Wednesday, 1 February 2017

OSCAR WATCH: Academy Award contenders Fences and La La Land deliver rousing stories, passionate performances

DARING TO DREAM: La La Land has everything a great Hollywood movie musical should: infectious, danceable tunes, memorable performances and that vintage razzle-dazzle feel. In short, it’s a cinematic experience that looks good and sounds great. From its debut last year all the way to the present Oscar season, the film has been flooring critics, wowing audiences and making everyone a believer in the extraordinary gifts of young writer-director Damien Chazelle, the maverick behind the 2014 hit Whiplash. But the critics have been most impressed, and rightly so, by the turns from the film’s leads: Emma Stone as wide-eyed dreamer Mia (a waitress who longs to see her name in lights as an actress) and Ryan Gosling as Sebastian, a talented pianist who dubs himself “a phoenix rising from the ashes.” When this likeable pair crosses paths, it sets in motion a series of events (not to mention electric chemistry!) that reminds you of the importance of being true to oneself and the joys of self-discovery. Like Chicago, the musical numbers are nothing short of irresistible, most notably the high-energy “Another Day of Sun”, the heartfelt “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” and Best Original Song contender “City of Stars.” A

THE TIES THAT BIND: In the wake of its Tony-winning triumph on Broadway six years ago – both Denzel Washington and Viola Davis took home lead-acting prizes – it was only natural that the same team be assembled for an epic translation to the big screen. As expected, the long-in-coming film version of August Wilson’s masterpiece Fences is a bruising, brilliant paean to dreams deferred, fractious familial relationships, pride and prejudice. In case you didn’t know, it’s the timeless tale of Troy Maxson (Washington, giving an immensely powerful performance), a former baseball star who now makes his living as a garbage collector, alongside longtime pal Jim Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson). Troy is a charmer but he’s also a mean man fighting some serious inner demons. He manipulates his wife Rose (Davis, superb), bullies his teenage son Corey (Jovan Adepo), a promising baseballer who feels crushed by his father’s weighty demands, and betrays his mentally challenged brother Gabe (Mykelti Wlliamson). Pulling double duty as leading man and director (Wilson had penned the screenplay prior to his passing), Washington mines the dramatic depths of the master storyteller’s dialogue-heavy narrative, zoning in on these characters’ flaws and emotional weaknesses but also their deepest desires and motivations. The result is a frequently jolting and emotionally charged film that will be remembered years from now for its dynamite acting and an interpretation of Wilson’s vision that hits very close to home. A

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