Friday, December 30, 2016

"La La Land" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "La La Land" as well as DVDs "Nine Lives" and "9/11."  The Book of the Week is "Superficial," more of Andy Cohen's diaries.  I also bring you up-to-date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Yi Yi: A One and a Two"]

La La Land

A jazz pianist and an aspiring actress fall in love in Los Angeles - but that's just the start of a wonderful fantasy that you will never forget.

When you are stuck in commuter traffic, wouldn't it be nice if you could just get out of your car and sing and dance with your fellow commuters?  Well, anything is possible in the movies, right? - and that is how this movie starts out, setting the tone and letting you know you are in for a magical movie journey.

This film is a love letter to Los Angeles, old Hollywood musicals, jazz, romance and people with dreams.  All of the things we love about the movies is on display: gorgeous cinematography, wonderful choreography, lovely music, an engaging couple and a magical story.

Before the film even starts, the word "Cinemascope" appears and the screen widens, and so do my eyes, remembering movies of the 50's that were filmed in Cinemascope.  That one word always meant the film would be wide-screen and beautiful to look at and this film is no exception.

Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian, a struggling jazz pianist who wants to open his own jazz club.  He is obsessed with and disgusted by the club across the street from his apartment that used to be a famous jazz club but is now a samba/tapas joint. How could that happen? He laments that jazz is dying, no one appreciates it anymore and he yearns to open a club devoted to jazz.

Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress working as a barista at a coffee house on a movie set.  She has been auditioning in Hollywood unsuccessfully for six years and is feeling the pain and humiliation of trying to follow her dream.

The two meet cute, first passing each other as fellow commuters, with Mia giving Sebastian the finger when he honks at her to get a move on, and then again when she hears the haunting refrain of one of his piano pieces emanating from a club as she walks home late at night from a party.  She goes into the club and wants to tell him how much she loves his music, but he has just been fired and brushes past her.

But they do finally meet and fall in love. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl...well, you know how it goes...or maybe you don't. 

Gosling learned to play the piano for this film and does a good job looking like a pro. That haunting piano refrain that draws Mia into the club is used throughout the movie and reminded me of the theme from Charlie Chaplin's "Limelight."  And I wouldn't be surprised if that was an allusion to Chaplin, as this film is filled with references to old movies and movie musicals.  From the huge movie posters of Ingrid Bergman and other stars from Hollywood's Golden Age plastered all over Mia's apartment and Los Angeles to the dance sequence at the observatory in Griffith Park (remember "Rebel Without a Cause?") to the cinematography awash in color (exquisitely executed by Linus Sandgren and reminiscent of the lovely, colorful musical "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,") to the simple but lovely music by Justin Hurwitz (with lyrics by Pasek and Paul), this film evokes old Hollywood musicals but in a fresh, new way that is unforgettable. 

OK, I can just hear you saying, "I don't like musicals."  And I will  reply, "This isn't just any kind of musical you have seen before.  I promise you, you will love this one."

Though this film pays homage to movies of the past, it is its own special modern movie.

Ryan and Emma have a lovely chemistry and are an appealing couple.  I hate to admit I have never been much of a Ryan Gosling fan.  Not sure why.  Maybe it's all the dark movies he has been in.  He seemed like kind of a grouch.  But here, I have become a fan. When he does his dance numbers in his black and white wingtips,  I couldn't help but think of Gene Kelly.  And Emma Stone, though not your classic beauty, has the "It Factor."  She has that je ne sais qua that makes you love her.  I do love her (and she gets to wear the black and white wingtips too)!

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, who also wrote and directed the acclaimed "Whiplash," this film is not really all about the script or even about boy meets girl, though the script is wonderful.  Nor does it have much in common with "Whiplash," except the jazz theme and the always gruff J.K. Simmons.  No, this film is even better than "Whiplash," and in fact, is something very, very special indeed.  You know what we say about old movies?  "They don't make 'em like that anymore?"  Well, I guess we still do, because Chazelle has made one of the great films of all time.

Everything from the acting to the directing to the set design (which is sure to win an Oscar) to the cinematography to the editing is all first rate and add up to an unforgettable film experience.

