FlixChatter Review: La La Land (2016)

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Written/Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Runtime: 128 minutes

Rarely did I respond so strongly to a film’s tagline. In fact, I mostly barely notice them. Here’s to the fools who dream… well, La La Land‘s tagline speaks to me in a profound way, as essentially, I am one of those fools. Unabashedly.

Emma Stone plays Mia, an aspiring actress who works at Warner Brothers lot, serving lattes to movie stars with googly eyes. Any free time she gets she spends it on auditions. And like many other aspiring actresses like her, she gets constant rejections, and treated like dirt by casting directors. Meanwhile, there’s Ryan Gosling‘s Sebastian, a jazz musician who scrapes by playing gigs at dingy bars and Hollywood pool parties. Whilst Mia dreams of movie star greatness, Sebastian dreams of opening his own jazz club that celebrates the kind of jazz music he thinks is a dying music genre. These *fools* meet serendipitously, during a rousing opening number that harkens back to classic musicals where the actors burst into song and start singing and dancing in the midst of L.A.’s traffic jam.

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With a title like La La Land, this musical dramedy is unabashedly dreamy and stylish. It’s hard not to smile during these energetic musical numbers, though I have to admit at times my mind did wander off and my heart craved for something meaty to hold on to. Well, Damien Chazelle did give us some moments with deep emotional resonance, but it’s not necessarily from the romance. Despite the dreamy-ness of the Mia/Sebastian love story, I think the musical numbers actually take place of the emotional weight. I just didn’t quite feel the oomph of their romance, that intense longing to be together a la Romeo & Juliet or Jack & Rose (hmmm, I just realized these two stars Leo DiCaprio, I guess the guy can really sell romance!) In any case, the moment that truly got me is the audition scene where Mia sang ‘fools who dream.’ I will definitely do a Music Break of this film, though the only song I remember most is this one. I was practically sobbing watching that scene, and Emma Stone deserves all the kudos for her performance just on this scene alone. Perhaps because she identified so well with Mia’s journey, having moved to L.A. at 15 to pursue acting, that her emotion in the film feels authentic.

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As for Gosling, I think many of my blog regulars know I’m not fond of the guy. This film doesn’t exactly change my mind about him. I do think he’s good, though not nearly as strong as Stone as his co-star. I just think Gosling’s face isn’t the least bit expressive and devoid of emotion, and so to this day I still don’t get what the fuss is about him. This is the third time Emma/Ryan are paired together as lovers, and I suppose they do have chemistry, though not quite the Bogey/Bacall variety.

The movie consist of pretty much the two of them from start to finish, J.K. Simmons and singer John Legend both had small roles that are basically cameos. The talented Rosemarie DeWitt is grossly underused as well as Sebastian’s sister. Some critics point out the lack of Black characters in the movie, which as a non-White person I think it’s not always fair to expect every race is represented in every film.

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As for that ending…  SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) It’s clever for Chazelle to have his cake and eat it too. The last 20 minute or so of the movie happens about 5 years after Mia and Sebastian parted ways. Essentially they achieved their dreams, at the cost of their romance. But it ends with a dreamy sequence of the two getting together and living happily ever after, which is what the audience would hope to happen. But for me, I’m glad they didn’t end up together, just like Roman Holiday, sometimes a bittersweet ending is one you remember most.

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The critics went wild for this movie, and I agree with some who thinks this film is way overrated. I’ve had people ask me what I think of it, as I have the poster hanging outside my office at work. I’d say it’s a frothy romance with a moving story about chasing your dreams. Emotionally speaking, it’s not exactly profound and it doesn’t quite reach the poignancy of Moonlight, but there are plenty of things Chazelle did here that deserve praise. It’s stylish and beautifully-shot, with a dreamy-like quality to it that sweeps your feet away.

The music by Justin Hurwitz is certainly one of the strongest aspects of the film, one I’d remember for years to come. Some sequences, especially that opening number, is truly lovely. I also love the creative use of props for locations such as Paris, which enhances the fantastical nature of the story. It’s also nice to see such a gorgeous film that is not just style over substance.

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Have you seen La La Land? What did you think?

TCFF 2014 Opening Night Festivities + ‘Men, Women & Children’ review

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Today’s the day! The fifth annual Twin Cities Film Fest kicked off with the Minnesota premiere of Jason Reitman’s latest drama, Men, Women & Children. As he always does year after year, TCFF Executive Director Jatin Setia introduced the film and asked the packed audience to give him a five to commemorate our fifth year bringing the film fest to cinephiles and casual moviegoers alike in the Twin Cities and beyond!

