Live By Night

I love a lot of Affleck’s work.  In fact, it’s safe to say I like most of his work.  This one… not so much.  This confounds me because it’s Affleck!  He’s responsible in one way or another for “Good Will Hunting”, “Gone Baby Gone”, “Argo” and “The Town”.  Great films.  He usually has a firm grasp of story but that’s not the case here.  “Live By Night” is more or less all over the place.  To be completely honest, it doesn’t feel like his voice at all.  It can’t sit still so neither can you.  So I wonder… just went wrong?  I can indicate to you a few culprits.  It’s too slow and there are too many plot lines and both are working in concert to single handedly ruin this film.  It feels as if you’re watching a series of different films in one yet starring the same characters.  It’s a mobster/gangster picture but not.  There are moments when it is but, well, not to confuse you, these moments are few and far between.  It’s hard to even categorize this film.

I’ll try and explain the premise.  To start, in voice over, Affleck introduces his character, Joe Coughlin.  He’s a soldier.  He was miserable as a soldier.  The spoiled boy, yes it feels that way, was being told to do terrible things on the battle field and decides that being told what to do wasn’t for him.  He will forever be his own boss so he gathers two friends and they become bank robbers.  We learn that when it comes to Boston, there are two gangs it’s run by; the Irish and the Italians.  Not wanting to become involved with either, for some reason he doesn’t consider himself gangster material but is a criminal… okay, Coughlin, thinks it a good idea to become involved with the girlfriend of the head of the Irish gang, Albert White.  They even appear in public together.  Immediately, you can see that Affleck didn’t think this through. 
You know what’s going to happen and it does.  Along with a butt kicking, he gets set up and spends a few years in prison.  Now hating White, we have a revenge film where he’ll do anything to work against Albert White.  The man who said he’d never work for anyone again is working for the Italians to take over White’s rum distribution… in Florida.  We change again.  Coughlin enlists the help of the Cubans who were once stealing and instead turns them into assets, who now are happy working with him instead of against.      

There are several people trying to take him down but obstacles are easily overcome and Coughlin becomes the king of Tampa.  He also has a new woman, Graciela (Saldana), for whom he has absolutely no chemistry.  God I wanted to buy into this working for him.  It may actually be the worst part of the film.

So moving beyond that, it does, eventually, become a gangster picture again when a double-cross or two are shed and the movie gets exciting.  This is what the film had promised to be and it’s nice that it gets back to its roots but it’s not enough and it’s too little too late. 
However, what’s also good about “Live By Night”, and I’d say what makes it a worthwhile watch for anyone who wants to study good character actors are some of the performances.  Matthew Maher as a member of the KKK is outstanding.  Elle Fanning is memorable as a victim of circumstance.  Also worth mentioning is Robert Glenister as Albert White and Remo Girone as Italian leader Maso Pescatore.  When they’re on screen, you are lost in their performances.  They evoke “The Godfather” when they’re present and are quite impressive.  More of them would have improved the movie but for some reason we’re spread thinly over a few storylines and you become disinterested in everyone entirely.  So, check this out on DVD or wait for VOD, however you get your entertainment these days, but going to the theatre, my preferred outlet, is not my recommendation. 

The Bye Bye Man

“The Bye Bye Man” may as well be called The Night Night Man because watching it is probably going to put you to sleep.  There’s not much substance here and as original of an idea I had thought it was, it was a huge let down. 

In the opening scene, we go back to 1969 in Madison, Wisconsin.  We see a terrified man killing family and friends, asking them if they had told anyone his name.  Having watched the trailer, you can deduce who he’s referring to; “The Bye Bye Man.”  This sets us up for some real terror.  That was a good intro and you’re certain this will only get better.

Cut to outside of Madison.  We’re in Sun Prairie, WI (a place I once lived as a matter of fact) where some young students, Elliot (Smith), Sasha (Bonas) and John (Laviscount) are renting a big creepy house.  Who couldn’t see that coming?  Well, that’s predictable but that’s okay.  Creepy houses are the center pieces of many a fine horror flick.  Elliot and Sahsa are lovers and John is a childhood friend so they’re doing this together to better afford it.

