Shedding Some Moonlight on La La Land’s Oscars

Shedding Some Moonlight on La La Land’s Oscars

Between them, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, managed to make the 89th Academy Awards end with a bizarre climax. Somehow Beatty was handed the envelope for Female in a Leading Role and stuttered from there toward a car crash not usually reserved for such a prestigious event. Dunaway jumped in, saw “La La Land” printed on the card, and the rest was history. Until history was corrected and Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight was revealed as the true winner.

The end took away from what should have been the true climax. The Academy’s triumphant step away from the dark ages and proof that #OscarsSoWhite has been acknowledged and corrected. But that statement, and position, threatens to diminish from Moonlight as a picture. The question is: did it win purely on merit when it seemed La La Land was nailed on to clean up in all categories?

The only way to judge, is to review each film on its strengths.

Moonlight, while being grounded in the harsh reality of Little’s life in the hood from the beginning, still manages to achieve stunning visual work. The rotating camera from the opening scene plants the viewer in a Boyz in the Hood world painted on an artistic canvas. He is befriended by Mahershala Ali’s Juan. He took the Oscar for this role last night, and it’s clear to see why.

The scene when he is teaching Little to swim is as immersive a piece of cinema you’ll see this year, matched by its supposed simplicity.

But nothing in Moonlight is simple. It’s a layered movie that takes Little from the bullied confused pre-adolescent to the isolated teenage version, Chiron. Here the movie explores the themes of sexuality that have become the main tag attached to the project. It wouldn’t work if it was just an exploration of this topic. Themes are compounded by his crack addict mother, isolation, and the powerful but fleeting connections Chiron makes.

By the final act, Chiron has become Black. A fully-grown man. Hardened by the world and his experiences. He is now the drug dealer and the mood of the film manages to again pour sympathy onto its protagonists. He’s assured as a man while still removed from others and life.

For a film that handles dark issues, it also has a tender side. With it, comes a great hope.

There isn’t a weak performance from any of the cast, the tonal shots and soundtrack throughout bring the vision close to ideal.

The big rival for the Oscar, La La Land, had more than soundtrack going for it. It’s a musical. Well, kind of.

It starts as one, setting its stall out with a number straight from the top. It’s unashamedly nostalgic for a by-gone era of Hollywood. Characters even refer to this with a tongue-in-cheek exchange. If you had no clue Damien Chazelle was the director, you’d soon ask the question. Jazz references from Ryan Gosling’s character, Sebastian, and the recurring loops bring back memories of Whiplash.

However, the first section of the film remains in the musical mould. Emma Stone took home the Oscar for Best Actress for her Mia, it’s questionable if this in hindsight was a case of sharing the love. La La Land tied for record nominations yet drew many blanks. She is good in this role, but is she better than Natalie Portman’s turn in Jackie? This writer has to say she isn’t.

But Gosling and Stone do share a good chemistry. It’s not obvious to begin with. You slowly get sucked into their chase of a shared dream. With it, come the recurring melodies that will make even a musical skeptic leave the cinema humming.

For a film that sets out to be a throwback, it does eventually become a contemporary offering. You’ll be forgiven for thinking at the halfway point the musical idea has been shelved. It’s also at this moment the movie starts to find its heart and voice.

This isn’t a failing. Chazelle is a great filmmaker and knows when to push and pull the audience. The closing chapter of the film presents an ending that the Oscars debacle on stage last night gave a tip of the cap to. It also questions if this was a movie about Hollywood for Hollywood or if it pays homage to the perceived simple lives that pursue love above everything else.

It could be that such ambiguity made judges opt for Moonlight when the two were so closely matched but one had a clear and important message.

If we were to split heirs, it could be argued Moonlight starts strong then levels out. The narrative jumping as it does, mean blanks have to be filled in, and the final act leaves one wondering if the Chiron we knew would have become this version. But we see that the essence of Little is still there. Still, the conclusion isn’t as explosive as what precedes it.

La La Land on the other hand, gains momentum the further into the film it gets. All the seeds that have been sowed throughout – musically, visually, emotionally – are brought together for an ending that surpasses expectation.

It means either film would have been a worthy winner and there’s something fitting that, for a time, they both knew what it felt like to be declared Best Picture.

You can’t have a tie in the Academy Awards, but this comes as close to one as you’ll ever see.

Lego Batman: A Dark Knight Parody

Lego Batman: A Dark Knight Parody

It’s been quite the turbulent time for Gotham’s finest on the big screen. Batman peak will be seen as the critical and financial success of The Dark Knight. Its sequel divided the new followers from an appreciative core audience. Then came the announcement Ben Affleck would fill the cape and cowl following the wrapping up of Christopher Nolan’s universe. The world groaned.

Movies Reflective joined the calls of dismay (The Dark Knight Relapses) and made its apologies (Batman v Superman: There is a Winner). Batfleck turned out to be a success. His anticipated solo film, directed by the man that made Argo an Oscar winner, promises to balance the dark side of the Bat with the commercial demands of the DC Extended Universe.

So where does that leave The Lego Batman Movie? Surely, it’s just an example of Warner Bros. lending one of their largest properties to a non-threat in order to make money? But with this approach must come a series of prerequisites. If this is the case, director Chris McKay and his eight writers either didn’t read the memo or stretched what was acceptable.

The Lego Batman Movie is a parody disguised as a standard children’s animation film.

It’s is so self-aware, it manages to deconstruct Batman at every level. Nothing is off limits. From Hans Zimmer’s tense action score from The Dark Knight Rises; Bruce Wayne’s backstory; Batman’s real world history; and the typical rules used in a superhero movie.

