La La Land (2016) Review

La La Land (2016)

Directed & Written by Damien Chazelle

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt

Music by Justin Hurwitz

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.

My Opinion:

So, this movie got a record 1,582 Oscar nominations yesterday (roughly). I finally saw it over the weekend & knew instantly that it would get loads of Oscar noms as this is the type of movie that’s SO right up the Academy voters’ street (and butt). Don’t worry – I’m not going to be all “this is overrated!”. Those people who go around shouting “this is overrated!” are so overrated. This is a lovely film. It’s a good film. It’s not, in my opinion, up there with the all-time musical greats such as The Sound Of Music, The Wizard Of Oz, Singin’ In The Rain, etc etc etc. It’s good! I enjoyed it and really liked Gosling & especially Stone, who are as great together as always. But I think people will realize ten years from now that La La Land doesn’t come close to touching the all-time classic musicals. (It’s also far less of a “musical” than I was expecting!)

I found the movie a little uneven. It starts out with a big musical number that has such a different sound & vibe from the rest of the film that it feels like it’s from a different movie. It’s an okay number (not my favorite & I can’t even remember the music from it right now) but it sets things up to be this epic musical when all we get are a few more “big” song & dance numbers (I did really like two of these) and several smaller-scale musical scenes. I felt bad thinking that this movie was overlong and could’ve had at least 20 minutes shaved off of it (it’s 2 hours 8 minutes) but I don’t think I’d have been checking my watch if they’d had more scenes like the musical number with Gosling & Stone in the observatory. That one was lovely & it was one of the only times I thought the film came close to the standard I expect from a really good musical.

This movie didn’t seem to have a clear overall goal or, shit, I dunno… a clear aesthetic? Don’t get me wrong – I loved the bold, primary colors and I’m still trying to decide which dress of Stone’s I liked the most (probably the green dress in the above photo). But this didn’t always fit with the other imagery or with the music when the movie tried to be more “classic Hollywood” or tried to go with a jazz vibe. Damien Chazelle was possibly trying to cram in too many different artistic & musical styles he likes instead of sticking to one main theme or at least trying to make these different styles mesh together a bit better. Being a lover of film & classic Hollywood, I was naturally more attracted to the scenes such as the lovely observatory number that attempted to imitate this (although some of the classic Hollywood scenes were somewhat derivative) than I was to the brightly colored musical numbers that felt like some 1990’s Gap ad. Or, as my hubby put it, a Feist video. 

I think what’s possibly my biggest problem with the movie (this may get me into trouble to say but, hey, no one is reading this, right?) – La La Land is a bit too “Millennial Musical” for me to really see it as all-time classic. I can’t see me wanting to watch this 52 years from now the way I’ll still happily watch all 3 hours of The Sound Of Music. FYI – I did the math to find out that The Sound Of Music is 52 years old. Then I realized that I’m sounding like the grumpy old person that I am so I did some more math and realized that I’ll most likely be dead in 52 years anyway, so… Okay, I guess if you really love La La Land & I’ve offended you with my “Millennial Musical” statement, you’ll get the last laugh when I die of old age soon. ūüėČ

Summary:

La La Land is a good film with Stone & Gosling just as lovable together as always. I’m very happy for their Acting Oscar nominations and think they’re well deserved. I know I often come across as negative but I’m perfectly fine with all the nominations this film has received as I do think it’s a very good and, at times, almost fantastic film. It’s not like I could make a better movie! What do I make? Stupid spreadsheets! (Although I do make them almost as colorful as La La Land).

I just feel like some absolute masterpieces have actually been made in the past few years with little or no rewards while La La Land will likely win all it’s up for mainly because it’s the Academy voters’ type of “thing”. They love a musical and anything that celebrates their way of life. I truly wanted to love this movie. I wanted to be moved by a film that celebrates a “love of cinema & the arts” the way I was by Cinema Paradiso. Or perhaps The Artist or Hugo – these three films capture the filmmakers’ love of cinema in a way that La La Land never quite manages. I wanted the powerful emotional response I had to Arrival & to Room (btw – Amy Adams was ROBBED!!!). For whatever reason, though, La La Land didn’t strike a chord with me. It’s a lovely movie to take your mind off the rest of the world for a couple of hours but I didn’t walk out of it with that feeling of elation that I (and other movie nerds) get from only the truly best pieces of filmmaking.

My Rating: 7.5/10

Here’s that Feist video. La La Land is an enjoyable film but if you really don’t fancy it, I suppose you can just watch this video to get a feel for one of the three main vibes going on in it.

Plus this Gap ad:

And this is easily my favorite theme from La La Land. I do think this is beautiful and wish all the music in the film was as simple & elegant as this piece. THIS feels timeless:

Whiplash (2014) Review

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Whiplash (2014)

Directed by Damien Chazelle

Starring:
Miles Teller
J. K. Simmons
Paul Reiser
Melissa Benoist

Running time: 106 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
A promising young drummer enrolls at a cut-throat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student’s potential.

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My Opinion:

This is another one of those “Oscar Season” movies where the performances are a bit better than the movie itself. Well, the performance from J. K. Simmons is, at least. However, I did at least enjoy this movie which wasn’t so much the case with Foxcatcher or especially Birdman.

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J. K. Simmons is great as the music instructor who goes too far in pushing his students to be the best. He’s SUCH an amazing prick! He’s like R Lee Ermey’s Sergeant Hartman shouting horribly inappropriate insults at the soldiers in Full Metal Jacket. He’s so horrible yet so compelling you can’t help but watch & cringe as he reduces his talented students to tears. I think he’s certainly deserving of his best supporting actor Oscar nomination & think he’s the likely winner in that category. Then we have Miles Teller… What’s with this kid and why do I hate him for no specific reason? He just has such an unlikeable face. Is that rude? I don’t care – he won’t read this. ūüėČ Maybe I’m still annoyed that I watched that stupid Footloose remake he was in. Or maybe it’s because I couldn’t wait to see The Spectacular Now as I’d heard it was just like Say Anything so I watched it and it was NOTHING like Say Anything plus Miles Teller’s character was a prick. Lloyd Dobler wasn’t an alcoholic prick! So, anyway… I don’t like Miles Teller. Sorry Miles Teller! You’re really pretty good in this, though. Good job, dude!

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As for the movie, I did enjoy it. I’m not at all a fan of jazz (except for Vince Guaraldi “Snoopy” jazz, which kicks ass). I played the saxophone for years but I totally sucked. I also know nothing about drummers other than that they spontaneously combust. However, I’m still a big fan of music so this movie did appeal to me anyway. It’s a difficult one in that the two main characters are hard to like. Teller’s character is extremely ambitious, which you can respect, but it means he puts his drumming before everything (and everyone) else. Oh, and Paul Reiser is in this – that asshole Burke from Aliens! It’s a pretty intense movie at times & it’s interesting watching how far Simmons & Teller’s characters are willing to go for success. And, wow – do drummers’ hands really bleed that much?! Ew. I suppose they do…

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Summary:

I’d definitely recommend Whiplash to musicians or to anyone with an interest in music. It’s also a good character study & I’d recommend it to those who love to watch a great performance. Teller does a very good job in this but J. K. Simmons steals the show (in my opinion). Whiplash doesn’t have a chance of winning the Best Picture Oscar but it’s a strong film with great performances & I enjoyed it.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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