Right away something sets off Sahsa’s distress meter but this, of course, doesn’t hit her until after the ink is dry on the lease so she enlists her friend Kim (Kanell) to perform a spiritual cleansing and also a séance to be certain the house is evil spirit free.

As can be forecast by you at this point, let’s be honest, you could write the rest of the script, Kim feels a wicked soul and no one obeys the warning signs.

There are a few good shots here like when his name is first said at the séance but for the most part, you’re never frightened in this horror film.  The Bye Bye Man himself has gone bye bye.  I think he forgot he was part of the film, actually, showing up every now and again, doing just enough to keep the director happy and to collect his check.  You want him to appear more because what you see of him early is creepy but it stops rather abruptly. 

We discover, with Elliot, that you aren’t supposed to think of him or say his name.  The more you do, the closer he gets.  Elliot becomes the sleuth for the group and tracks down who the Bye Bye Man is but is often fooled by tricks, as are the others, into thinking what’s not real, is.  There are a few scenes of the dangers they fall into by believing the visions are real but beyond that, we’re left hanging.  I’ve come to see a horror flick, not a guy running around trying to solve a case!  Regardless, he’s being driven mad by a cloaked figure with long boney fingers and scars all over his face that you barely get to see.  He’d most likely chill you to your boney fingers if they’d have concentrated more time on him and if the effects were better than those of any fan of the genre who engages in recreating a scene from their favorite horror film on their cell phones for their Twitter followers.  

The Bye Bye Man is hardly the focus and this will disappoint you highly.  Faye Dunaway was phenomenal as the widow of the man from the beginning of the film so if you’re a fan of hers maybe watch when VOD becomes available.  Please tell me she did this as a favor to someone! Anyway, this movie is just filled with too much ridiculous to recommend you watch it.  Dunaway, Smith and Cleo King are convincing with the material they’re working with but the rest of the cast, overall, are rather weak.  My final thoughts on this film are simple.  There are no scares.  There is no horror.  There’s no originality.  There’s no real reason to invest your time.

20th Century Women

“20th Century Women” is a movie about a middle-aged woman with a teenage son, and the trials and tribulations of living in 1979. They live in Santa Barbara during a time of social change and upheaval. With some close friends, they all try to come to accept the changes in life.

Silence

Sometimes, movies need to be more deeply emotional and have the epic grandeur of a sweeping historical look at Western and Eastern cultures as they clash over religion and basic tenets of faith. Or you could just see “Rogue One” again. Your choice…

But in “Silence”, the passionate work of Martin Scorsese, the story of ancient Japan is brought to life. It is viewed through the eyes of two Portuguese Jesuit priests; Padre Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Padre Garrpe (Adam Driver). In the late 1600’s, the missionary work to Japan had been met with fierce resistance by Japan’s rulers.

Rodrigues and Garrpe plead with the head of the order (Ciarán Hinds) to make a journey to Japan. They have learned that a close mentor and fellow priest named Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) had been tortured to the point of rejecting the One True Faith. They want to travel to Japan and find Ferreira, so they can learn the truth.

They make it to China, and they are paired up with a Japanese fisherman named Kichijiro (Yōsuke Kubozuka). He agrees to lead them back to his homeland to find the “Hidden Christians”. These are converts created by the prior missionaries. But all the priests and Jesuit brothers have been expelled or killed. Father Ferreira also faced torture and perhaps wound up instead becoming a Buddhist.


Rodrigues and Garrpe get separated and both eventually are captured. Rodrigues has an interpreter (Tadanobu Asano) who can speak both Japanese and very good English. He explains that any foreign religion can never take root in Japan, because the outsider cannot see the island kingdom has a culture that will never believe as the Westerners.

So it is a clash of Western ideas, thought and religion against the history of Japanese culture and upbringing. Rodrigues will face losing the very one thing that he took vows to honor and protect, or he will see many of the village Christians tortured and killed because of his stubbornness.

