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LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – THE FAVOURITE (2018)

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – THE FAVOURITE (2018)

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos

Produced by: Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Lee Magiday, Yorgos Lanthimos

Written by: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara

Cast: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn

Cinematography: Robbie Ryan

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

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The London Film Festival organisers were very keen to impress we keep our phones off during the screening of The Favourite. Thus, I infer that the filmmakers are also keen that no spoilers are given away; something I will respect during this review. From the marketing blurb I have culled online, The Favourite:  “sees Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster (2015), The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)) on rollicking, virtuoso form with Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz revelling in the wit of his 18th century royal court life.”

Unlike The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Lanthimos is not working from an original screenplay he wrote with Efthymis Filippou; instead he’s taken an adaptation by Tony McNamara and Deborah Davis. Conversely, it is not as eccentric a premise as those previous films and structurally it is actually quite conventional. The story itself sets Rachel Weisz’ Duchess of Marlborough as advisor to Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne in the early 1700s; while Emma Stone’s fallen “Lady” enters the fray and attempts to gain the Queen’s favour while usurping Weisz’ character.

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Historical films relating to Machiavellian scheming, sexual misadventure and political intrigue are legion. Dangerous Liaisons (1988), A Royal Affair (2012) and the recent Love and Friendship (2016) are but a few examples; however, none of them are as absurd, surprising, funny, moving and as crazy as The Favourite. But, this is not a parody of period dramas. Instead, Lanthimos brings his own directorial vision to the story with his often ludicrous switches in tone, while skilfully maintaining a strong emotional balance and intrigue throughout. His use of the fish-eye lens creates a distorted effect making the characters seem trapped by their surroundings and circumstances. Furthermore, the lighting is quite wonderful too with natural and candle light dominating the proceedings.

Lanthimos’ direction of his three stellar leading actors is superb; with Olivia Colman delivering one of the most memorable performances of the year. Her Queen Anne is both pathetic and empathetic at the same time. Anne is to be pitied, laughed at and laughed with throughout. While I genuinely have little sympathy for royal figures, Anne is humanized with great power by the performance. Preying and manipulating her are Weisz’ and Stone’s characters. Weisz’ is, in particular, quite brilliant as we never quite know if her decisions regarding the war against Spain and the increased taxes are to benefit her or the Queen. Moreover, I know Stone won an Oscar for La La Land (2016), but she is even better in this film. Her eyes light up at each devilish choice her character makes; revelling in the skulduggery as ambition fuels her desires. I must add that Nicholas Hoult is quite brilliant too in a supporting role.

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Overall, The Favourite (2018) may not be appreciated by those who prefer their period dramas to be played straight, as it were. The language and behaviour of the characters is often foul and crude but while seeming anachronistic it is paradoxically authentic too. Lanthimos’ interpretation of the screenplay is rather complex. He seeks to humanize, satirize and ridicule life in the Royal Court but without us ever hating the characters. The narrative asks for understanding but also critiques their choices. You kind of wish Weisz and Stone would show some solidarity but ultimately they are narcissistic players craving power, much to the detriment of their sickly Queen — portrayed by the astounding Olivia Colman.

Mark 9.5 out of 11

 

 

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A LOVELY NIGHT IN THE SUN: LA LA LAND (2016) REVIEWED

A LOVELY NIGHT IN THE SUN:  LA LA LAND (2016) REVIEWED

**SPOILER ALERT!**

In light of the FOURTEEN Oscar nominations from the Academy who am I to go against the tide of musical loveliness that is La La Land. Indeed, while I dislike all kinds of award ceremonies per se it does deserve most of the accolades coming its way. Because as the Trump puppet rears his huge, ugly head in the United States and Brexit looms large in the UK we all need something feel-good and nostalgic to lift us; especially amidst the bitter cold of winter.

