La La Land: I smell an Oscar or Four

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Written my Nelson Cumming

La La Land is absolutely fantastic. It is worth all the hype it is getting. At the Venice Film Festival last year where La La Land premiered the audience gave it a standing ovation. That did not sell the film to me as standing ovations at film festivals are not uncommon. Now that I have seen it I see why it would get a standing ovation anywhere.

I think the only reason it did not happen at my screening (It was packed) was because no one was brave enough to start it. Myself included. La La Land is a movie with high ambition that cleared every bar it sets out to achieve in spades.

The film is a story about Mia (Emma Stone) who is an aspiring actress and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) who is a jazz enthusiast. They develop a relationship which is tested by their own carriers as they life in the glamor of the Hollywood.

Because of how La La Land is shot, it is easy to be swept away. Director Damien Chazelle went for unrestrained romanticism with a ton of upbeat energy. This style can become easily tiresome but it works because I have not seen anything quite like La La Land. He must have spent ages perfecting the movie’s tone.

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The overall tone of La La La. There is a ton more colour to the film than this. Hopefully this will give you a rough idea.

The only movie from 2016 that La La Land reminds me of is Woody Allen’s Cafe Society. I liked Cafe Society, but La La Land is on a whole new level.

Not only can I find anything bad about it. I don’t want to find anything bad about it because it looks so picture perfect. From the opening shot which is an entire music number set on the motorway during traffic to the final montage is so colorful and vibrant that it blew my mind.

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That is what my eye looked like after seeing La La Land

La La Land is the kind of gem that it’s impossible to pinpoint the best scene as you are watching it. The movie always seems to trump itself. I thought the second scene “Somewhere in the Crowd” was going to be the best scene. There were about six scenes that were better (especially the finale). It is rare for any movie to have one great scene. La La Land was one great scene after another and it feels like one long stupendous sequence.

The chemistry between Stone and Gosling is so charming it is nuts. The amount of talent that radiates between them separately is enough, let alone the two together. They have so much class and talent. Gosling knows how to play the piano and stone knows how to sing and tap dance. The both, with their talents, created a story that gave a new meaning to an old ending.

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Gosling trying to convince Stone that jazz is not dead. If I had a significant other, I would try to convince my future significant other that pro wrestling is not dead. Gosling manages to persuade Stone on his passion. But I am no Gosling. I am much better than Gosling.

There are dozens of other things to praise La La Land for such as the colorful costumes, the seamless camerawork, the songs and the camaraderie which helped make an old story feel brand new.

Chezelle has achieved something magnificent here. He has shown the glitz and glamor of old school Hollywood and makes it look like the focal point of La La Land when it reality it is about the struggles of success and realizing that life is not as perfect as the exterior he masterfully presents.

Damien Chezelle’s face. See it, remember it. Given this and Whiplash, he will be in many acclaimed movies to come.

Chezelle is like the antihero of his generation of filmmakers that has gained mainstream acceptance. He is against the grain but has cleverly made his way into the minds the major film studio executives. He won’t change their minds, but he was in the picture after Whiplash. Now they would have wholly accepted him after La La Land.

Judging from his movies, Chezelle has a huge artistic vision that can now be easily funded and executed. He is guaranteed to make whatever he wants for his next effort, have a lot of artistic freedom and easily get millions of dollars to support it. Something most directors only dream about. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Room Review

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Written by Nelson Cumming

A single word can a sentence can change the meaning of a sentence completely. That was the first thought that entered my head as I started typing. Why is that? Well, that’s because if I added the word “The” before “Room” as a typo then people will mistake it for me reviewing one of the most ineptly made films of all time. If I simply say “Room” well people will now think I am writing about one of the best films of the year. Of course, that is what “Room” is all about.

As I threw the DVD disc (yeah they still exist) into my drive I was thinking it was an escape/thriller movie based on the trailer, however, it is much more than that. “Room” follows the story of five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who has lived in a confined shed his entire life. He lives with his mother Joy (Brie Larson). The reason they both live inside the shed is because of Jack’s abusive father who locks them inside the shed.

“Room” is not only the title of the movie but it’s also the name that Jack and his mother give the shed. Room Jack believes is the entire world and Jack interacts with inanimate objects in Room as a way to socialize. He even say “Goodnight plant” and “Goodnight Lamp”

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Jack’s (Jacob Tremblay) world that is called “Room”. He has lived there his entire life.