The movie that Scorsese has made is a long, slow exposure to the wearing down of the human soul. The Japanese officials do not hate Rodrigues, Garrpe or Ferreira. They do not hate Christians or those who deliver the Gospel, the Jesuits and the missionaries. But they demand conformity and order. So they root out Christians and put them to death. So it sure seems like they hate them…

Andrew Garfield does a heart-wrenching job as Padre Rodrigues. He thinks himself as a humble and holy man, yet he borders on arrogance because he thinks only he can know the Truth. Adam Driver and Liam Neeson have much smaller roles, but they seem to be sincere in their own beliefs.

The visual imagery is fantastic, with the wide sweeping vistas of a shoreline, or mountainside or a steamed-up area of hot springs. Clouds and fog and haze are in many scenes. This brings to mind some the animated movies of Hayao Miyazaki, or the epic films from Akira Kurosawa. Scorsese can borrow the beautiful look of the movie from the best Japanese directors.

However the storyline is so morbid and predestined that the extended run time hurts the picture. Rodrigues is put into a no-win situation, and there are only two possible outcomes. He will either renounce his Faith, or he will die. But to get to that end, the movie seems to drag on and on. More tortures, more denials, more angry outbursts, more slow panoramic shots that lead to the next one…

So be forewarned. If you do not want to see some nasty things done to people in captivity, you might not like the movie. If you do not want to know in great detail about the difficult spread and quick demise of Christianity in Japan, you might not like the movie. If you do not think that Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson are fine capable dramatic actors, you might not like the movie.
In other words, if you would rather go and see “Rogue One” again, but you see this movie instead, you might suffer in “Silence”.

A Monster Calls

“A Monster Calls” is a heart-wrenching yet artistic view into a 12-year boy and his troubled life. With a slowly dying Mom, a divorced dad who lives far away, and a grandmother with a gruff and unemotional manner, he is dealing with quite a lot. Also, his time in school is marred by a group of bullies who confront him every day. If only he had the size and strength and courage of a Monster…

Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) lives in a small rural town in the English countryside. His life is in turmoil because his Mom, Lizzie (Felicity Jones) is getting worse with a terminal illness. It is difficult at school, because there are boys that bully Conor, mostly because he has a sick mom and he is a good artist. Mom and Dad (Toby Kebbell ) are divorced, and he lives in California. Dad comes to visit, but he again shows that he is not part of Conor’s life.

When Lizzie gets so bad that she needs to be in the hospital, Conor must stay with his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver). She is strict with Conor, and she cares more about cleanliness and keeping order in her house than she does about Conor. Conor has dreams of being big and strong and getting his way. He wants to set things right, and to get his Mom back. Then one night, something strange happens.

Out on the distant hill, there is an old church and a still older yew tree. The anxiety and pain in Conor’s life is felt by the yew tree. It comes to life, and it comes to visit Conor. The immense humanoid tree seems very scary, yet he speaks with a gentle but authoritative voice. The Monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) has three stories to tell Conor, and when he is done, Conor must tell him one story.

The stories that the Monster tells are illustrated with a beautiful watercolor animation sequence. The first story is about a magical kingdom that has kings and queens. The second story is about a pastor who shames an old man who sells roots and herbs that can cure people. The third is about an invisible man and a monster that helped him. Conor hears the stories, but they do not work out the way that he thought they would.

Conor hears the stories, but he overreacts. He drives away his father and becomes more distant to his grandmother. He goes overboard and destroys everything precious in his grandmother’s living room. He is overcome with rage and fights back against the bully, but sends him to the hospital. In each of these cases, even when he has done something outrageous and destructive, he does not receive any punishment. Conor is simply dealing with too much stress, they all say.

But nobody knows about the Monster, and nobody knows about the stories. They surely don’t know that Conor now has to tell his story, and Conor is very afraid. The Monster said that he was sent for healing, but Conor’s mom is still in bed at the hospital. Conor is sad, angry and confused. Exactly why did the Monster come to visit with Conor?

The story of “A Monster Calls” is very simple and direct. It focuses on Conor and what he is going through. He feels alone and powerless until the Monster calls upon Conor. But the final story reveals the full sadness in Conor’s life and what he truly wants. He is ashamed to have the Monster know what he feels inside. The dread and sadness of the story are then lifted up by the artistic beauty of the story sequences and the emotional release at the end.

