Tag Archives: La La Land

 ‘La La Land’ is something to sing about

In time for Christmas, there’s the eye-popping, heart-lifting “La La Land,” which honors and modernizes the screen musical to such joyful effect that you might find yourself pirouetting home from the multiplex.

OK, perhaps we exaggerate.

“La La Land,” created by the copiously talented writer/director Damien Chazelle and featuring the dream pairing of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, is not for everyone.

Perhaps you don’t like music, or singing, or dancing. Or romance, or love, or beautiful people falling in love. Or sunsets, or primary colors, or pastels. Or stories. Or, heck, the movies themselves.

If you don’t like any of those things, maybe stay home.

Otherwise, be prepared: By the end, something will surely have activated those tear ducts. The one complaint I overheard upon leaving the film was: “I didn’t have enough Kleenex.”

The first obvious gift of “La La Land” is its sheer originality. Let’s start with the music. Unlike in so many other films, nobody else’s hits are used here. The affecting score is by Justin Hurwitz, with lyrics by Benji Pasek and Justin Paul (also getting kudos for Broadway’s “Dear Evan Hansen.”)

Our setting is Los Angeles, and so it begins — as it must — on a jammed freeway.

But unlike Michael Douglas in “Falling Down,” the drivers here simply brush off their frustrations, exit their cars, and break into song and dance.

This virtuoso number, “Another Day of Sun,” which was filmed on a freeway interchange with some 100 dancers toiling in sizzling temperatures, establishes Chazelle’s high-flying ambitions. It also tells us we’d darned well better be ready for people to break out into song — because that happens in musicals. And it introduces our main characters.

Sebastian (Gosling) is a struggling jazz pianist, with stubborn dreams of opening his own club. Mia (Stone) is an aspiring actress, working as a barista while auditioning for TV parts. They clash on the freeway. She gives him the finger.

They have a second bad meeting at a piano bar. Finally they meet a third time, at a party. Suddenly, they find themselves on a bench overlooking the Hollywood Hills at dusk. And then … they dance.

Is it Astaire and Rogers (or Charisse)? Yes and no. Stone and Gosling are charming musical performers, but way less polished and ethereal than their cinematic forbears. This human quality in their first duet makes us root for them.

And we keep on rooting. It’s hard to imagine more perfect casting here. Gosling’s Sebastian is suave and sexy but also ornery and unsure of himself; Stone’s Mia is warm and ebullient but also fretful and self-doubting. They need each other to chase their respective dreams.

But what will success mean, and can they possibly achieve it together? It’s this pillar of the story that lends it a very modern, melancholy bite.

Chazelle, 31, shows his love for cinema with references both sly and overt to classics like “Singin’ In the Rain” and Jacques Demy’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.”

And then there’s the nod to “Rebel Without a Cause,” with a scene at LA’s Griffith Observatory.

There, at a place built to watch the stars, the two dancing lovers actually lift up into them.

It’s corny, sure, and gorgeous and romantic. As Sebastian says to his sister earlier in the film, “You say ‘romantic’ like it’s a bad word!” In a musical, romantic is NEVER a bad word.

Some people resist musicals because in real life, people never break out into song; they just speak their feelings. To which musical lovers say: “Exactly! And this is why we need musicals.”

Long live the musical. Bring enough Kleenex.

10 things to look for at this year’s fall movies

Out with the summer, in with the fall movies. Please hurry.

After a bruising three months when moviegoers often had to strain to find something good to see, the fall movies this year like an oasis. It’s about to get better at the multiplex. Here are 10 movies, performances and story lines that AP film writers Lindsey Bahr and Jake Coyle are most looking forward to, come autumn:

"Manchester by the Sea"
“Manchester by the Sea”

LONERGAN-MANIA: Little is settled about this fall’s coming awards season except for this: Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea (Nov. 18) is one of the best films of the year. Already celebrated at its Sundance premiere, it’s the third film from the acclaimed New York playwright following the wonderful You Can Count on Me and the criminally underseen Margaret. Casey Affleck excels as a small-town New Englander haunted by tragedy. Lonergan’s naturalistic touch and deft feel for the rhythms and details of life remain unmatched. — Jake Coyle

ANG LEE, INNOVATOR: Ang Lee is continually pushing cinema to new technological heights, and his adaptation of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Nov. 11) is no less ambitious than bringing a hyper realistic CG Bengal tiger to the frames of Life of Pi. The first screening will be in 4K, 3D and 120 frames per second — essentially, hyper reality. Oh, and he also manages to meld all that tech talk with some extremely resonant stories. Take us there, Mr. Lee. — Lindsey Bahr

