Sunday, 15 January 2017

Review | La La Land

As we all know, 2016 was a pretty bad year for everyone. Celebrities dropping dead willy nilly, Brexit being an actual THING and a walking buffoon with weetabix for hair became President of the United States. Fortunately, 2017 has already gone off to a flying start thanks to the gorgeously romantic and charming musical film, 'La La Land', directed by Damien Chazelle (of 'Whiplash' fame). An ode to old Hollywood and MGM musicals, 'La La Land' follows the story of aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and aspiring jazz musician Seb (Ryan Gosling) as they become entangled into a passionate relationship that threatens to hinder both of them from following their dreams.

   This was a film that I simply could not stop smiling at. From its big opening number set on gridlocked freeway involving a flash mob to the moving epilogue at the film's end, 'La La Land' churns out buckets of charm without ever falling into the overbearingly cheesy category. The film plays out across the four seasons, starting and culminating with Winter as we follow the journey of our two leads across the breathtakingly beautiful landscape of Los Angeles, which in itself becomes a prominent character to the story. Every scene is shot with splashes of colour and vibrancy, matching the incredibly catchy and infectious nature of the songs themselves in what feels like a big snapshot pf the city of L.A, a place of dream-chasing optimism. Shot in Cinemascope, every scene is bathed in long takes and in pastel hues of blue and pink; the vibrancy of the film matches the soaring pace of the narrative following the ups and downs of Seb and Mia's relationship, and at that, it almost becomes transcendental. You are momentarily pulled into the brightly coloured world that Chazelle has created and you never wish to leave.

   Both Gosling and Stone shine individually within the film, Stone going from audition to audition with such gutso and determination before inevitably crumbling allows the audience to empathise with her - she is our guiding force throughout and our emotional connection. She's as witty, smart and vulnerable than ever, particularly in her defying 'Les Mis' moment with the ballad 'Fools Who Dream', her voice cracking with emotion by the last note. Paired with Gosling's Seb, a disgruntled jazz musician who refuses to let go of the historical breakthrough and inspiration of famous jazz artists, their chemistry bounces off the screen through moments of song, dance and even moments where they do not speak, the silence is filled with a repetitive piano theme that aligns itself with the couple; it is played at the first time they meet, and the last, and completely wraps Mia and Seb in the emotional gravitas of the film.  Chazelle is clearly inspired by his own love of music and it pays off wonderfully in his direction.

  It's clear that Chazelle is a big musical fan, even a fan of old Hollywood movies. Mia works in a cafe at the Warner Brothers studio, amongst the backdrops of the classics (Mia points out the window from which Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart looked out on to Paris in 'Casablanca'), she and Seb have a spontaneous song and dance together as the sun sets over the city in true 'Singin in the Rain' style, their chemistry and dynamic alone recalling certain moments in 'A Star is Born'. This nostalgia never feels outdated or forced, it instead reinforces the charm of the film and it becomes new and fresh, much like Seb's reluctance to join a band that experiments with Jazz, bringing it to the 21st century. This could be a nodding reference to Chazelle himself, being brave enough to write and direct a modern day musical that is, quintessential, a love letter to MGM musicals and old Hollywood. It smashed the Golden Globes, and I'm hoping 'La La Land' recreates this success at the Academy Awards next month.

Deliriously romantic and nostalgically charming, 'La La Land' will undoubtedly put a smile to your face at a time when we really need to keep our chins up. Frenetic and breathtaking at the same time, this is a film that will make you want to chase your dreams, no matter how absurd they may be.
La La Land is in cinemas everywhere now.

Monday, 9 January 2017

The Goldfish Boy - Lisa Thompson

It's a new year which means it's time to shake off your dusty wigs and get your reading glasses back on as I'm back on the old blogger! It's been a rather busy few months (what EVEN was December?!) but I'm back, with a promise to you all of at LEAST one post per week. So, let's kick things off in style with a good old fashioned book review; what better place to start than January's Book of the Month for Waterstones, Lisa Thompson's debut 'The Goldfish Boy'.

  Matthew Corbin suffers from OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and rarely does he leave his room. He washes his hands until they crack and bleed, he douses everything with antiseptic spray and he has a secret box of latex gloves under his bed. To pass the time, he observes his neighbours as they go about their daily routines and jots it down in his notepad. Everything is as regular as clockwork, until Mr Charles' grandchildren come to stay, and the youngest, Teddy, goes missing. As the cul-de-sac residents come together to look for Teddy, it becomes apparent that Matthew was the last person to see him and he finds himself slap bang in the middle of a high-stakes mystery and every single one of his neighbours are suspects. Can Matthew overcome his fears and risk exposing his biggest secret to crack the mystery?

   From the get go, I was immediately sold by the premise as it reminded me heavily of Mark Haddon's wonderful 'Curious Incident', and it follows a very similar structure, the main protagonist is isolated, views something that is vital to the plot progressing and importantly, must deal with overcoming a substantial hurdle. In Matthew's case, it is his OCD. Thompson writes about Matthew's condition with such clarity and yet such sadness, as you really get into his mindset about why he feels the need to clean and why things have to be in a certain way. His parents don't understand and they urge him to "get better" but Matthew, and now us as the reader, know it is not that easy. It's clear that Thompson feels strongly about the topic, and it really resonated with me as I spent hours researching OCD shortly after finishing the book, it is a very serious condition and should be treated as such. It  never feels daunting or too heavily enforced either, the intended 9-12 demographic would easily be able to pick this book up and be able to relate to Matthew's character. He's likeable, smart and he'll probably break your heart by the last few pages; it is brave of Thompson to write about OCD in such a poignant yet realistic manner.

   The other characters are also very well thought out and crafted, each adding their own layer of perplexity to the mystery but also remaining incredibly realistic and humane, Mr Jenkins is a PE teacher who smokes in secret, Old Nina lives in a ramshackled old home longing on to the past, and Matthew's Mum and Dad are frustrated, emotional parents who are desperate for their son to be normal. This realistic setting with realistic characters helps plod the story on nicely without ever becoming far fetched.

   As for the main plot itself, as fantastic as the mystery of 'who took Teddy' was, I did at times think it would take a rather dark turn. Especially in one moment when Teddy's blanket is found covered in blood. I found this rather disturbing and may be unsettling for younger readers, though thankfully this is the only shred of darkness as all becomes clear when the culprit reveals themselves in an enlightening, yet heartbreaking manner. What I really enjoyed was the 'Broadchurch'-esque nature of the cul-de-sac, how closely intertwined everyone was with each other, and how events of the past affected the events of the present day. I was utterly absorbed the whole time and I really couldn't work out who had taken Teddy, even when I thought I had, it still took me by surprise.

A touching, humane story about being brave and learning to be comfortable in your own skin mixed with a engrossing mystery, 'The Goldfish Boy' follows in the steps of 'Wonder' and 'Curious Incident' in being a thoroughly entertaining book for children and adults alike.

The Goldfish Boy