There are a plethora of reasons as to why “Room” works so well. One of which is the premise which is both innovate and creative, a rarity in films of recent years. The other is chemistry between Larson and Tremblay. I believe their chemistry was perfect. Despite the fact that they live in social isolation, they don’t act like damaged people. Both act (especially Larson) like a normal mother-son relationship which subtly indicating that “Room” is affecting their relationship. I got immersed in this movie quickly because of the two together.

What made the film more engrossing to watch was the dialogue, scriptwriting and narrative twists that go against the grain of cliché. The dialogue is purely written dialogue that the writers knew extensively about how mothers and sons speak and how they speak to each other.

There is a moment in which Joy tries to teach his son things about the real world and Jack denies it to the point where Joy loses patience and Jack cries. Larson is them frustrated at herself for lashing out. It’s an example in “Room” of humanity. It is written with a great observation of human behavior while retaining its narrative form and function.

“Room” is a very rare movie where the cast members are good to perfect, the narrative quickly and thoroughly engrossing, the writing was humane and sublime in its simplicity, and has believable twists that you don’t see coming. All the makings of not only a great film but one of the years best *****

Inside Out Review

Genre: Animation
Year: 2015
Rating: PG
Main Cast: Amy Poehler
Phyllis Smith
Lewis Black
Bill Hader
Mindy Kaling
Production Companies: Pixar Animation Studios
Walt Disney Pictures
Written by: Pete Docter
Ronnie del Carmen
Directed by: Pete Docter

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Written by Nelson Cumming

Inside Out is one of the smartest movies that I know. It is also one of the most honest movies and it came out at the most opportune time for me. It not only serves as a great visual aid for psychology, it looks for universal truths about how life and emotions develop people. It is also one of the rare movies that explore what people think, do and love.

Inside Out served as a great reflective experience as Riley is undergoing change and entering adolescence. When I saw this, I was exiting adolescence so everything that she went through was fresh in my mind as I starting drawing parallels between her life and mine. While I have seen Pixar movies that know how to get me emotionally invested, Inside out got to a point where I felt Pixar knew me. That never entered my mind before in a Pixar film, which is the reason I believe it is the best Pixar film to date.

The story is about a girl called Riley as she copes with adolescence and change as he moves into a new house in San Francisco. This makes her unhappy. Meanwhile, Riley’s personified emotions Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger try and process this change in their own way, leading to conflicting emotions that develop into a downward spiral in Riley’s emotive state. Riley’s emotions need to learn to co-operate with each other to prevent Riley from going off the deep end.

Everything in Inside Out worked to varying degrees of success. The first parallel I noticed between myself and Riley occurred when she has to recall a memory in her life on the first day of her new school. Her happy memory turned into a sad one, which was something I was experiencing when I was a teenager. Inside Out then goes on to show lots of psychological concepts that are easy to understand and relate to, from the train of thought, the loss of old memories, how the small emotive moments contribute to your personality and the loss of innocence. All of this was well written and very creative.

What was also creative was the scriptwriting. The entire movie was smartly written, even the comedy. All of the comedy is funny not because it was funny in of itself, but because it was relatable. The funniest scene was when Riley’s mom was trying to find the source of her daughter’s problems and tries to signal to her husband, who we find out is daydreaming about football. He snaps out of his daydream and thinks he is in the wrong, but doesn’t know why he is wrong and the mother is annoyed that he can’t take the hint. These are just classic familial situations that are done from a unique angle where they don’t point and make fun at it, but embraces it. That I think is crucial to a movie that sets to be wholehearted about what we do and how we behave.

The other thing that I noticed when I saw Inside Out was the animation. I haven’t seen a movie -even by Pixar- that had animation this radiant, especially the scenes inside Riley’s head. This helped reinforce the inner-beauty that the story contained. It was an integral part of the package. It gave the movie an added edge that made it feel more special than it was already.

I used the word “reflection” a lot because that was what the movie did for me. It made me reflect on my past. So much so I even used the experience as my essay on theological reflection (I made the theological aspects up using academic research of course) and got a distinction on it. Boy my mum was ecstatic about that one. This movie was so monumental to me that it made it on the Inglorious Reviews logo on the Facebook page, top-of-center.