Jatin also pointed out the social cause that our film fest bring to the community since year one, when the social theme of the year was education, hence Waiting for Superman was the opening night film back in 2010. We’ve since introduced a CHANGEMAKER series, with the tagline ‘Watch. Learn. Act.’ Check out this FREE event on Friday, Oct 24 at 6:30 event, presenting “Breaking Free from the Life” documentary, followed by Survivor Panel event at Showplace ICON Theatre Lobby.

OldFashioned2015Early in the evening, just before the first screening of the year, I had the privilege of chatting with Rik Swartzwelder, the writer/director/star of Old Fashioned, which will have two showings at TCFF! I’m glad we’re showing a film like this, a classic romance where two people attempt the impossible … an “old-fashioned” courtship in contemporary America. Now that is rare indeed in today’s culture. I really enjoyed our conversation, so stay tuned for the full interview transcript later this week!

Here are some pics from tonight’s festivities:

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And lookie here… the lovely Haley Lu Richardson, who’s got not one but TWO films screening at TCFF, is in town and having a blast! Looking forward to chattin’ with her tomorrow morning 😀


Can’t help joining on the fun, too w/ my pal Julie 😀

 


Now on to the first TCFF review of the year…

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Men, Women and Children (2014)

Jason Reitman has a knack for portraying interesting [read: quirky] relationships in his films. This is his sixth feature film and once again he explores relationships and its predicaments. This time it’s set in the age of the internet, as Emma Thompson narrates throughout the film whilst we’re shown views of earth from space. The film is a blatant commentary of how we are inevitably affected by the enormous social change that comes through digital devices such as our phones, tablets, laptops, etc. that many of us can’t live without. Nobody is immune, as the title of the film says, the internet affects every man, woman and child [except perhaps the Amish people] and alters how we deal/view relationships with each other.

It’s a topic that’s as relevant and timely as ever, and the concept itself is appealing because most of us today can relate to this. Alas, I don’t think the execution quite hit the mark here. The performances are good but somehow the story took too long to built, and in the end it just wasn’t as engaging as I’d have liked it to be. Right away the theme of the film reminds me of Disconnect which also deals with how ‘disconnected’ we have become in an age where everything is readily available to us at the touch of a button. That film isn’t perfect either but I think it did a better job in telling the story and made us care for the characters.

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Except for a few, most of the characters don’t feel real to me, they’re more caricatures painted with such broad strokes of opposite extremes. One set of parent is waaay too strict about protecting their kids from the danger of the internet, and the other are waaaay too loose that they lose sight of even the most basic societal boundaries are in regards to what/how much one should share online and such. A lot of these characters are so predictable, you expect them to behave in a certain way and voila, they do exactly that. Most of the young actors playing the teens seem so awkward here, and their story lines are too heavy-handed but in the end they’re not fully-realized either.

Adam Sandler gives a restrained performance as one half of a couple in a troubled marriage, with Rosemarie DeWitt playing his bored housewife. Their marriage is as lethargic as the way these interwoven stories are portrayed. Try as I might, the stories just don’t quite captivate me. DeWitt’s scenes with Dennis Haysbert is perhaps one of the most cringe-inducing scenes I’ve seen all year. I know it’s supposed to be awkward given the circumstances, but it’s the way it’s directed that’s problematic, so I don’t blame the actors. It’s too bad as I like DeWitt as an actress and I think Sandler does have dramatic chops when he choose to use it. I’m more impressed by the secondary characters played by Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever and Dean NorrisJennifer Garner is as dour and stern as I’ve never seen her before, playing an overprotective & controlling mother that undoubtedly produces the opposite effect of what she’s trying to achieve.

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The use of music is a bit odd too, sometimes the songs played are so loud that it felt jarring, and others there’s not a single sound as the camera zooms in on an actor’s face with no word is spoken. The visuals are as somber as the stories, the muted color palette just isn’t aesthetically pleasing here. But the look of the film is the least of the its problems. I just think Reitman, who’s a gifted filmmaker who’s made terrific work such as Thank You For Smoking and Up in the Air, is trying too hard here in striving to be profound and philosophical. Now, the themes presented here certainly are thought-provoking and the idea that face-to-face human relationships just can’t be replaced by technology isn’t lost on me. I just wish the film were more engaging as I found myself looking at my watch a few times, even as the last third did improve a bit in terms of pacing. Perhaps a more straight-forward approach and injecting a bit more humor into this might’ve made the film more palatable and entertaining. It’s not a terrible film per se, but I expected a lot better from Reitman.