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Damian Chazelle, who wrote and directed the exceptional drama Whiplash (2014), has sculpted a sunny post-modern musical which soars throughout paying tribute to both Los Angeles and Hollywood. The movie stars Ryan Gosling as an uncompromising jazz pianist and Emma Stone as a sensitive, budding actress who meet in a contemporary yet somehow old-fashioned vision of LA; where magic and love are in the air and the potentialities of dreams are a palpable force.

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Stone and Gosling are a stunning couple and while Chazelle’s leads may not have the strongest voices they serve the songs exceptionally well with an ordinary wonder. The chemistry between the two sparkles as the story entwines their characters within a “follow your dream” narrative. Arguably there could’ve been slightly more differences between the two than the “I hate jazz” tension; but as in the romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), Stone and Gosling sail through the film with confidence and profound likeability.

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Chazelle throws everything at the story employing jazz, 80s pop, old band numbers, R and B, and ballads. Moreover, all manner of parody, pastiche and cinematic devices are employed to echo the classic Hollywood musicals of yesteryear; the formidable work of Jacques Demy; plus the more modern pop promos of recent times. The opening Another Day of Sun traffic sequence is a real showstopper as Fame-like dancing and singing on motors in an LA highway jam brilliantly establishes the hyper-real and fantastical elements to come.

LaLaLand_clip_playsetlist.jpgIt seems obvious to say that the music in La La Land is to the fore, but Chazelle and the ultra-talented composer Justin Hurwitz commit a verve and soul to the songs and direction. Clearly the characters and lyrics reflect their own personal emotions, dreams and desire to escape everyday existence. While much of the film skims a stylish surface of colour and verve, numbers such as City of Stars and The Fools Who Dream really touch the heartstrings and draw out the internal emotions of the characters.

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It’s hard to criticize such a funny, feel-good movie and as a musical it is probably a masterpiece, however, while the love story served the musical structure really well, I felt that, compared to say Funny Girl (1968), Grease (1977) and Half-A-Sixpence (1967) it arguably lacked a bit of dramatic tension. Indeed, the break-up itself was under-baked and latterly covered by a have-your-cake-and-eat-it “what could have been” fantasy flashback. Yet, this is a minor critique of an incredibly well realised escapist joy.

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So, roll on the Oscars where the film will almost certainly win best film and direction, plus accolades, no doubt, for the musical and technical achievements. The wonderful Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are certain to be in the fray too. However, while I have seen other more dramatically impactful films such as: Arrival (2016), Manchester by the Sea (2016) and Silence (2016) (not even nominated!!), this remains one terrific musical that will lift the spirits even on the darkest day.

 

 

THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2 – FILM REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2 - FILM REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2 – FILM REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

I’m a bit behind with my film reviews presently because I was busy preparing and performing in my comedy show ROCK N DROLL at the Brighton Fringe Festival.  Thus, because I was wowing an army of fans over three nights (77 people total approx.) on the South Coast I am now playing a bit of catch-up on the reviews.  Overall, Brighton Fringe Festival was fantastic and I am grateful to Laughing Horse Comedy, The Hobgoblin and the 77 people (and the dog at Sunday’s show) for the helping make it a success.  From small victories BIG battles are won.

Talking of big battles there aren’t quite enough of them for my liking in THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2.    There is a tremendous opening sequence with Peter Parker/Spiderman fighting what I thought would be one of the main villains — Paul Giamatti’s criminally underused Aleksei Sytsevich — while desperately attempting to get to his graduation ceremony.  If it all feels a little familiar the ghost of Sam Raimi’s Millenium Spiderman series hangs heavy like the Reaper’s scythe over this and Marc Webb’s previous Spiderman film.  The imaginary blade waits there in my mind comparing and contrasting ready to swing the final blow where I just say, “Nah!  Sam Raimi’s films were much better! Thumb down! Off with its’ head.”

