunger Games days and my reading got so bad that I had to tie the book up in a drawer so I could focus on my work.  Naturally when I heard about the movie, I was pretty psyched and I finally got to see it this past weekend. Though there were flaws, Divergent was overall pretty entertaining.

Divergent takes place in a dystopian world where people are divided into factions by human virtues. Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) though discovers that she is Divergent and will never fit into any one faction. Soon she and the mysterious Four (Theo James) learn about a sinister plot looming in their seemingly perfect society and must find out a way to stop it before it’s too late.

As always, I recommend to always read the book first. However, I went to see it with some of my friends who had never before heard about the series, but still understood and enjoyed the movie. Divergent has gotten many mixed reviews and though I agree with most of it, I feel that many people are comparing it to The Hunger Games. Yes both take place in a dystopian society with a strong female lead, but the stories are very different (however I still liked Hunger Games better).

Fans of the book will be disappointed with some aspects of the film such as the nonexistent appearances of some crucial characters and multiple missing scenes. For me, though the film was pretty long (139 minutes), it flew by way too fast and you hardly got to know any of the characters. Shailene Woodley and Theo James (very handsome by the way!) fit their roles perfectly and I enjoyed their screen time, but the supporting cast, many of whom are very important to the plot, were overlooked. Kate Winslet, who plays a faction leader names Jeanine, did great too but her character was much bigger in the film than in the book. I also hated how all the action seemed to take place in the last 20 minutes of the movie. Better timing was needed.

This is a very non significant complaint but I thought the sets could have been more impressive. The Dauntless faction’s compound was described in the book to have this huge underground cavern and ravine, but in the movie, it just looked like an empty warehouse with some boxes and tarps. Many of the sets seemed too drab.

To conclude, the film did feel a bit weak overall, but I still enjoyed it. Teens and some fans of the book would probably like it the most, but it is still worthwhile to see (maybe not in the theater though if you’re an adult).

ALL IN ALL: Divergent, though a bit weak and rushed, is an entertaining film that combines several genres (action, sci-fi, romance) into a pretty satisfying mix.

Rated PG-13, 139 minutes

image: http://img2.timeinc.net/ew/i/2013/11/12/Divergent-poster.jpg

See This, Not That: Rom-Com Edition

So we took a bit of a break after award season concluded, but now we’re back on track! So, Friday nights can be spent a couple of ways, but one of the most popular activities is to watch a movie! Something light and fresh, perhaps a romantic comedy? If you’re in the mood for some laughs and love, stick with us as we review Ruby Sparks and When Harry Tries to Marry.

SEE THIS: Ruby Sparks

My sister suggested this movie to me a long time ago, but I never felt like sitting down and actually watching it. I decided today that I wanted something fun and a bit quirky to watch so I’m glad I remembered Ruby Sparks.

Ruby Sparks is about a writer (Paul Dano) struggling with writer’s block whose fictional character Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) comes to life.

I really liked this film. It was a bit eccentric like most indie films and had a very creative plot. Dano was exceptional as the lovelorn and secluded Calvin and though her character annoyed me a bit, Kazan portrayed Ruby’s free-spirited attitude with ease. Kazan actually wrote the screenplay and though I praise her ingenuity, I was not a fan of knowing she pretty much created her own character (kind of like the movie ironically). What I liked most about the film was that it rolls numerous genres and aspects all into one:  fantasy, a view on the creative process, a beautiful romance,  the fragility and controlling power of relationships and the male ego, etc. Jam packed, but compelling

ALL IN ALL: Ruby Sparks is a charming and enjoyable film that does an interesting take on love and relationships.

Rated R, 104 minutes


NOT THIS: When Harry Tries to Marry

 

I enjoy British Asian films like Bend it Like Beckham, and though When Harry Tries to Marry is not exactly British, there were similarities with the Indian-American child living in the country the parents immigrated to, kind of like The Namesake as well. However, this film tries to be funny and show a child who is not ashamed of his culture and actually embraces aspects of it even more than his parents. Notice how I said “tried”.

When Harry Tries to Marry tells the story of Indian- American Harry (Rahul Rai) who is cynical about love after his parents’ divorce and desires an arranged marriage, but his friendship with an American friend Theresa (Stefanie Estes) complicates his plan.