Lewis MacDougall is a major young actor who can handle the tricky role of Conor. He is well cast and performs in a very believable way. Felicity Jones does ok with the Lizzie role. However, not a great deal is asked of her in the role, and she fades out near the end.  Sigourney Weaver does a sturdy job as the grandmother, who at first seems very mean and harsh, but she learns that Conor is more important than just things in the house.

The Monster is voiced by Liam Neeson, who has a very distinct quality of overwhelming scariness in his tone, but has a soft and comforting aspect as well. The Monster design is very well-done CGI. It has the unfortunate tendency of bringing to mind a similar character from the movie “Guardians of the Galaxy”. So the Monster is a huge giant, and he is a big tree. This movie might be called “The BFG 2: The Big Friendly Groot”.

Hidden Figures

In the early days of the Space Race, when the USA and the USSR both worked to be the first in space, there was limited technology. The only ‘computer’ available was a person who excelled in math and could handle very complex calculations. The math experts and engineers who ran NASA in the early 1960’s were brilliant people. Almost all of then were men, and even more were White. That’s why this true story of three Black women is so outstanding.

When a Black person (‘Negro’ was the phrase used back then) was the best ‘computer’, and that person was also a woman – well that could lead to whole lot of trouble. Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) was a complete master of math, and could calculate complex re-entry points down a few hundred yards. She was needed for her skills in doing the computations, but the NASA engineers all looked down on her. She was not like them, so they did not think she was quite as good…

Katherine also had two good friends at the NASA facility, Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer). Mary had the skills and the desire to become an engineer, but the schooling was not available to ‘colored folks’. That is, until she challenged the local rulings and was permitted to take night classes at the all-White school. Dorothy was the leader of several talented Black women who were on staff at NASA. Yet she was not permitted to have the title of Supervisor. The White office manager Vivian (Kirsten Dunst) would not help Dorothy to advance, because she was Black, and therefore, unqualified.

 

Katherine had to face countless times when bigotry and low expectations hindered her progress. The chief of the lab was Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons). He would give Katherine work to review that was incomplete because sections had been removed, since she did not have the security clearance. But when the Manager of the NASA facility Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) found out how smart Katherine was, he made sure she got all the information that she would need. He even removed the limitations of ‘Colored’ bathrooms, so that Katherine would not need to run across the campus.

Also, the lab obtained its first IBM mainframe computer system, and Dorothy Vaughan had been teaching herself how to code programs on the new device. She became an expert and she was in charge of several other women and became a real Supervisor. Mary Jackson earned her degree in engineering and also continued to work at NASA on the space program.

Seeing that this is a true story of real people involved at the early stages of NASA, this movie shows the struggles that many of these women had to overcome. Before any Equal Rights laws were passed, these smart and powerful women showed that they were equal to the White men. They did that just by being able to perform at their highest levels. They did not allow the racism and sexism to fester and make them bitter. The fought back in the best way they knew how – they excelled at what they did.

 

The three main characters are played by three fantastic actresses: Janelle Monáe, Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henson. They all handle the character with grace and with dignity, even when the White world around them is harsh and cruel. They all show a deep courage and persistence to achieve great things. Also, Kevin Costner is a great addition, because he shows an understanding that success shows no ‘Color Line’. His character would not allow bigotry to stand in the way of getting the best results.

“Hidden Figures” does a terrific job in bringing to light a little-known aspect of the early days of NASA. The social norms of that era were broken so that some very talented Black women could have a chance to make a big difference in the success of the program. It is great story to tell, and it does it in a quiet, dignified manner.

Why Him?

In today’s world, and R-rated comedy means more vulgar words and juvenile ideas, and not much of any highly sophisticated adult-related concepts. Today’s ‘dumbed down’ culture demands more formula driven comedies, not the better ones from the old days (“Caddyshack”, Animal House”, “Blues Brothers”, “Stripes”). Sometimes even the formula style comedy can hit a few high notes and be something fun to watch. That is especially true when the leads are Bryan Cranston and James Franco.

“Why Him?” is the story of Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) the owner of a family-run printing business in Grand Rapids. Ned and his wife Barb (Megan Mullally) have a daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) who is in California attending college. They also have a younger son named Scotty (Griffin Gluck). Ned and Barb learn that Stephanie has a boyfriend and he wants the whole family to come out and meet him.