All of that, and more, really hit me. It was like my emotional life was reflected on the big screen. The best thing about it was it shows how much the struggle of adolescence struggle reality that should be accepted and not looked down upon. It also makes you feel that you aren’t the only one going through it. I never felt better or happy when someone would say “you’re not alone” or when other people told their stories about their struggles growing up. This film was my reflection of a life stage that I just lived. It made me a better person. Roger Ebert said that if a movie makes you change your mind, it appeals to your emotions, not your reason. That had never been truer than when I saw Inside Out. *****

Embrace of the Serpent Review

Genre: Drama
Year: 2016
Rating: M
Runtime: 126 minutes
Main Cast: Jan Bijvoet
Nilbio Torres
Antonio Bolívar
Written By: Ciro Guerra
Jacques Toulemonde Vidal
Directed by: Ciro Guerra

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Embrace of the Serpent is a great and unique film. It’s one of those rare films that will have cinematic elements and story threads that you don’t see in many films and has the courage to blend it all into one great scene after another. When I first saw this film, I cannot deny that I was transfixed by it. It has ambition, great themes, and originality. After seeing this, I thought it was great but I wanted to know more about it before I made a final judgment. When I read up on it, I loved it even more.

Ciro Guerra is a great director and I have only seen one of his films (this one!). While plot-wise it sometimes isn’t clear (but easy to understand) it makes it up by the themes, the perspective of the story and the journey towards the yakruna plant. Critics have compared it to Apocalypse Now for its portrayal of the corruption of natives in the jungle, but I would argue that Embrace of the Serpent and Apocalypse Now are similar but different as they explore different dark themes.

The entire story is taken from the from the perspective of Karamakate (Nilbio Torres and Antonio Bolívar respectively) but is interwoven between the two time periods from when he is both young and old. It shows Karamakate helping both Theodor and Evan, both in different time periods, find the sacred yakruna plant, each has different motives for the plant and Karamakate helps both of them reluctantly, believing both men are honest.

I believe both Apocalypse Now and Embrace of the Serpent are films that look into the bleak morbid darkness inside the souls of the corrupt and the impact it has on people. While Apocalypse Now does this through the atrocities of war, Embrace of the Serpent explores this through the rape of cultural identity through European Colonialism.

It can be argued that the only good guy in this film is the main character is Karamakate who is the last of his tribe. He, at one point, forgets his entire culture as he has been alone for decades. At this point, he is an old man, a man who is a lone wolf survivor who tries to keep himself and his identity alive even though he is the last man of his tribe. His faith is once tested when a traveler wants him to search for the Yakurna plant “for a lot of money” showing two one-dollar bills. It is the beginning of the corruption and atrocity that ensues from the people and events that surround him.

There are multiple sequences throughout Karamakate’s travels that reveal the horrors of corruption in the Amazon. These themes revolve around torture (Shown in the “buckets of rubber” scene but not actually depicted) religious assimilation and fanaticism, loss of cultural identity, the ignorance of settlers with the lack of respect or understanding of native cultures. As you may have envisioned, this is one of the darkest, yet packed films that is filled with material and ideas. You would expect Embrace of the Serpent to be either too gruesome, preachy, tiresome or crammed. But how the story is executed made it a mesmerizing experience.

The execution of this story is phenomenal. Imagine a film with all those aforementioned themes. Add great acting, black and white cinematography, smooth, visual imagery of the natural landscape, two separate stories and that interweave throughout each other through different times while making it feel effortless. All of that and you get Embrace of the Serpent, a truly unique film.

It feels like a peaceful adventure every time they travel on the river, the violence is shocking but never overdone. It doesn’t gloss anything over. It shows horror and beauty the way it is. Every scene has a purpose and a reason for existing. I kept watching because 1. Karamakate is a wholesomely good character in a bad world and I wanted him to survive it with his integrity intact and 2. The visual splendor of this movie with great detail and the picture quality is detailed and enthralling. Speaking of which, The cinematographer is unbelievable. It reminded me of The Revenant as he smoothly traversed through the wilderness at a steady deliberate pace while constantly being in the right positions that trigger awe-inspiring visuals and captivating moments both the good and the bad.

Finally, I want to say this film is comparable to Apocalypse Now but more accessible as Embrace of the Serpent is slightly less brutal, more organic in the natural splendor, and has a shorter running time. Embrace of the Serpent is not a cathartic as Apocalypse Now, nor is it a poignant film, but it is mesmerizing for what it was and is better when reflected upon. I would guess that it gets better through multiple viewings.

This film and Mustang were two films that were nominated for the Best Foreign Film category at the Academy Awards last year. Neither won. It is starting to show me that the award for best foreign film is more important and prestigious than the award for best picture. Filled with hard-hitting themes combined with a great story and masterful cinematic flair, Embrace of the Serpent will be an absolute classic that will be worshiped by not many people in the English-speaking world. At least Embrace of the Serpent, while insignificant to the many, will be remembered by the few. *****