La La Land : A Film Review



Directed by Damien Chazelle, produced by Fred Berger, Gary Gilbert, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt. Written by Damien Chazelle
Cast.  Ryan Gosling as Sebastian, Emma Stone as Mia, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, Music by Justin Hurwitz, Cinematography. Linus Sandgren. Released. August 31, 2016 (Venice Film Festival) December 9, 2016 (United States) January 13, 2017 (United Kingdom)
Duration. 2hr 8mins. Country United States. Cert. 12a.


Entertainment ball

In terms of public awareness and prominence in entertainment news La La Land has outshone practically every advance notice in media platforms excepting Star Wars levels.  From Emma Stone whose first public encounter in association with the movie was about six months ago at Venice, August, and the exposure has been excalating ever since, it has been a long at times, probably tiresome journey.  New work needs a great deal of similar commitment at the inception through realisation and I wonder how La La Land has affected her work.  It is the same for Ryan Gosling no doubt with roles for both of them very drastically different from this coupling ever advancing.

Let me entertain you

They nail the chemistry in this film which is in my mind one of the primary reasons it has succeeded. Mia is a barista working in a movie studio and Sebastian as a jazz painist playing in a bar with Whiplash tutor J.K. Simmons cast as owner.  They rendezvous at the bar and the friction of first love is tested as Mia …. well you figure as most reviewers have given away lots of the story and piecemeal you get to hear of the whole story anecdotally and spoilt. The love story obviously survives an early clash otherwise where’s the Movie!

The next piece of the jigsaw is location Los Angeles dream making ‘central’ and the heart of entertainment Hollywood so we are led to believe.  The world is much bigger but for ever Hollywood is the place to ‘Make It’ – a true tale of a musician struggling up the ranks who has written some of the most smaltzy and crooning type pop music fodder the Musical genre cries out for is that of Gary Barlow except he did it from North Wales to Runcorn clubs and TV induced encouragement until he produced the magic cassette tape for a man (he didn’t know) was putting together a boy band and on it was A million love songs.  When the guy heard (Nigel Martin Smith) it he was astounded.  It was entirely his own work – singing, playing, arrangements and production. But there was no Hollywood or Nashville only the GB circuit.  So the story of musical success for Gary Barlow has wealth and a great story behind it but no Hollywood traction. La La Land is a film about the ‘Make It’ struggle but without the content.  I’m beginning to warm to Take That as a guilty secret along the lines of Wham and Careless Whisper.  The look of LA is very intoxicatingly throughout this film but other films produce this high intensity colour like Cy Twombly covered cityscapes.  The dancing is very cleverly designed and camerawork follows using the most uptodate technology and some post production tweaks but the one tracking shot which I favour as a time conscious mechanism is used as a bit of a contrivance and involves the performers – bashed in car roofs show the rehearsals were trying – is monumental and eclipses the principles in the scene they ‘meet’ and it’s a hammy connection with back of car camera work following intricately played dance work and flops abysmally with ‘gestural’ negative vibes.  So not uplifting?

La La Land Review


In La La Land there are no such songs.  Not even close. The music is what musicals are supposed to be about but here it is devoid of a kicker song and one you will be singing on the way home.  Andrew Lloyd Webber is one of a kind whose skills in producing theatres West End Musical hits – to be seen in the flesh so to speak at the auditorium – invests a whole aura of entertainment enthralment into a viewer/listeners experience.  Theatre therefore is the Musical driver and it is nothing without a key song which delivers a story.  Film is let off the hook is what I’m saying.  Its visually sumptuous and reminiscent of previous screen giants which have gone from Casablanca and Mary Poppins to Les Miserable and countless more West Side Story, Saturday Night Fever etc. Which define light entertainments Musical genre.  The crossovers are there.  Evita with a song.  Every one has a song a hook, but La La Land does not therefore it is something else which is its secret.

The traits exposed her are a song and dance girl and a under rated pianist.  Bring on Marilyn straight away.  She’s even a red head.  Then there is child star risen and light hearted, no Jack Lemmon or Tony Curtis  adding spice sex appeal (gender bending in Some like it Hot) story and the band add song and key bonding moments.  ‘Make It’ again the point.  Ryan Gosling does a weaker version of any of the forerunners as most of them were all round Entertainers bending their skills into believable actor roles alongside the Musical centrality of a story with songs and kicker ones at that.



The films orb

Luscious mush is not what Musical Entertainment is really about but it does put bums on seats undoubtedly has it tweeks the right buttons in a contemporary way.  Sub Woody Allen cinema techniques are deployed, with initially the screen ratio itself a harbour expanded.  The opening sequence so much talked about is an opening number.  A Scorsese or Polanski close up of a girl reading a script and wap bo bam babbaloba a dance sequence – instead of a street a highway – instead of tables and chairs – cars.