A MORE DIVERSE OSCARS: After two straight years of “OscarsSoWhite” blanketing a dishearteningly homogenous Academy Awards, a richly diverse array of possible nominees is lining up for this season. Though a rape case from the past is clouding the once-bright fortunes of Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, a revamped Academy of Motion Pictures may be hard pressed to ignore the likes of Denzel Washington’s Fences (Dec. 16), Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (Oct. 21), Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures (Dec. 25) and Jeff Nichols’ interracial marriage tale Loving (Nov. 4). — Coyle

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in "Fences"
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in “Fences”

FEMALE DIRECTORS TO (RE)DISCOVER: While the percentage of female directors remains dismal, there are a number of exciting projects from new and veteran talents this fall, like the feature debuts of Julia Hart (Miss Stevens, Sept. 16) and Kelly Fremon Craig (The Edge of Seventeen, Nov. 18). Also coming are fall movies from exciting veterans like Jocelyn Moorehouse (The Dressmaker, Sept. 23), Andrea Arnold (American Honey, Sept. 30) and Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women, Oct. 14). — Bahr

EMMA STONE GETS A PROPER SHOWCASE: How do you come off of a dud like Aloha? By singing, dancing and romancing your way back into America’s hearts in what could be a career-defining performance in Damien Chazelle’s musical love story La La Land (Dec. 16) of course. Stone stars as Mia, a struggling actress in Los Angeles who falls for a moody musician in the form of Ryan Gosling. Looking like Singing in the Rain meets The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, La La Land — and Stone’s touching melodies and emotive almond eyes — promises to have audiences swooning and sobbing in no time. — Bahr

SMARTER SPECTACLES: Even the blockbusters among this year’s fall movies look more enticing than the summer’s. There’s Denzel in glorious cowboy-hero mode in The Magnificent Seven (Sept. 23), Peter Berg’s visceral true tale Deepwater Horizon (Sept. 30), the brainy smarts of Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange (Nov. 4), the mind-bending sci-fi of Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival (Nov. 11) and the cozy fantasy of J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Nov. 18). Oh, and another little Star Wars film is coming: Gareth Edwards’ spinoff Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Dec. 16). — Coyle

OLD HOLLYWOOD THROUGH BEATTY’S LENS: The Golden Age of Hollywood holds a not-so-surprising allure for directors of a certain age, but perhaps none has seemed quite as suited to the task as Warren Beatty, coming off of a 15-year hiatus from acting and an 18-year break from directing with his long-time-coming Rules Don’t Apply (Nov. 23), once simply known as the Warren Beatty Howard Hughes pic. Beatty plays Hughes, but it looks to be more of a showcase for a youthful romance between an aspiring actress (Lily Collins) and her driver (young Han Solo himself, Alden Ehrenreich). — Bahr

Shia  LeBeouf in "American Honey"
Shia LeBeouf in “American Honey”

HAILEE STEINFELD GROWS UP: Steinfeld was just 13 when she made her Oscar-nominated breakout in the Coen brothers True Grit in 2010. In Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen (Nov. 18) — a coming-of-age tale in the John Hughes tradition — her maturation is self-evident. As a whip-smart but confidence-lacking high-schooler, Steinfeld navigates embarrassment after embarrassment with wit and spirit. — Coyle

THE UNDERSTATED MIKE MILLS: Director Mike Mills takes his time between projects, but each is a lovely, whispered little cinematic event, from the tender Thumbsucker to the achingly poignant Beginners. His latest, 20th Century Women (Dec. 21), takes him back in time to 1979 Santa Barbara, where three women (Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning) explore what love and freedom means in their time. — Bahr

A LEGITIMATELY GOOD SHIA LABEOUF: Performance-art theatrics have overshadowed the transformation Shia LaBeouf has undergone. He’s made it easy to not take him seriously in recent years, and maybe that’s been the point. But in Andrea Arnold’s Midwest teenage odyssey, American Honey (Sept. 30), LaBeouf and breakout star Sasha Lane are exceptional. This year’s fall movies offer your opportunity to 1) See why LaBeouf was sporting a rattail last year; 2) Watch him dance to Rihanna on a Walmart check-out counter; and 3) See the vibrant latest from one of the most interesting directors currently working. — Coyle