The boyfriend is Laird Mayhew (James Franco) who is a multi-millionaire slacker dude who made a mint creating an online video gaming company. He is friendly and totally outgoing, but is lacking in many social graces. He is loud, rude, vulgar, and is heavily tattooed.  Laird is an online gaming genius and a business wiz, but he lacks any type of social filter and he blurts out everything he thinks about at every second. When Ned and Laird meet – well — it does not go over well.

 

Laird is planning on asking Stephanie to marry him, and his idea is to make sure Ned is OK with that. Ned is not OK with that, and he wants to find anything that he can to use against Laird. Laird has Stephanie in his corner, and slowly he gets more help from Scotty and Barb. Laird has a full-time assistant/estate director named Gustav (Keegan-Michael Key) and with his help, Laird is able to win over everyone, except for Ned.

So it is a back-and-forth between Ned and Laird, all concerning Stephanie and a marriage proposal. There are quite a few funny moments, but there are even more periods of slack so-called comedy. When a major plot point takes place on a toilet, well, things could turn out crappy. And an artificial intelligence device called ‘Justine’ that Laird invents has the voice of Kaley Cuoco (of “The Big Bang Theory”) and makes jokes about how her voice sounds just like the girl from “The Big Bang Theory”.

Bryan Cranston is a joy to watch, but he gets stuck in the grouchy curmudgeon role. He gets to play off the slacker goofball that is James Franco, and Franco gets his role just right. There is not a whole lot of growth or development in either character, because the main function for each is be annoyed with the other one.

Megan Mullally does OK with the mom role, and Zoey Deutch as Stephanie proves that she has a mind of her own. Griffin Gluck is kind of stuck to the side.  Keegan-Michael Key has a bizarre Slavic accent and a character that does not really do that much of anything. There are a lot of loose ends and odd things in this movie. Such as a ‘work of art’ that is a stuffed moose in a glass enclosure full of moose urine…

And as Chekov once famously said “If you show a glass box of moose urine in Act One, you must later see that used in Act Three”. Wait, did he say a ‘glass box of moose urine’ or did he say a ‘gun’? Either way, you can see that “Why Him?” is loud and occasionally funny vulgar comedy. It is much more enjoyable if you have a thing for toilets and moose urine, so that might narrow the audience a little bit.

Sing

No matter what an adult thinks of a film like “Sing”, it’s going to do well because of what it is.  It’s a not half bad movie made for kids that has cute and amusing animals singing their hearts out.  It’s colorful and silly and this, as we all know, is a combination that spells success.  There have been many animated films released in 2016 that have done incredibly well but this one is lucky it’s being released right before Christmas or it might not have done quite as well; it’s probably at the bottom of the list of the animated films this year.  However, that said, if you’re looking for frivolous, it’s still eager and zippy. 

“Sing” has a few problems with being a tad over the top too often which will annoy the parents of the kids sitting in the audience but the songs will ultimately win them back. The tunes played throughout the film are great and the chosen numbers sung by characters during the auditions near the beginning of the film are good and the way their presented are very creative.  I wish they could have gone on longer, as a matter of fact. 

The auditions I’m talking about are given because a koala bear, Buster Moon (McConaughey), the main character, needs money to keep his theatre afloat.  He loves the theatre and isn’t about to lose his.  Someone suggests to him that a singing competition is a good idea and he agrees that it should get his theatre back in good working order.  He decides to give a thousand dollar prize to the winner of the competition believing this will bring the customers back once again to his beat up and neglected old theatre.  As things do, something goes wrong when Miss Crawly, (played by Jennings who also wrote the film), Buster’s ancient and possible old age home bound secretary, is put in charge of the flyers.  She accidentally releases the flyers with a much, much larger sum promised as the prize.  That’s a mess.  Everyone in the city who can or thinks they can sing flocks to have a chance at being on stage in front of a large audience and winning the prize money. 