I must say though that this is high quality filmmaking of the blockbuster kind and it’s very hard not to like it. Perhaps, I’m asking too much but despite all the stellar work from the whole cast and technical crew I just didn’t connect with this one totally. I mean, I like Andrew Garfield as an actor but feel he’s better as a dramatic actor than cheeky superhero. My choice would’ve been Joseph Gordon Levitt but perhaps he’s too old now.  Anyway, Emma Stone is stunning and so good in this while Dane DeHaan, Paul Giamatti and Jamie Foxx are all excellent but spread far too thin across the narrative.  DeHaan and Foxx especially deserved much better for their respective energies and ability. Foxx is an Oscar winner goddamit!!  And if you want to see what DeHaan can do then please watch Chronicle (2012) an amazingly good anti-superhero film and the best found-footage film I’ve ever seen.

There’s a lot of story in this sequel dubbed The Rise of Electro.  In fact it has more lines than Tony Montana’s big mahogany desk at the end of Scarface. We have Peter Parker’s on-off romance (yawn!) with gorgeous Gwen Stacy; the mysterious disappearance of his parents (again); his reconnection with school friend Harry Osborn; attempting to keep his Spiderman identity secret from Aunt May (again); and the main foe — lowly Max Dillon — Electro causing New York an energy bill that would make Bill Gates weep.   Alas, the romantic stuff takes a huge chunk out of the other more interesting stories and the action I craved.

I cannot fault the screenwriting team for their effort by trying to entertain the audience but at times I felt overwhelmed as each storyline was elbowed out of the way by the next one; with the narrative jigsaw not quite joining together satisfactorily as a whole. I really wanted to get involved in Max Dillon’s story as a lowly downtrodden OsCorp operative but his origins story isn’t given much time.  As a villain there isn’t much focus other than he idolises Spiderman.  I mean what happened to the vengeful employee as motivation?  I really wanted this humble man to cause even more havoc than he does but he’s imprisoned for some time after his capture.

Another storyline which is dealt with too briskly is Harry Osborn’s relationship with his father Norman (Chris Cooper) which feels like it has fallen straight out of Paul Thomas Anderson’s superlative Magnolia (1998).  Nonetheless, I thought oh, this is interesting, how will this pan out?  He’s dead.  Okay?  Did Harry kill him in anger?  No. Norman Osborn just died.  Oh.  We’re now back to Parker and Stacy’s on-off relationship.  I DON’T CARE!  It’s been half-an-hour since some stuff was blown up. Get back to that please?!?!?!?!

Marc Webb is a fine and dandy director as he proved with the brilliant bittersweet anti-rom-com 500 Day’s of Summer but personally I don’t feel he was the right choice for the Spiderman reboots.  His Spiderman films feel too mature and not fun enough. They feel like have TOO much humanity and feelings. His camera is not kinetic enough and the beautiful wide vistas painted on screen don’t get us into the action quickly enough for me.  I mean to get this kind of gig after a successful debut film is pretty amazing but he’s certainly a filmmaker to watch and perhaps his risk-taking and stylistic hands are somewhat tied by a big studio picture such as this. Arguably, perhaps he’s TOO GOOD an artist for this kind of movie.  Just a thought.

I feel like I am being very critical of what is a very decent piece of entertainment but it’s only because I was disappointed that I pretty much had to sit through what was another Spiderman “origins” film.  Because let’s face it the The Amazing Spiderman (2012) wasn’t great. But The Amazing Spiderman 2 has some incredible action notably the Times Square battle between Electro and Spiderman and an absolute spell-binding ending which pulled the dramatic rug from out under my feet.  Moreover, in establishing Dane DeHaan’s devilish Green Goblin the third film promises to be pretty sweet.  I just hope they put the family and romance stuff a bit more to the fringes and concentrate on all-out action.  He is the AMAZING Spiderman after all!!  I’m greedy I want to be more AMAZED for my money!  If I want more young-adult romance from ridiculously attractive people I’ll watch Gossip Girl  or god forbid Hollyoaks! Then again the dramatic unexpected ending does redeem much of this and for the wonderful cast, cracking musical score (Hans Zimmer et al take a bow) and a couple of (not enough though) superb set-pieces the entry fee was worth my hard-earned cash.