It pokes fun at all the failings of previous films. Too many villains over saturating the script: usually three bad guys will induce this effect. Lego Batman aims not for double figures, but triple. Bruce Wayne forever moping about and driven to dark places because he saw his parents killed. Lego Batman turns it into a comedy sketch.

Heath Ledger’s Joker summarising the unique relationship his character shared with The Caped Crusader (“I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”) becomes the drive for The Lego Batman Movie. Joker wants Batman to realise they are connected, that they need one another.

It’s great fun for the kids, Lego brick explosions everywhere, but the speed of the one liners indicate they have been written for the experienced Batman fan. And the embrace of the past, including the sixties TV version, goes beyond nostalgia or even paying homage.

If it weren’t for the child-friendly humour and tone, you could compare this to Team America: World Police. It knows what it is imitating so decides to have a good laugh with it.

In many ways, this means Will Arnett isn’t playing Bruce Wayne/Batman, because this isn’t really that character. It’s a shame for Joel Schumacher that the Lego Movie concept didn’t exist in 1997 when he gave the world Batman & Robin. It was his intention then to produce a Batman big screen outing for kids. He failed to impress children and adults alike, killing the franchise in the process.

The Lego Batman Movie shows how it can be done. When it’s clear from the off that all seriousness should be left in the cinema foyer, it doesn’t matter how colourful Gotham City is or how outlandish the story becomes. People can just sit back and enjoy.

With that freedom to do what they want with the property, Lego Batman manages to get a few more satirical scenes in under the radar. There’s a clear dig at Suicide Squad when Batman says getting bad guys to fight bad guys is stupid. And then, with a nod to that movie – and several other superhero flicks – the doomsday weapon of being invaded by another realm enters the fray.

It’s not here to comply with the structure of grown-up superhero films, it’s to point out how preposterous the notion is.

Even the happy ending is tongue-in-cheek. With it, The Dark Knight becomes a light comedy genius. Whether the DC Extended Universe is a success or not (and it hangs in the balance), Warner Bros. can always fall back on a Lego version of events and bring a bit of laughter, and a lot of revenue, into the boardroom.

Lego Batman isn’t the hero you deserve, but it’s the one you need right now.

T2: Trainspotting Judgement Day

T2: Trainspotting Judgement Day

Let’s face it, Danny Boyle doesn’t make bad movies. Every single one that his name has been attached to has been worthy of your time and deserved any success that came its way. It was his second as director, Trainspotting, that sent him on a roll. Its momentum helped create a career in Hollywood most modern movie makers can’t begin to rival. 2017 is the year he returns to the setting of a timeless piece of cinema.

In a perfect world, my first novel will be adapted by Boyle and Manchester would have its iconic movie (we did grow up on the same streets, so it’s not that far-fetched). It’s the dream choice because Boyle understands the drive of a story, then delivers a visual experience that goes beyond the vision of its creator. Irvine Welsh is a talented author, no doubt, but Trainspotting elevated his novel to heights he couldn’t have envisioned.

That was aided by the John Hodge screenplay and determination of producer Andrew Macdonald. Back in the nineties it was Boyle that had to convince Welsh a movie was a good idea. Years later it is the director in the hot seat calling the shots but it’s warming to know he wanted to make a sequel. It is something he actively sought, waiting merely for the actors to age accordingly.

The stars have aligned (and reassembled) to bring back the core characters from the original. Ewan McGregor’s “Rent Boy” has been missing for twenty years, as expected after stealing £16,000 from madman Begbie. Robert Carlyle was a scene stealer back in the first film (remember that glass chucking moment?) and his new Begbie is just as intense. But back then it was mindless, after twenty years in prison, it’s pure focus.

He escapes, and the lack of police follow-up is something we will just have to accept, and attempts to resume life. It’s here we get some laughs. Trainspotting was a black comedy at times, the laughs here are lighter and directly played for.

Sick Boy, or Simon, is now putting more coke up his nose than Renton put heroin in his arms first time around. He’s trying to run scams and wants to open a brothel to keep his girlfriend happy. Yep, the Edinburgh they inhabit still has its murky sides.

Ewen Bremner’s Spud is the final member of the quartet and plays a larger role than last time. He is still a heroin addict, estranged from his partner and child and is suicidal. The unexpected arrival of Renton gives his life a new direction.

For a time, the movie’s direction, while new, isn’t ground-breaking. It openly reminisces over famous scenes from the original. This trip down memory lane would be pure nostalgia in the hands of any other movie maker, and would be crude self-awareness – not unlike the last series of This Is England – if it weren’t for Boyle’s ability to bottle a mood a make everything feel fresh.

This talent is aided by a cast better equipped to deliver the vision this time around. They have all grown as actors. What the script lacks in depth, they fill out with more meaningful performances.

There was no point trying to replicate Trainspotting, that time has passed, the characters inhabit different bodies. But it would be soulless not to have them look back at key events after being separated for two decades. The soundtrack aides this natural introspection with a hint of familiar themes with new vibes laid over.

There are times the suspension of disbelief is stretched as coincidences and situations appear to drive us to a forced conclusion. That’s a nod to the power of the first film, perhaps there was no real story to tell after that one? But that’s not to say it is poor, far from it. Certain Boyle hallmarks displayed in Trance, and novel use of lighting in the finale, give this film the contemporary nod that separates if from its grimy predecessor.

Easily a four-star film, maybe as it settles it’ll take its place alongside the first. And in a few decades’ time, there’ll be no complaints if Boyle wants to visit these characters again.