Tag Archives: Jazz

DISNEY + FILM REVIEW: SOUL (2020)

DISNEY + FILM REVIEW: SOUL (2020)

Directed by: Pete Docter

Produced by: Dana Murray

Written by: Pete Doctor, Mike Jones, Kemp Powers

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, Donnell Rawlings, Questlove, Angela Bassett etc.

Music by: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste[a]

Cinematography: Matt Aspbury, Ian Megibben

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Death, the loss of childhood innocence, grief, mid-life crises, missing children, the end of the word due to human greed, ghosts, female emancipation within patriarchal society, the afterlife, use of fear as energy, neuropsychological exploration of emotions, oh, and death again are all heavy themes and subjects for a film. But they are not just from the works of heavyweight filmmakers such as Werner Herzog, Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman or Stanley Kubrick. They are subjects investigated and probed and rendered entertainment in a fantastic style by the ever-impressive Pixar studio. Their latest film Soul (2020) is yet another extravaganza of high concepts, existential themes, and scintillating visual world-building.

Soul (2020) centres around Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a music teacher who longs to immerse himself in a career as a jazz musician. It’s not necessarily suggested in the opening scenes as to why Joe hasn’t made it as he clearly has musical talent. However, his dominant mother Libby (Phylicia Rashad) objects to his frivolous desire to play piano, plus Joe, like many artists out there just cannot get a break. A chance arises though when he gets an opportunity to audition for esteemed singer, Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). Joe’s exquisite piano playing wins over Dorothea, but then tragedy strikes as an excited Joe falls down a manhole and dies. Being a Pixar film committed to venturing into the afterlife, as it did previously with Coco (2017), Joe finds himself, not in the ‘Land of the Dead’ but rather the ‘Great Before/Beyond’ instead.



As Joe moves toward the light with the many other souls he refuses to accept this is the end. He rejects the unknown glowing light of the ‘Great Beyond’ and escapes to a world full of young, old and lost souls called the ‘Great Before’. Here he meets a cynical soul called 22 (Tina Fey), who is refusing to claim the badges required to begin her own life on Earth. This is where the story gets a bit sticky for me. I mean I enjoy narratives about life, death and the afterlife including the brilliant A Matter of Life and Death (1946) and both excellent versions of Heaven Can Wait (1943 / 1978). However, Soul (2020) I think tries to do too much as 22’s story threatens to dominate Joe’s pursuit to get his life and career back. Moreover, the ridiculous sight of Joe’s soul ending up in a therapy cat also felt like a contrived lean toward giving the kids something to laugh at. Indeed, I felt this water-and-oil decision, while funny, undermined the more intrinsically vital themes within the narrative.

Ultimately though, having succumbed to the cultural pressure of signing up to Disney +, I did thoroughly enjoy Pixar’s Soul (2020). Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey create a fine double act with their brilliant comedic timing and performances. Moreover, Graham Norton and Richard Ayoade provide humorous voice support, and of course, the animation is incredible. Although I would actually have preferred to stay on the exquisitely drawn streets of New York more than the ‘Fantasiaeque’ lysergic acid look of the afterlife. Still, once again, Pixar have been clinical in delivering an intelligent film that delves into existential themes relating to the meaning of life. Joe’s journey, like his music, is full of verve, beauty and many surprising twists, ensuring his soul is certainly one that is worth saving.

Mark: 9 out of 11


A LOVELY NIGHT IN THE SUN: LA LA LAND (2016) REVIEWED

LA LA LAND (2016) FILM REVIEW

**SPOILER ALERT!**

In light of the FOURTEEN Oscar nominations from the Academy who am I to go against the tide of musical loveliness that is La La Land. Indeed, while I dislike all kinds of award ceremonies per se it does deserve most of the accolades coming its way. Because as the Trump puppet rears his huge, ugly head in the United States and Brexit looms large in the UK we all need something feel-good and nostalgic to lift us; especially amidst the bitter cold of winter.

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Damian Chazelle, who wrote and directed the exceptional drama Whiplash (2014), has sculpted a sunny post-modern musical which soars throughout paying tribute to both Los Angeles and Hollywood. The movie stars Ryan Gosling as an uncompromising jazz pianist and Emma Stone as a sensitive, budding actress who meet in a contemporary yet somehow old-fashioned vision of LA; where magic and love are in the air and the potentialities of dreams are a palpable force.

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Stone and Gosling are a stunning couple and while Chazelle’s leads may not have the strongest voices they serve the songs exceptionally well with an ordinary wonder. The chemistry between the two sparkles as the story entwines their characters within a “follow your dream” narrative. Arguably there could’ve been slightly more differences between the two than the “I hate jazz” tension; but as in the romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), Stone and Gosling sail through the film with confidence and profound likeability.

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Chazelle throws everything at the story employing jazz, 80s pop, old band numbers, R and B, and ballads. Moreover, all manner of parody, pastiche and cinematic devices are employed to echo the classic Hollywood musicals of yesteryear; the formidable work of Jacques Demy; plus the more modern pop promos of recent times. The opening Another Day of Sun traffic sequence is a real showstopper as Fame-like dancing and singing on motors in an LA highway jam brilliantly establishes the hyper-real and fantastical elements to come.

