La La Land

La La Land is a 2016 romantic dramedy musical film written and directed by Whiplash mastermind Damien Chazelle, with a score and musical numbers by fellow Whiplash collaborator Justin Hurwitz. The film stars Emma Stone as aspiring actress Mia Dolan. Struggling after a number of botched auditions, Mia has several brief and curt encounters with Sebastian, a struggling musician and jazz fanatic. Although their first few encounters are of a sarcastic and playfully rude nature, their relationship blossoms into one of the romantic variety. The film mainly follows their relationship over the course of a year, with the “chapters” of the film separated into the four seasons. La La Land follows the couple’s attempts to balance their relationship and their own personal dreams and aspirations for the future.

Damien Chazelle’s previous and breakout film, 2014’s brilliant indie drama Whiplash, was, in fact, developed out of frustration due to the inability to get La La Land, which has been his passion project since its inception, off the ground. The passion Chazelle has for this film is abundantly clear; La La Land, in my opinion, is a truly great film in nearly every aspect. I must admit, I have always been quick to dismiss Ryan Gosling as a pretty boy with no true acting experience a la Channing Tatum, mainly because of his work in horrible melodramatic trash like The Notebook or 2013’s blehtastic Gangster Squad. I realize after seeing La La Land (as well as Drive and the upcoming Blade Runner 2049) that I was wrong to dismiss him as a walking piece of wood, because he is honestly really great here. However, I will also say that he is still slightly upstaged by Emma Stone. Gosling’s Sebastian is great and empathetic, but Mia, as played by Stone, is the real emotional center of this film. I ended up liking her a bit more because (and I believe this to be intentional) Sebastian, although a overall decent and likable guy, can, despite noble and clear intentions, be a little bit of a dick, for lack of a better word. Stone is also the better performer, from a musical perspective, with the final musical number from the audition scene being the most powerful and emotionally-charged number in the entire soundtrack, not to say that Gosling’s “City of Stars” wasn’t great, though, because all the musical numbers are ridiculously impressive.

La La Land, somewhat surprisingly, benefits from some extremely impressive cinematography, which most movies of this nature, even the great ones, aren’t really known for at all. Newcomer Linus Sandgren seems to employ long takes over using a lot of cuts, which is a good thing. Most impressively, (don’t quote me because I’m not positive), I’m pretty sure the opening musical number “Another Day Of Sun,” which took place on a gridlocked Los Angeles highway, accompanied with a rather complicated ensemble dance routine, was all done in a single take. The sequence, from beginning to end, from my recollection, lasted about five or six minutes with no discernible cuts or transitions. It was very impressive.

La La Land, as a phrase, is a two-fold reference. Namely, it refers to the fantastical elements of a person’s imagination. The title is also a reference to Los Angeles itself, namely Hollywood; it is a more dated and old-fashioned reference, which is appropriate. La La Land is an old-fashioned throwback to the location’s wartime era glory days of the 1930’s and 40’s while still adhering to the conventions of current society. Everything from the music, to the dialogue (to wit there are overt and covert references to Golden Age films like Casablanca and Rebel Without A Cause, as well as some other films), to the overall tone of the film is a perfectly executed return to the days of yore; it works excellently and effortlessly.

La La Land is escapism at its finest. I was invested the entire time, entirely disconnected from the problems in my life, simply experiencing the story for myself. This may surprise you, but it’s hard for me to invest in a movie so much that I literally escape. I mean, they get me invested, but I’m still conscious of the stuff I have to deal with in my life. Not here; for two hours and eight minutes, I literally did not care. La La Land certainly lives up to its title.

I’ve seen La La Land twice now. I was surprised to find this film had decent showtimes available, even after, like, a month. This probably has something to do with the fact that it’s winning all of the awards! La La Land has received a record-tying fourteen award nominations at the upcoming Academy Awards, a feat achieved only by Titanic in 1997 and All About Eve in 1950. The nominations are Best Picture, Best Director (for Chazelle), Best Actor (for Gosling), Best Actress (for Stone), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, two nominations for Best Original Song (“City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”), Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. I hazard that the film will win a good chunk of those nominations, and it very much deserves to. La La Land has also received countless other nominations at countless outlets.

In case you didn’t figure this out, La La Land is a pretty friggin’ great movie. It features great performances from its two leads, as well as a wonderful soundtrack, an emotional script, impressively complex dance numbers, and surprisingly on-point cinematography. It is worthy of a lot of the praise it is getting; it was just as enjoyable on my second watch as it was on my first. There’s not much more to say other than I thought it was awesome. I know it is really late to be publishing this review, but there’s still decent showings everywhere, so go now and watch it, because you will like it.

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Whiplash

Whiplash is a 2014 American independent drama film written and directed by Damien Chazelle. The film stars Miles Teller as Andrew, a first-year student and drummer at the fictional music school Schaffer Conservatory, and J.K. Simmons as Terrance Fletcher, leader of the school’s competitive jazz band Andrew is recruited to. Whiplash is a feature-length version of Chazelle’s 18-minute short film. The short film starred Johnny Simmons in the role of the student and J.K. Simmons (no relation to Johnny) as the band leader. The short film won critical acclaim and praise on the awards circuit, becoming a hit at the Sundance Film Festival. This praise led to investors interested in a feature-length version. J.K, who played the role of Fletcher in the short film, and whose performance was the reason for the critical acclaim, gleefully returned to the role.

Chazelle’s script is an excellent one. The character of Terrance Fletcher is an intense, angry, foul-mouthed, oftentimes wholly inappropriate monster, and Chazelle nor Simmons hold back when attempting to portray this. Nor do Chazelle and Miles Teller slack on showing just how negative an effect Fletcher’s unsavory teaching methods have on people.

The film continues to go even further. For as much of a monster Terrance Fletcher is, the one thing Andrew wants is to please the notorious band leader. His drive and determination knows no boundaries. Andrew subjects himself to extreme physical and psychological pain in order to achieve this goal. It is, honestly, extremely disturbing to watch this young man put himself through so much pain.

Before becoming a filmmaker, Chazelle was an aspiring jazz musician in high school. He based the character of Fletcher off of a very intense high school instructor, although Fletcher is admittedly “an extreme version” of the teacher. Whiplash is a film that, above all, lives on the performances of its two main characters. Both Teller and Simmons give performances so effectively disturbing in different ways, you cannot help but be completely engrossed.

In addition to great performances, Whiplash also benefits from great cinematography from Sharone Meir. Meir effectively matches the darkness of the plot with equally dark and interesting lighting and rather vibrant color schemes.

I have never been exposed to jazz, but I must say that the soundtrack by Justin Hurwitz, which combines popular and electic jazz standards with an original, jazz-infused soundtrack is extremely catchy and very good at using music to match up with the character’s emotions and intensity.

Whiplash is a film that is as dark and intense as its two principle characters. It is a story of passion, fear, determination, struggle, and manipulation. Here, Damien Chazelle proves himself to be an excellent filmmaker in almost every aspect. Whiplash features a great script, flawless acting, a very competent jazz soundtrack, and some excellent cinematography. It’s no puzzle why this engrossing drama was an awards contender at the Oscars. At the 87th Academy Awards, Whiplash won Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Supporting Actor for Simmons, and was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. It is a truly excellent film that, most impressively, showcases the acting talents of the usually “cuddly” and approachable J.K. Simmons. It also put Miles Teller on the map and proved that Damien Chazelle is a competent filmmaker in every respect, allowing him to move on to bigger and even better projects. I highly recommend this film to everyone. I suspect those experienced in or interested in making music will find it even more intense than I did.