Here is where you meet the main characters and a few you wish you’d see again but, sadly, will not.  Some of the singers chosen are a gorilla named Johnny (Egerton), who has a gangster as a father but wants a crime free life and a mouse named Mike played by Seth McFarlane, who gets a chance to really show off his pipes, worth the price of admission alone.  Mike loves jazz and poker and is a bit squirrly for kids, to be honest.  There’s also an elephant named Meena (Kelly) who could be a heavyweight in the competition, as beautiful and powerful her voice is, but is paralyzed with stage fright; and a pig named Rosita (Witherspoon) who is burdened with a husband who doesn’t know she’s alive any more and twenty-five piglets to take care of but doesn’t see how they can stop her dreams from being fulfilled.  I’m sure you can see where this is headed.  Conquer your fears and quell any voice on the inside or outside that tries to crush the ambition and desire within you. 

If you like animated family films, I’d recommend taking the family to see this at a matinee.  The kids will have a good time, even if the messages get lost.  It does have dazzle at its core.  With the combination of fast action, cute animals and songs, especially with such talented stars singing them, the mix works.  However, as I stated at the beginning, you’ll take the kids and they’ll be happy you did but I’m of the opinion that Santa won’t be putting it under the tree so they can add it to their home DVD collection because it’s a one time watch at best.

Collateral Beauty

Going to the movies has always been a wonderful experience because they are a way for a person to get away from their lives… possibly from big problems in their life.  Movies offer an escape for you to get to be someone else for awhile or at least push reality aside for a bit, right?  In “Collateral Beauty”, Will Smith plays Howard, a man in such deep pain, you hope that he will leap from the screen and the two of you go find a joyful comedy to watch.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily saying the movie isn’t worth seeing at all, but maybe take some antidepressants before you go if you do. 

“Collateral Beauty” is written by the very adept and creative, Allan Loeb, who has scores of credits to his name, so with David Frankel directing, the story is in good hands.  He has won an Emmy and an Academy Award and he directed “Devil Wears Prada” but then we should remember he also directed “The Big Year” so it’s hit or miss.  I think this time it’s a miss… more or less.  The trailer misleads you to a point but in the end, I think that was wise; it got you to consider going. 

Howard owns a company with his friends, Whit (Norton), Claire (Winslet) and Simon (Peña).  Howard is the driving force for the company and when his daughter dies, he checks out of life and being involved at all in the company.  Of course, things begin to go south.  Howard has 60% of the voting shares and, even after being begged to, he will not help save the business.  Without Howard’s initiative and his innovative spirit, not to mention his vote, Whit, Claire and Simon, who have their entire lives and well-being riding on an upcoming offer, do not stand a chance of surviving the impending failure of the company.  What makes this film ultimately a DVD watch only is what happens next.  Howard’s friends and partners, knowing he’s struggling with depression after the tragic loss of his daughter, want to, for all intense and purposes, do away with him.  That’s appalling!  But watching Howard walk around totally lifeless and staring off into space, unless he’s setting up dominoes, which is explained later but still doesn’t have true function in the film, perhaps you would, too.  The dominoes are a symbol for breaking down walls but nah… I’m just not buying it.  The time spent on those dominoes is painstaking to sit through, too, but then so is my mentioning it for this long, so I’ll continue with the review. 

Howard believes there are three things that connect everyone on earth and those are time, love and death.  Not particularly happy with his time anymore, losing the one thing he loved most and wishing to die but still existing, he writes a letter to the three of them.  The knuckleheads in the office have been scheming and hired someone to follow him.  She brilliantly retrieves the letters from the mailbox he dropped them into.  Now partaking in a federal crime, the three of them take the three letters to three actors.  Three… I’m sensing a pattern here.  The actors played by Knightley, Latimore and Mirren are offered a unique opportunity to represent one of the words and confront Howard with the letters he wrote.  As well intended on recreating “It’s A Wonderful Life” as Allan Loeb and David Frankel, as well as the three actors playing death, time and love are, the story of a man losing a child but then choosing to give up everything else that might give his life some meaning, simply doesn’t makes sense.  He refuses help, he can’t say his child’s name… it just doesn’t add up.  You’re more or less frustrated through the entire film.  

