Tag Archives: Damien Chazelle

La La Land (2016)

Of all the movie genres out there, I would say the musical is probably my least favourite, followed by romance. There’s just something about suddenly breaking into song and dance that takes me out of a film, and most romance flicks are done so poorly that they make me cringe with embarrassment. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part I try to avoid them. La La Land, the eagerly anticipated follow-up to director Damien Chapelle’s Whiplash, has received a lot of acclaim, and yet I still did not know what to expect because it is both a musical and a romance.

Well, I finally got around to watching it at the cinema today, and all I can say is, “Wow”. I don’t think I have ever watched a movie knowing it has received good reviews and then having it exceed my expectations this much. 

The premise is actually quite simple: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone play a jazz pianist and an aspiring actress, respectively, who come to Los Angeles to pursue their dreams.  That’s pretty much all you need to know, but it is a romance after all. so you know they are going to meet and fall in love. However, it is the way that this is portrayed that makes the film so engrossing. We already know that Gosling and Stone have excellent chemistry from Crazy, Stupid, Love, and here they elevated to a whole other level. There is just something really organic about their interactions, which never feel forced or contrived. It also helps that they are both well-developed and likable characters you want to root for. 

The first half of the film is sweet, dreamy and full of energy, just like the characters pursuing their dreams and falling in love. The second half is darker and more serious as it deals with the practical realities of their lives and careers. I don’t recall a movie in recent memory that got me genuinely smiling (not because of a joke, but because of how joyful it is) and then genuinely on the verge of tears. It’s one of nose rare bittersweet films that sucked me in right from the beginning, warmed my heart, then damn near broke it. I can’t imagine how people who are have really gone to LA to pursue their dreams feel when they watch this movie. As I said, I usually don’t like romance films because they’re so poorly made. La La Land, on the other hand, nails it perfectly.

The other thing I was afraid of, the singing and dancing, surprisingly did not bother me. Part of it is because the songs are so fantastic and catchy, and part of it because the lyrics fit the emotions of the narrative so well. And part of it is because the amazing choreography and the way it was shot is so flawless. I was sold from the opening  sequence that really set the tone for the rest of the film. I had always felt that musicals would be better confined to stage plays, but the incredible long takes and creative camera angles, as well as the way Chazelle blends them in with the stunning cinematography, makes La La Land an experience built for the big screen.

Full credit must go to Gosling and stone for their performances, both of which deserve Oscar nominations if not wins. They play off each other seamlessly, from the silly banter to the serious conversations to the cute duets and dance numbers. It was almost a little annoying to see such highly attractive and fit people be able to sing and dance this well. And who the heck knew that Gosling was such a good piano player?

Chazelle has also made himself a favorite for Best Director and Best Screenplay by proving that Whiplash was no fluke. La La Land is so different from Whiplash, and yet both films exude the same type of self-assured confidence and controlled pacing. I can’t wait to see what Chazelle comes up with next. 

I’ve heard some people call La La Land a love letter to Los Angeles, and I guess you could construe it that way. I just think it’s a brilliant, funny, sweet, heart-felt movie from start to finish. There were a couple of decisions I perceive as minor missteps, though on the whole, there’s really nothing to dampen how I feel about the movie. Perhaps it’s just the dreamer in me talking, but I just can’t believe how much I love it.

5 stars out of 5!

PS: I literally walked out of the cinema after watching La La land to discover that it had won a record seven awards at the Golden Globes with a clean sweep. I’m not usually one for hyperboles, but it’s well-deserved. I still have a few films left to watch that could potentially knock it off its perch, but as of now, La La Land is the best 2016 release I’ve seen.

Movie Review: Whiplash (2014)

whiplashJPG

So everybody’s raving on about this little movie called Whiplash that is tearing up the critics circle and earned a Best Picture nod for the Oscars later this month. Naturally, I had to check it out, and now I’m singing its praises like everyone else.

Whiplash is a testament to what a bold idea, a strong script and capable actors can deliver notwithstanding a shoestring budget of just US$3.3 million. To be honest I don’t think this is the type of movie I would have considered watching had it not received so much hype. I don’t know about you, but the idea of a drama about a student jazz drummer and his volatile teacher doesn’t exactly rock my boat. And yet, thanks to positive word of mouth, Whiplash has become one of my dark horse favourites of the year.

The story centers on 19-year-old Andrew (Miles Teller), a seemingly regular teenager except for his obsessive ambition to be the best drummer in the world. Andrew attends New York’s prestigious Shaffer Conservatory, and a step in reaching his goal is to get onto the band of renowned conductor Terrence Fletcher (JK Simmons), a horrifying human being who loves driving his students not just to the edge, but flying right over the cliff Thelma-and-Louise style.

It may sound like a “meh” premise, but Whiplash is no doubt one of the most explosive and intense movies of the year. Apart from the tension from the constant thumping of the drums, my heart pounded every time Fletcher was on screen and about to rip into one his students. The fear and anxiety they felt was very terrifying, but also very human. I was on the edge of my seat from the very first scene, and I don’t even care much for drumming. I guess never knew music schools and jazz bands could be so cutthroat, and that the blood, sweat and tears could be — in this case — so real.

Full credit to writer and director Damien Chazelle in his sophomore effort for making every scene count. It’s one of those films where you don’t really know where it’s heading, and yet you don’t care because you’re so caught up in the moment. Some of the characters may seem like caricatures at first, but they reveal more and more of themselves — most of which are negative character traits — as the film progresses.

One of my favourite scenes from the entire movie was Andrew sitting at the dinner table with his family, who clearly think more of sporting achievements than musical ones. It’s a brilliantly constructed scene with beautiful dialogue, and despite it being one of the only scenes involving Andrew’s family, it was all the audience needed to know about them and Andrew’s simmering ego below an apparently timid surface.

Most of you have probably seen JK Simmons do his curt, straight-faced deliveries before, though he’s never been this good before. The viciousness he pours into Fletcher cuts right to the bone, and yet there is a “I’m doing this for your own good” vibe that underlies his nuanced performance. The Best Supporting Actor Oscar is well deserved.

The real revelation of the film is Miles Teller, who absolutely got snubbed by the Oscar committee for his portrayal of Andrew, whose single-minded obsession drives the soul of the narrative. Teller first grabbed my attention in Rabbit Hole, and despite not having movie-star looks he appears to be headed for big things by snagging the role of Mr Fantastic in the new Fantastic 4 remake (and judging from the teaser trailer, it’s gonna be gooooood).

Whiplash also makes some interesting observations about talent, hard work and the type of teaching methods employed by Fletcher. We want our kids to aim for clear goals in life, but at what point does obsession with success become self-destructive? And is pushing students beyond their limits so they can be truly great worth the cost? How many people have to be demoralized and destroyed so that one can rise up above the rest? Whiplash doesn’t answer these questions, but it certainly will make you think about them.

At 109 minutes, it is arguable that Whiplash‘s running time is a little long for a film of its kind, though much of that could be blamed on a crazy climax some might think is over the top. Personally, I didn’t mind it because the satisfaction from the pay-off is well worth the wait.

This is an unusual film with an allure that is difficult to grasp. The experience speaks for itself, and you don’t have to love music or drumming to be riveted by its brilliance.

4.5 stars out of 5