La La Land. A New Golden Age?

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The Sloth’s two most hated films genres are: 1) Musicals 2) Romances. While the rest of the world swoons at the Golden Age of Hollywood, going gooey over Fred ’n’ Ginge, swishy dresses, big band ‘numbers’, you’ll find The Sloth revisiting the Trainspotting ‘Worst Toilet In Scotland’ scene. La La Land is a musical romance. Oh joy.

No prizes for guessing La La Land is set in LA.  It opens with Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a somewhat precious jazz pianist and Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, stuck in their cars in traffic on the freeway. But this isn’t any ordinary traffic jam. Drivers have emerged from their vehicles in a rainbow of brightly coloured outfits to burst into song and dance in what yes, is best described as a ‘number’.  Not sharing in the festivities, Sebastian honks his horn at Mia who glares frostily back at him.

A few days later Sebastian is grumpily playing Christmas songs to punters in a posh restaurant. Till he throws a hissy fit, launches into one of his own compositions and is promptly sacked, just as Mia walks in. Later still, they meet again at a party, Sebastian now grumpily playing keyboards in a cheesy 80’s covers band to Mia’s sarcastic delight.

No prizes for guessing they get together, united in their ambition to make it big in the City of Dreams. We follow the ups & downs of their relationship and careers as they suffer set backs and breaks in equal measure, sprinkled with a liberal dusting of song ’n’ dance numbers. And that is pretty much it.

We LOVED this film. Absolutely LOVED it. What should be a vomit-inducing cheese-fest is pitch perfect sweet, light and endearing, filled with guileless joie de vivre from start to finish. A lot of this is credit to the clever casting decision of taking leading actors who can sort of sing and sort of dance, making the whole thing feel altogether natural and not over-polished. Add in The Gosling’s recently discovered deadpan comic ability and you have an absolute winner. Role on awards season, it’s about time a proper good ‘un swept the board.

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The Nice Guys. Plus A Nice Girl.

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The Sloth was in LA when The Nice Guys was released. We’d heard little about it, so to see posters of The Crowe and The Gosling with bad ‘taches, plastered above donut shops and Better Call Saul style dodgy US lawyer businesses, well, it didn’t exactly look too promising. First impressions aside, what’s the first thing you think of when considering Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling (keep it clean re: Gosling, ladies)?  We’re guessing ‘comedy’ isn’t it. And yet here they are, two of the moodiest actors in Hollywood signed up for that stalwart of genres The Buddy Cop Comedy. Hmm.

 

Crowe plays Jackson Healy, a grumpy, disillusioned PI who shambles around beating up unfaithful husbands and general n’er do wells to order (not a huge stretch, then…). Gosling plays Holland March, a puppyishly enthusiastic alcoholic PI who cheerily takes payment for jobs he knows he cannot fulfil. Such as the case of Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), a generously proportioned adult film star who has recently died in a car crash. Except she may not be dead as an old lady is convinced she is alive and begs Holland to investigate. After an inauspicious first meeting where Jackson is assigned Holland as a target and efficiently beats him to a semi-pulp, our duo find themselves thrown together to investigate Misty’s case.

 

It doesn’t take a genius to see where this is going. Neatly opposite characters soon find they complement each other, with sufficient scope for witty banter. Add a ‘70’s backdrop, always a goldmine for silly outfits and bad hair and that’s several comedy boxes ticked. Luckily, The Nice Guys doesn’t leave it there, adding in a third, scene stealing character of Holland’s young daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice). Far smarter than her dad and Jackson combined, while the two of them bumble around Holly is generally several steps ahead, nonchalantly questioning suspects at a porn star party or patiently driving an intoxicated Holland home after another drinking bout. And lo and behold, both The Crowe and The Gosling prove that yes, they can do comedy, Gosling in particular turning in a goofball performance George Clooney would be proud off.  Too clever by half, the pair of them…

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The Big Short. Money For Almost Nothing.

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Posters for The Big Short proclaim BALE, CARRELL, GOSLING, PITT in shouty, fist-pumping, hyperbolic capitals. Which makes us wonder what the atmosphere was like on set. We’re imagining the boys locker room to end all boys locker rooms.  BALE and GOSLING engaged in a pec-flexing battle of alpha males, silverback PITT sagely observing the young bucks jostling for his crown, whilst nerdy CARELL (does he really deserve the upper case?) has the sense to know his place and sits quietly picking at a scab on his knee. Yes, we came to The Big Short fearing a chest bumping testosterone overload. Were we right?

 

A ‘big short’ is a term for betting against the financial markets, specifically in this case the US housing market, for The Big Short examines how the recent US mortgage crisis and ensuing global economic crisis came to happen. For the purposes of illustration we follow Michael Burry (Christian Bale) an eccentric financial genius and hedge fund manager who spots that the US housing market is sitting on a bubble about to pop. Dismissed by most as a nutjob (mostly due to slobbing around his office in dirty t-shirts and bare feet) his predictions nonetheless attract the attention of several colleagues and fellow financiers who decide to bet against the housing market to make money and beat the banks at their own game.

 

This is not an easy subject. Terms like ‘credit default’ and ‘collateralized  debt’ normally only appear in the business sections everyone skips to get to the footy results. But that’s OK because we’re given lighthearted cameos of celebs appearing as themselves to explain the tricky bits. Although after Margot Robbie in a bathtub explained ‘sub-prime loans’ The Sloth was still confused, but we struggle with long division so that probably says more about us.

 

Filled with deliciously larger than life characters, many are indeed ludicrously macho but director Adam McKay was also responsible for the Anchorman films and his talent for satirical comedy definitely finds a place here, skewering the Wall Street egos. Most importantly, the whole thing rattles along at a riotous pace that is both marvelously entertaining and a distraction from the nagging feeling that you don’t quite understand what is going on. Which arguably is entirely the point.

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Seduced And Abandoned. Those Who Cannes, Do.

seducedThe Sloth loves Alec Baldwin.  Like a fine wine, he gets mellower and rounder and fruitier each year. The spoof, but only part spoof, documentary Seduced and Abandoned sees him reaching probably his peak vintage.

Alec is at the Cannes Film Festival because he wants to make a movie. He has a director, James Caan (the Godfather one, not the Dragon). He has a script, of sorts. What he doesn’t have is money.  Movies don’t get made without money. More importantly, movies don’t get made unless they are going to make money.

Touting his script round the Cannes marketplace like a streethawker, Alec quickly finds that in Hollywood there is a ferocious pecking order. His first choice of leading lady, Neve Campbell, is denounced by all and sundry as C or D-list. But it’s not just Neve that is the problem. Alec himself is dismissed as a very small fish in a very big pond. Interspersed with talking heads from luminaries including Martin Scorsese, Frances Ford Coppola, Diane Kruger, Jessica Chastain and (a wonderfully dry) Ryan Gosling discussing the brutality of the system, it becomes clear there is no time for protecting fragile egos here.

Seduced And Abandoned is two things. Firstly, it is very funny. Furnished with surreal, larger than life characters that you really, truly, couldn’t make up and further embellished with Alec’s droll commentary, it skewers the utter ridiculousness of the movie machine. Secondly, it is fascinating. We learnt more about the slimey, underbelly workings of Hollywood in its 98 minutes than we ever knew before (and probably wanted to). Pour yourself a large glass of movie magic, sit back and savour.

UK release 8 November / UK DVD release 24 February

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