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Well that’s it for Day 1 folks, stay tuned for more TCFF coverage in the coming days!

TCFF Day 6: Nobody Walks Review

Day six at TCFF has come and gone. So far I’ve seen over a half dozen films, on my way to completing the 11 movies I set out to do. I think that’s about hit the maximum number of films I could handle in a week before things become a blur and I’d have a hard time reviewing each of them.

Before I get to my Day 6 review, I just want to share that my highlight of the day was chatting with director David Spaltro, whose sophomore film Things I Don’t Understand will have its Minnesota premiere@ TCFF on Friday at 6 pm. It stars Minnesota-native Molly Ryman as Violet Kubelick, a brilliant young grad student studying near-death experiences, is now withdrawn and closed-off after a mysterious, failed suicide attempt. Check out his film’s official site for more info, it’s been winning all kinds of awards in the film festival circuit.

I’m thrilled that David has agreed to an interview with me and fellow blogger June later this afternoon, yay! He’s the nicest director you’ll ever have the pleasure to meet. Stay tuned for my interview post!

Now on to the review:


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Confession: This is the kind of film I normally don’t gravitate towards because of the subject matter. But hey, sometimes as a film blogger, stepping out of one’s comfort zone once in a while is a good thing and a film festival is a perfect venue for that.

Nobody Walks centers on Martine (Olivia Thirlby), a young New Yorker traveling to L.A. to finish her film with the help of Peter (John Krasinski), a married 30-something living in the Hollywood Hills area. It’s not a good sign when within the first five minutes I’ve got a dreadful inkling that I would not like this movie. The way Martine is introduced at the airport, making out with some guy she just met on the plane sets the tone of the rest of the film and also about her character. Later on we learn that she’s an artist, though it’s unclear what kind of artist she is and it’s never fully explained why she came all the way to L.A. to finish her movie.

One thing for sure, the tomboy-ish Martine is effortlessly seductive. She gives such a sensual vibe that men just can’t help being drawn to her. Peter is no exception, within a couple of days working with her, it’s inevitable that the start getting physical. Neither of them seems to have much remorse over this, not the husband who’s married with kids, nor the seductress on the brink of ruining someone’s family. The sexual tension practically ricochets off the screen, not just between Martine and Peter but everyone else in their circle: Martine and Peter’s assistant David, Peter’s wife Julie with her therapy patient and Julie’s 16-year-old daughter Kolt discovering her sexuality.

I don’t know if ‘glorifying’ is the right word but I feel like the writers and director Ry Russo Young puts so much emphasis on sexuality that the characters feel so one-dimensional. My impression of this family is that they’re a bunch of well-off, self-absorbed people who live such a comfortable existence that life is all about instant gratification. There is barely any nuance in any of the characters, save for Julie (played by the immensely likable and talented Rosemarie DeWitt) who still has some scruples left in her when temptation comes her way like a storm. But even so, her conversation with her young daughter about men and relationship leaves me scratching my head. Let’s just say if I were Kolt, I’d be even more confused about what I’m supposed to think or do.

To be fair, I think there are some interesting ideas here and the cinematography has that intimate sense that makes it atmospheric. There are also some fun scenes in relation to sound effects towards the beginning of the film. The performances are pretty good overall. This is the first time I’ve seen both Olivia Thirlby and John Krasinski in a feature film and I think both have screen charisma as lead actors. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve always liked DeWitt and it’s nice to see her get adequate screen time here and she’s perhaps the most likable character in the film for me. Dylan McDermott and Justin Kirk also have a memorable supporting part. Unfortunately, none of the characters are well-developed. In fact, up until the end of the movie, I still have no clue just who Martine is and why she does what she does. Enigmatic is one thing but vacant is another and I feel that the protagonist falls under the latter, and she is impossible to root for.

It’s unfortunate that I got my first intro to the co-writer, Lena Dunham through this post on Cinematic Corner, at the time I hadn’t seen any of Dunham’s work but now I realize that some of the characters on her HBO show GIRLS are similar to Martine. Needless to say, I did not enjoy this movie. The whole thing just rings hollow existentialism to me, it communicates nothing of value and the film has a ‘cooler than thou’ vibe that really puts me off. The topic of infidelity is already so dismal, it certainly doesn’t help that in this one, there’s barely any redeeming quality to enliven it.

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Has anyone seen this film and/or film by the filmmakers/writers? What are your thoughts?