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It seems obvious to say that the music in La La Land is to the fore, but Chazelle and the ultra-talented composer Justin Hurwitz commit a verve and soul to the songs and direction. Clearly the characters and lyrics reflect their own personal emotions, dreams and desire to escape everyday existence. While much of the film skims a stylish surface of colour and verve, numbers such as City of Stars and The Fools Who Dream really touch the heartstrings and draw out the internal emotions of the characters.

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It’s hard to criticize such a funny, feel-good movie and as a musical it is probably a masterpiece, however, while the love story served the musical structure really well, I felt that, compared to say Funny Girl (1968), Grease (1977) and Half-A-Sixpence (1967) it arguably lacked a bit of dramatic tension. Indeed, the break-up itself was under-baked and latterly covered by a have-your-cake-and-eat-it “what could have been” fantasy flashback. Yet, this is a minor critique of an incredibly well realised escapist joy.

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So, roll on the Oscars where the film will almost certainly win best film and direction, plus accolades, no doubt, for the musical and technical achievements. The wonderful Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are certain to be in the fray too. However, while I have seen other more dramatically impactful films such as: Arrival (2016), Manchester by the Sea (2016) and Silence (2016) (not even nominated!!), this remains one terrific musical that will lift the spirits even on the darkest day.

SHAKESPEARE’S SISTER – A CULTURAL REVIEW

SHAKESPEARE’S SISTER – A CULTURAL REVIEW

Pretty bloody busy for me during October with all manner of cultural exploits. I cannot take full credit for the invites to three of these events though as my wonderful girlfriend Melissa obtained the tickets for the theatre, Gala cinema screening and French Jazz master’s performance. So, a big thanks to her for that. Anyway, here’s some stuff I’ve been up to which may be of interest or may not.

ARCELORMITTAL ORBIT – OLYMPIC PARK

Apropos of just fancying a look about the old East End of London I, Melissa and my son Rhys went to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford and went up and then went down the ArcelorMittal Orbit. It’s a big, metal monster-tower made out of scrap and designed by Anish Kapoor. It’s an incredible engineering feat and the view was breathtaking. Walking down the caged-in metal spiral was pretty good exercise too so a cultural and physically stimulating afternoon was had by all.

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HAMLET – BARBICAN THEATRE

Sherlock Holmes does Hamlet!  How cool is that!  And yes he does solve the murders!  I really enjoyed this atmospheric production of Shakespeare’s classic existentialist tale of the young Prince seeking revenge for the death of his father. Obviously, the marquee signing of Benedict Cumberbatch raises expectations and he delivers a manic and thoughtful and polished performance. There’s some fine sarcastic bite in his delivery as his Prince veers from confident young clown to depressed and self-destructive lunatic.  At times the pace was breath-taking as the dialogue was spun out a furious velocity while on occasions – not enough for me – the cast slowed to allow the drama to breathe. The set and lighting design was incredible and Cumberbatch is supported by a terrific cast including Ciaran Hinds, Jim Norton, Sian Brooke and Anastasia Hille. I don’t know much about theatre really but this was really rather good I reckon.

JOHNNY MARR AT THE LONDON FORUM

What a great gig at the Forum by Johnny Marr. The former Smiths’ maestro is one of the best guitarists I have ever seen live. Not the strongest of voices but suitable for the style of indie-Dad-rock he performs. There are moments of transcendent genius in his guitar playing which careered across the venue. His solo stuff is musically formidable but of course The Smiths renditions tore the roof off notably: How Soon Is Now and There is a Light That Never Goes Out. He even did a burst cover of Crash by The Primitives. Life is a fleeting affair so one must grasp and grip the rail when greatness comes along. I felt privileged tonight as it was a fine time spent in the presence of a musical genius.

MICHEL LE GRAND – RONNIE SCOTT’S

It was my first time at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club and I was very pleased to hear legendary French composer and lyricist Michel Legrand live before he shuffles off to the great orchestra in the sky. Le Grand composed music from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and Yentl (1983); while perhaps his most famous composition was The Windmills of Your Mind. I’ve never liked Jazz yet after Michel Legrand’s incredible musical performance I fully appreciate the tour de force expertise of his creativity and musical brilliance. I still don’t like Jazz but appreciate I was in the presence of a master of that particular art! Even at the age of 83 he was magnifique.

SUFFRAGETTE WORLD PREMIERE GALA – THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL

Melissa won us the “red carpet” treatment for this Gala screening of Suffragette (2015) and it was a starry affair with the likes of Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham-Carter and Meryl Streep onstage to present their powerful film to the world.  I didn’t feel that comfortable walking in amongst the West End throng into the cinema as I’m not someone who likes a fuss and I always feel these affairs are pretentious, ostentatious and very much against my hypocritical “socialist” roots. Am I a working class traitor – who knows?  I still enjoyed the free Green and Black’s chocolate which was in the arm of the Odeon Leicester Square chair where I sat.

The film itself is a cracking drama which has fine direction by Sarah Gavron with a simple, yet effective screenplay by Abi Morgan.  It is a worthy cause celebre to film and stands a fine testament to the brave women who fought for the right to vote.  Ironically, there was a protest there from Sisters Uncut about the important issues of this bastard Government’s austerity cuts and here’s to them for making their protest. I would have joined them but was too busy eating chocolate and watching the movie.