This week at the cinema

Times of Malta takes a look at the latest big screen releases in Malta

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land.

La La Land (2016)
Certification: 12A
Duration: 126 minutes
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Amiee Conn
KRS Releasing Ltd

The romantic musical comedy-drama La La Land has garnered great response from the public and critics alike in the last couple of weeks.

It in fact set a record at last Sunday’s Golden Globes ceremony when it received seven awards, including for best picture comedy or musical and wins by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Furthermore, it was also announced yesterday that it received the most nominations for the British Academy Film Award with 11 nods.

The highly-awaited film, chosen by the American Film Institute as one of the top 10 films of 2016, follows the story of Mia, an aspiring actress, and Sebastian, a dedicated jazz musician, struggling to make ends meet while pursuing their dreams and never giving up. On this note, the film’s title is said to be a reference to the idiom for being detached from the harsher realties of life. It also alludes to a nickname for the city of Los Angeles, a city that director Damien Chazelle describes as one being “built by people with unrealistic dreams and people who kind of just put it all on the line for that”.

However, despite it being a front-runner in Hollywood’s awards season, La La Land comes at a time when musical live-action films have faded as superhero fare and franchises dominate the Hollywood box office.

Given this, getting it on the big screen presented numerous challenges: “Being a musical, that alone was already a challenge to get money for, but as it was not based on anything, it’s frustrating that the original movie has become this rarity,” the 31-year-old film-maker told Reuters in an interview.

Despite the challenge, however, Chazelle appears to have practiced what he preaches in the film as he overcame his obstacles and  managed to craft a modern millennial musical. As Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera states:

“La La Land is a film that does not merely reinvent the musical genre, it gives it a brand new start.”

Furthermore, Chazelle found inspiration in Hollywood musicals from the 1930s to the 1960s as well as the 1964 French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

La La Land is truly an ode to, as Mia says in the film, “the ones who dream” and definitely worth a watch.

IMDB: 8.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Empire Magazine: 5 stars

A Monster Calls (2016)
Genre: Fantasy/Drama
Certification: 12A
Duration: 108 minutes
Directed by: J.A. Bayona
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Lewis MacDougall
KRS Releasing Ltd

Liam Neeson and Lewis MacDougall in A Monster Calls.Liam Neeson and Lewis MacDougall in A Monster Calls.

A Monster Calls is a 2016 fantasy drama film directed by J. A. Bayona and written by Patrick Ness, based on his novel.

The film follows the story of a bullied, solitary and artistic twelve-year-old boy named Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall). Conor is portrayed to us trying to deal with his mother’s terminal cancer (Felicity Jones), his imperious grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) and his estranged father (Toby Kebbell), while being haunted by a recurrent nightmare.

Despite what appears to be a hopeless situation, however, Conor finds a most unlikely ally when a Monster (Liam Neeson) appears at his bedroom window one night. The Monster tells Conor that it has come to tell him three true stories, after which the little boy will tell him his own story, the truth behind his nightmare. The three stories are legends of sorts, ones that grow ever closer to the stuff of Conor’s life.

Ancient, wild, and relentless, the Monster guides Conor on a journey of courage, faith, and truth that powerfully fuses imagination and reality.

What the monster represents is kept a secret throughout the film and so when the mystery is ultimately solved it comes across as a magical, massively emotional experience. Like in The Orphanage, Bayona keeps a fine balance between reality and magical realism transforming the story into somewhat of an adult fairy tale.

In fact, Peter Debruge from Variety draws on this idea, maintaining that it is not actually fit for children Conor’s age.

“A splendidly rendered, yet oddly ill-conceived terminal-illness melodrama that feels much too dark and serious for audiences Conor’s age, and an even more curious fit for grown-ups”.

IMDB: 7.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Empire Magazine: 4 stars

Live By Night (2016)
Genre: Crime/Drama
Certification: 15
Duration: 128 minutes
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning
KRS Releasing Ltd

Ben Affleck stars as Joe Coughlin in Live by Night.Ben Affleck stars as Joe Coughlin in Live by Night.

Live by Night is an American crime drama film written, directed, co-produced by and starring Ben Affleck, based on the 2012 novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane.

The film takes us back to the roaring 1920s where prohibition hasn’t stopped the flow of booze in an underground network of gangster-run speakeasies. The opportunity to gain power and money is there for any man with enough ambition and nerve, and Joe Coughlin, the son of the Boston Police superintendent, long ago turned his back on his strict upbringing for the spoils of being an outlaw. However, Coughlin soon realises that even among criminals there are rules that mustn’t be broken.

Live by Night received mixed reviews from critics.

Owen Gleiberman of Variety states: “It’s like seeing the ghost of a terrific movie”.

Adding to this, Joe Morgenstern from the Wall Street Journal maintains: “for all its sporadic philosophising and belated stabs at romance, Live by Night is cold and inert at its core”.

Despite being deemed entertaining by many other critics, what all critics appear to ultimately be asking is what does this film add to the prolific history of the gangster genre?

IMDB: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 32%
Empire Magazine: 2 stars


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