In film or on stage, performance is a strange thing. Sometimes, the audience values showmanship and wants to see the raw talent of a performer laid bare under the lights. Sometimes, we crave realism – some indefinable feeling that the thing we are seeing on screen is genuine and true, their soul laid bare instead. To achieve one of these is rare, the stuff of chilled spines and tears. What then when an actor pulls off both, simultaneously? And, what when both leads of a film do so? Well, that’s A Star is Born. That’s magic.
Call Me by Your Name is a tender and warm coming of age story that beautifully captures that peculiar mixture of melancholy and exhilaration that so often accompanies a first love. Set in Italy in the 1980s, it is a subtle, sensuous, and gorgeous film. The pacing is pastoral and languid, lending the characters a lived-in and complex feel as they explore their surroundings. It sports a timeless plot about self-discovery and sexual exploration, with impeccable performances. Director Luca Guadagnino has perfectly executed one of the most heartbreaking and satisfying films of recent memory.
Very early in Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, as Doc (Kevin Spacey) sketches out the plans to a heist on a chalkboard, he explains to his crew that the driver “Baby” (Ansel Elgort) has tinnitus and chooses to drown out the constant hum by listening to music. Once he’s done with the obvious exposition, he puts down the chalk and exclaims, “Wow, I drew this entire map while explaining that. I’d say that’s pretty fucking impressive!” Thus Wright places his tongue firmly in-cheek, and we immediately understand the tone of the film: weird, energetic, and not taking itself too seriously.
Disney recently released the first teaser trailer for Pixar’s next original feature film, Coco. The teaser introduces us to a world full of music, magic, and spirits centered around Dia de los Muertos. In accordance with standard Pixar protocol, this teaser offers us only a slight glimpse at the characters and story, and instead envelopes the audience in the world of the film. After presenting the teaser, this piece will focus on what we can learn about the aesthetic of the film from the trailer, discuss the creative team behind the film, and flesh out the narrative and potential themes based on other interviews. Here we go:
In La La Land, the musical genre is simultaneously presented with a vibrant contemporaneity and a celebratory nostalgia for classic Hollywood. Around this structure, the film espouses timeless themes of self-doubt, settling and compromise, and the drive to follow one’s dreams – especially in the context of artistry. There are two great performances at the core of the film, Emma Stone as Mia and Ryan Gosling as Sebastian, multiple spectacular song-and-dance numbers, and a hyper-stylized aesthetic that blends reality and fantasy to perfection. Together, these elements make La La Land a wonderful marriage of plot, style, and theme, and one of the best films of the year (and best film musicals of recent memory).
Leaning heavily on his music video roots, John Carney has concocted a captivating coming-of-age story in Sing Street. Though populated by a cadre of lesser-known actors, there are solid performances all around, and absolutely wonderful musical pieces. It is tangentially reminiscent of a small-scope Almost Famous, complete with a young man exploring the world of music, but in this case it is as a creator and not as a journalist. Further, Sing Street is much more family-life focused, and there is a decided follow-your-dreams lean to the theme of the film. But the undoubted strength of the film is its employment of music. Carney uses music for everything: characterization, relationship-building, thematic statements, and much, much more. Plus, the pieces are drop-dead fantastic, and the majority of the score is diegetic, which aids the realism of the film. Taken together, it is clear that Sing Street will contend with the very best films of 2016.
Scott Hicks’ Shine is a brilliant film about the damage that can be done by a traumatic experience during childhood – whether a single devastating event or a prolonged poisonous relationship. The film tells the true story of David Helfgott and his struggle to celebrate his love of music despite the stifling instruction of his father Peter Helfgott, a Holocaust survivor intent on preserving the integrity of his family by all means possible. And as the desires of father and son square off, the result alternates between tragic and overwhelmingly uplifting.
I have been excited to see Asif Kapadia’s Amy Winehouse documentary since I first heard Alicia Malone’s description of it at the Cannes film festival (here). I finally got to see it last week, and I left the theater with a profound feeling of disgust . . . at myself and my culture.
A Kaleidoscope of Mathematics – A Beautiful Mind