Let me start off with pointing out that I could not even finish this movie. I stopped halfway, went against all my film morals and skipped to the end, then immediately turned it off and regretted deciding to watch it in the first place. Yes, it’s that bad. It could have been good, but it failed in so many places! First of all, if you are going to have the main protagonist decide between two girls, you have to give some kind of negative quality to the character he will reject or else your audience becomes confused and does not know who to root for. I disliked Theresa’s character so much, that it just ruined the whole story for me. The characters were unlikable, the plot swerved, and I feel like the story could have worked much better if it was switched around. Perhaps Harry could have been against arranged marriages and then discovered his culture or something like that. Either way, it just does not work.

ALL IN ALL: When Harry Tries to Marry is very very scary, in its attempt to be good.

Rated PG-13, 93 minutes

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The Spectacular Now

One of the many films this year that garnered critical acclaim was The Spectacular Now. It did well at Sundance, it received a 92%  on Rotten Tomatoes, naturally I was intrigued. Then I watched the movie. I’m really confused, was it supposed to be good?

Based on the book by of the same name by Tim Tharp, The Spectacular Now tells the story of Sutter (Miles Teller), a charming hard-partying high school senior whose outlook on life changes when he meets Amy (Shailene Woodley), the “not so typical nice girl”.

I know, from that summary, this movie sounds like every other high school movie. However, I felt like the writers were trying too much to make the whole story real. Have it relate to actual high school students and show life as it really is, etc. I, on the other hand, was not pleased with this attempt. The story was weak and did not make sense at times. Not every high school student drinks, parties, and is promiscuous! I understand they were trying to portray this dimension on the character of Aimee but she just turns out to be smart girl who does not seem to have any judgmental common sense. She forgives Sutter for terrible, terrible stuff and depends on him like a drug. I hated her character. She’s also supposed to awkward? Uh Shailene Woodley is a very pretty girl casting people. The climax had a good shock factor but its aftermath left me frustrated. To add to that, the ending left me sitting in my seat, wondering why I even decided to watch the movie in the first place.

The only good thing about this film was the performances. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley did great jobs as their respective characters. Kyle Chandler, who I never even knew was in the film, gave a surprisingly emotional and understated performance as well. After I watched the film, I was very confused of all the acclaim it received. I was actually thinking about watching it again to see if I missed something, but then I figured it would be a waste of my time because if I have to watch a movie more than once to analyze its themes and hidden messages, then it has not done it’s purpose as a film. I did like the portrayal by the main characters of feeling like you are losing time and trying to live every moment, but this seemed to determine all of their decisions. Not too sure if I would recommend The Spectacular Now.

ALL IN ALL: The Spectacular Now is a disappointing film with unlikable characters and a weak story that overshadows the otherwise well done performances.

Rated R, 95 minutes

image from: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/18/The_Spectacular_Now_film.jpg

Morning Glory

I knew the time would come for me to do a chick flick, so let’s get it over with. I decided to do Morning Glory, which came out in 2010, because while it’s not really a cliché movie, it still had some areas of improvement.

Morning Glory is about a young and devoted television producer Becky Fuller (Rachel McAdams) who accepts the challenge of reviving a failing morning show program by contracting a prominent news journalist/anchor (Harrison Ford), who disapproves of co-hosting a show that doesn’t deal with real news stories. Diane Keaton also serves as the shows long-running co-host and Patrick Wilson plays the role of Becky’s love interest.

I thought the film was, I guess, cute. It had all the ingredients to be a really good movie, but the plot structure had many flaws. For one thing, there were way too many ups and downs in the film. Just stick with the normal plot outline: have the intro, initiating event, turning point, crisis, final push, aftermath. Don’t have a crisis every three minutes!

The film also had a good cast, but they didn’t really live up to their standards. Rachel McAdams was too hyper for my liking, though that’s how her character is supposed to be. Diane Keaton should have been used more as a prominent character. I could totally picture her as morning show host too!  Harrison Ford was by far the best part of the film. He was excellent, though his voice reminded me of Batman. He was able to play this unlikeable, extremely grumpy character, but still have the audience love him by the end of the film. He showed the human side of this character flawlessly. Keaton and Ford’s chemistry was strong too.

I would recommend Morning Glory to any cheeky female (males beware), who’s looking a cute movie to snuggle up to on a Friday night. The film produces some genuine laughs and smiles.  However, it’s not really a film worthwile to see, in my opinon. Instead check some of the other movies I’ve reviewed! Please.

ALL IN ALL: Morning Glory is one movie that shouldn’t be on your must-see watchlist.

image from: http://mobile.company3.com/data/images/File_Morning_Glory_Poster23545723210.jpg