There are a few glaring twists that make it a see it on cable or DVD watch, but I wouldn’t recommend spending your hard earned money on running to the theatre this weekend.  I do think that Smith, toward the end, Mirren (always delightful) and Naomie Harris’s grief support group leader, Madeleine, sort of lend the film more purpose but the more I thought about it after seeing it, I wasn’t impressed at what they were trying to accomplish and that was a big emotional response from you and some tears.  If you lay down ten or more dollars at the theatre this weekend, the response and tears will more come from you asking, ‘why did I spend the money for this?’, than from the film itself.

La La Land

“Here’s to the fools that dream.”  That is the theme of this comedy, drama… musical. Yes.  This is a musical but I would like to ask that you don’t fear the musical!  It’s not in the style of “Cats” or the like so be willing to go.  If you love a good story and a good film that’s well done in almost every way possible… don’t worry.  You’ll love this movie!  Now, on to the review.  I can’t remember the last time we saw this but with “La La Land” we have a musical for the big screen that’s not based on a hit Broadway show!   “La La Land” stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as an aspiring actress and jazz pianist, respectively, who fall in love.  Both have dreams very different from the other but the desire and ambition they see in one another, calls out to each other and attracts them even more.  The music and the romance at the heart of this story are alluring and will tantalize you, and the love… you will feel it.  In fact, it’s hard to believe Gosling and Stone aren’t a real couple.

To shed some light on where this came from, here’s a bit about the writer/director.  Damien Chazelle, is only thirty-one yet has accomplished so much.  Not only did he write and direct, “La La Land”, which is a very unique to these times piece, but he also wrote “Whiplash” and “10 Cloverfield Lane.”  J.K. Simmons won the Oscar for his performance in “Whiplash” so for Chazelle, after graduating Harvard, the Oscar win for Simmons is yet another feather for him to add to his cap; a cap that may be riddled with feathers really soon.  I’m looking very forward to his next project but let’s get back to this one. 

The love story is classic in that it starts out as anything but and becomes two people crazy about one another but Chazelle gives us, ultimately, what feels and looks real because not only is there a bond between the two with all the hopes they share freely but their chemistry is palpable.  Great job casting these two as Sebastian and Mia.  Another thing that gives the audience a connection is this; when have we not all desired something so greatly that we’d give up almost for it?  These two beautiful creatures love their goals as they do one another but the vital and fundamental question here becomes, would you give one of them up for the other?  

 The music is amazing. Oscar will be nice to them…” Shari K. Green

Sr. Film Writer and Community Manager, tmc.io

As far as dancing, I’ll admit that they aren’t Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but the choreography doesn’t ask too much of them and they handle themselves gracefully.  The footwork is impressive and they’re cute together; she not as polished as he but it works. 

Regarding musical taste Mia tells Sebastian that she doesn’t like jazz, his true love, and he takes it upon himself to show her that she doesn’t understand the complexity of it; that you can’t just hear it, you have to feel it by watching someone play.  He wants Mia to see its conflict and get excited because it needs help… ‘It’s dying’ he fears.  Well, he does until his friend, Keith (Legend), explains to him that Jazz is about the future, not the past.  Sebastian has always held onto what Jazz has always been and here, he discovers a bit about himself as well as what pushes him… that things change.  He decides to tour with Keith and Mia learns quickly that tours aren’t overnight.  She realizes dreams of becoming an actress aren’t either.  Maybe it’s time to move on?   

I’ll leave it there.  You need to go and experience “La La Land” to find out what happens.  Visually, the film beguiles but it’s not perfect.  You’re not going to hear their songs on the radio, however, the opening song, “Another Day of Sun” and the score won’t soon be forgotten, nor will Sebastian singing “City of Stars”… okay, the music is amazing.  Oscar will be nice to them.  The dance numbers can be a little clunky but overall the film is pretty extraordinary; sweet and innocent.  As much as it is a musical, it often feels like a play, which was another aspect that I adored.  You’ll never get bored and the final act will whisk you away to another place, and in today’s world, we need a little of that.  Comedies and Musicals don’t usually win Oscar gold for Best Picture but it wouldn’t surprise me if Chazelle’s effort pays off with a few statues.  If it walks away empty handed, it’ll be a travesty.