Björk in Dancing in the Dark (2000) and the train dance sequence is a million times better as was the film and all modern imitations are limp like this tends to be.  So is that a put down?  Depends.  I venture the film is not the film we are sold,  its hype has part of the ‘Make It’ into an icon feel to it.  Join up to the tale or be square.  The film and films are meant to be bigger than that and reviewers often times find themselves screwballing all types of references into ‘a film’ in order to find a hook or difference mediating it in the central plank of screen presentation.  I opt to extrapolate and go for a world view which has got me in all kinds of twists if not thought through entirely.   Opening lines and arguments come from initial sight, not as the previous projected ideas of the film whatever it is. The likelihood is however, a film cannot be trusted on first viewing to be what is up there on the screen.  Have I lost you! In all likelihood therefore I move swiftly on.


Point me in the direction of

It is the junior life span of director that enables him to disassociate his film arc from the history of musicals.  It gives him however the leverage.  The CinemaScope outreach is breathable luscious escapist heartfelt visually skilfully paced high, low drama with the emphasis on low.  How many people thought of the roster of film stars and entertainers lost in the past year in so large a profile.  The shattering news of such film stars as Alan Rickman and Carrie Fisher along with such providers of our own musical tapestry, escapist if you like, Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and George Michael it is in film we see the narrative of stardom reflected.  The can of film is in essence the sideways turn which actually is the central heme.  The position of fame and success and our appreciation of its value altered and enriched, adjusted on each film we see.  The rush of people having witnessed or in the screenings already out there and captured in the USA were at a time of a ‘unbiblical’shiftbin the conscious of all its citizens when aprobrium and vile extremist views were and are salivating the mouths of political entities whose ridicule knows no bounds, is the defining chapter of our present times.

Clear the swamp with metaphor

We are goin to clear the swamp comes the call.  This particular one (film implies?) is not one so deep it causes you to leap on car bonnets or roof’s but splash about in the rain as Gene Kelly did.  The swamp of this movie they have ‘risen’ from even temporarily, is in all views and directions not deep.  Like Gene Kelly it is a mere splash they find themselves in or is it the Directors suggestion we are in a deeper mess than we are told or believe. In Gene Kelly’s famous scene we are given to believe times ahead and even now are not so bad and moral is joyful and the moral fibre, heartfelt thanks to be alive are intact.  My view tends to the very pessimistic and Climate change (sans RHI boilers – a local NI joke literally) an these actors may well need the refugee of car bonnets for what’s coming ironically given the number of cars, down the line.

img_7907 img_7921

Escapism is very conducive to projection as well as rejection.  From epic films of catastrophe and end of scenarios to stories of galactic conflict they all have their meaning.  How this one fares is anybody’s guess but it for me is simply a trailer for something more enriching and informative in this genre if it’s out there?

Conclusion ###3

As gripping as a sponge and wet as a puddle.  Give me Car wash any day.  Love the music – the jazz but not the ‘songs’!  It is a fun film and a little crazy but it is ultimately slight in terms of musical films.  Performances are spot on particularly Emma Stones Mia the red head.  No cliches then. It is not remotely the reinvention people have called it of the musical not even a hybrid. It does entertain and looks great but why should it not.  The choreography is camera led.  The shots of the dance on cars is sweeping but Busby Berkeley with fewer resources gave us politics and drama in for example The Gold Diggers of ’33.  Move it. See it but see it for what it is and enjoy it for what it is also. I hope you enjoy the experience at some level.

John Graham

16 January 2017


Give me Car Wash anytime


On at Queens Film Theatre until  1 February 2017 with *NOT SCREENING MON 30 JAN and on General release.


Grandma : A Film Review

Directed, written by Paul Weitz. Produced by Andrew Miano, Paul Weitz, Paris Kassidokostas-Latsis, Terry Dougas.
Cast. Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Laverne Cox, Nat Wolff, John Cho, Sam Elliott. Running time: 78 MIN. Cert. 15.
USA. Production An 1821 Media Prod. presentation of a Depth of Field prod.

Comedy Los Angeles Style
It’s been a while since Lily Tomlin, one of Americas finest comedic actresses has graced the screen in a title role and this brings her front and rudely central into a great part for her later years. She has said it is likely her last movie but it is maybe froth on the hype of this film.
It is a masterly refreshing return and this movie has depth and well written dilemma and drama and storyline developed through its funny, acerbic and challenging story. It is up in the hills and all over as journey around chasing bucks in the Hollywood Hills. As you do.
Grandma is a woman whose life has many chapters of which rebelliousness is not lost or a constant search for love wherever it might exist.
It opens with her being a hard nosed (acting out as seniors do having a retinue of life experiences to call on) with her partner as they reach a low point or shake up or make up point in the relationship. It’s a junior relationship, in terms of days as well as years and we get a piece of storyline of the recently or not so long ago for Grandma Elle Reid,
A fit seventy five year old Lily Tomlin is young for the part of the septuagenarian (80’s isn’t it?!) and she and the part pack a punch which has energy and quick wittedness, Lily having the timing and kitschy Jewish snappiness of a Jackie Mason. Some one liners are rich, rustic, rubicund, rude, and slam dunk moment which have even a small review audience roaring with laughter as much as cynical worn dudes can. They slacken of the chains of movie hubris momentarily.
Paul Weitz of American Pie and About a boy fame has made a low budget stop with this philosophical peppy unrestrained pic. Lily Tomlin reprises if you like the genre of telephone operator (without scruples) Ernastine or Edith Ann of rocking chair wisdom.
Alongside her is the other central character. For a Grandma has to have a grandchild and this is the wonderful petite Sage (cue the odd joke) played by the curly blonde Julia Garner with the straight line role of teenage leaning about life (sex education is a topic with many strands and the theories on her schooling feature on several characters roster) while Grandma is on a low having departed from Olivia played by Judy Greer whose existence comes as a bit of a surprise to Sage given she is closer to her age than Grandma. Question arises ‘are all men etc….’ in the mist above her head and implied to the reviewer. Feminism is a specialist subject of the retiree Academic Poet Writer Grandma Ellie Reid (Lily) has been in the real world and she carries her now pauperism life – medical bills for her lost love, paying of all her debts as a clean break – leaves her in a dilemma how to help her granddaughter Sage who comes knocking at her door.
Motor Melon Man
Men can’t carry a melon?
The two get along great and have early connection over the ‘growing oversized water melon’ Sage is carrying and Ellie has a lot of sympathy with this ‘child’ whose own choices (her brilliantly portrayed Mum, her mother, Judy played by the equally superb comedic Marcia Gay Harden. Her mother plays a great mini-me – Lily with an economics degree and flat down slam dunk reality check – one of her best lines comes and I won’t spoil it for you on what a mistake is – so decked in power red and on her game and caffeine enhanced world as to nearly steal the show from the fellow conspirators on this road trip to reality.
What’s the Story?
If I’ve left out the premise so far you’ve probably guessed it. It concerns the screw up literally both with the nerdy boyfriend, played by Nat Wolff and the rush to the solution which brings in, in little segmented stories characters, starting with the road mobilé Dodge Royal – a shiny black god for the road with the set designers crayon ‘broken/cracked passenger window touch to make it appear not so slick! and the late Elizabeth Pena giving it everything as a bookshop proprietress; nice little story joiner in here to say nothing of the fem on calories cruncher, as an accomplice in this terrific moving (literally) film.
Gravitas kicks in.
This is a brilliant duet entering the story. Well paired and much more than the basic met up.
The cinema growls and our ears are met with a very unusual sound at one point. The deep growl of action man cowboy Sam Elliot enters with a deep bass voice as the character Karl. An ex of Ellie he is greeted on the step of his elevated retiree home overlooking wonderful LA. It may not be the Koneig house (go looking it up it will astonish you if you’ve never seen it – now a national monument!) but hangs over the kingdom of made up reality as good as one could hope for.

This is the centre of the film from which the curve takes on another slide and Los Angeles with the sunshine state splitting the freeways and luscious tree lined avenues on the heights gives a stark contrast to the bewilderment, predicament plays havoc with the mind, the emotions and wider bigger picture which is what director Paul Weitz whose story, writing this is intended to immerse us in.
Complacency is not an object to enter nor logic, the meaning of which cannot be tapered with – it is after all – a form of syllogism in which the major premise is formed of two or more hypothetical propositions and the minor premise is a disjunctive proposition, as “If A, then B; if C then D. Either A or C. Therefore, either B or D.” – put that in as I didn’t appreciate how sound it was and is as a force of gravity the film is and shapes into.

Conclusion. ####4
Short though this film is at 78 mins it neither slows or quickens through the reveal and has in it many high points of Humour and seriousness of aspect. It delivers a punch almightily and forcefully as indeed life does and director Paul Weitz has constructed this knowing full well I suppose the genius of the irascible tip tappy bombastic phenomenon Lily Tomlin would bring if he were to cast her. Much of her past movies are solidly placed as undercurrent as sound platforms and referencing for both the players skills and the writers vision. It is a pretty awesome film given its slender ‘seasonal headliner pocket of marketing’ and can be appreciated on so many levels.
It sends out without being preachy questions only you can answer. The film won’t provide answers but delivers another perspective giving emotional clout and much to consider afterwards and can be a basis in itself to discuss the subjects it presents and encounters.

Experience is everything in this context and Lily Tomlin needs an Oscar for her part as the Grandma or a big handshake hug for her dynamic of a film career. Mind you, much as I love the playing I still am even more appreciative of Marcia Gay Harden as a undercut, slightly manic controlled comedic slice of genius.

John Graham

9 December 2015


See from Friday 11 December to and including 17 December 2015.

Keep an eye open for it around and about over Christmas as it is something of a go see movie with more to it than a walk up Christmas movie.

Check website for scheduled times and showings
and all the Festive comforts this great place offers!