I just have one teensy weensy little complaint and that was early in the film when Sebastian's sister visits him at his apartment.  I know we needed a bit of exposition here so we would know that Sebastian is a bit of a hermit, doesn't want to meet any girls and just wants to concentrate on playing jazz, which makes his meeting Mia even more romantic, but the sister refers to his being ripped off, that he is somehow down and out and licking his wounds because he had a bad business deal or something.  That is never explained and I kept waiting to find out what that was all about.  When Keith (John Legend) appears and Sebastian appears to have a grudge against him, that is never explained either, so I couldn't help but wonder if there was more to the film and it was edited out.

But that is a very minor detail, the kind of thing I notice, but it doesn't mar what comes together as an extraordinary film experience.

There are so many outstanding moments in this film that it doesn't seem enough to point out only a couple, but tears fell when Mia sang a song about dreamers when she was auditioning for her big break, and the dream sequence at the end of the film, which evoked the dream ballet in "An American in Paris," is right up there with the most beautiful of all dream ballets.  (All of the dance numbers were choreographed by Mandy Moore, who has done some of the most memorable choreography on "So You Think You Can Dance.)"

Speaking of the dream ballet, despite the homage to the movies of the past that we loved, we are reminded that, though anything is possible in the movies, life isn't like the movies.

As for tears, you know what it means when I cry at the end of the movie, right?  Right.

This is a ground-breaking musical right up there with its predecessors that were also ground-breaking: "Oklahoma!" with its dark storyline and complete integration of plot, song, lyrics, and dance by Agnes DeMille, which for the first time were integral to the story rather than diversions; and then "West Side Story," with Leonard Bernstein's incredible music, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (his first musical) and choreography by Jerome Robbins.  No previous musical had included so much dance or used it so dramatically and inventively to tell the story and reveal the characters.

And now we have "La La Land" - a movie musical that pays homage to what has come before but sets a bar for the future by making its own mark and bringing movie musicals into the modern world. 
"Please, Sir, I want some more."

Chazelle is amazingly only 31, so I can't wait to see what else he will do!
Rosy the Reviewer says...see you at the Oscars!

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!


Nine Lives (2016)

A ruthless businessman is turned into a cat to teach him a lesson about life.

This movie was on more "Worst Movies of 2016" lists than I care to count, so I expected to hate this movie.  But I didn't.  I mean, who can't get a chuckle out of a real life cat trying to write with a fountain pen or make himself a drink?

Kevin Spacey plays Tom Brand, a balls-to-the-wall New York City businessman who also just happens to be arrogant, selfish and mean.  Did I say mean?  He is bent on building the tallest tower in North America to glorify himself (remind you of anyone so far)? His wife, Lara (played by Jennifer Garner), introduces him to a crowd as "a real pussycat" and later when his daughter asks for a cat for her birthday, he says "I hate cats."  Uh oh.

So with that little bit of foreshadowing...when Tom goes to a pet shop, well, actually a pet shop that only sells cats, run by Felix Perkins (AKA as Felix "Purr"kins and played by the usually strange and creepy Christopher Walken), to buy a cat for his daughter's birthday, Perkins, who we learn has special powers, decides it's time that Tom Brand gets a lesson in life.  What better way than to turn him into a cat?  I couldn't have thought of a better plan myself.

Through some strange alchemy never explained, on the way home with the cat, Tom goes up on the roof of a tall building, is struck by lightning, falls off the building and somehow Tom and the cat change places, though Tom's human body never shows up anywhere acting like a cat.  He is just in a coma.  Too bad.  That might have been funny...Kevin Spacey as Tom running around meowing, scratching himself and licking his...  Well, you know.  But Spacey gets a pass in this movie and doesn't have to do anything except lie comatose in bed and lend his voice to the cat who does all of the work.

While Tom is lying in a coma, his arch nemesis, Ian Cox (Mark Consuelos) is plotting to take over Tom's company.  He was also there when Tom was struck by lightning and fell off the roof.  He could have saved him but didn't, so he's not a very nice guy either.

So now Tom's body is in a coma and his mind is inside the cat and if that wasn't bad enough, his cat name is Mister Fuzzy Pants! Oh, the humiliation! Lara takes him home and their daughter, Rebecca (Melina Weissman) loves Mister Fuzzy Pants, which is great, but while Tom is doing his best to be a good Mister Fuzzy Pants for Rebecca, he is also doing everything he can to try to get through to his wife that he is in there. There is a drunk cat sequence, a scene where Tom can't stand the thought of eating cat food and when he faces the prospect of being "fixed." There are lots and lots of jokes about cat scans, using a mouse, even that iconic 70's poster of the kitten hanging from a tightrope that said "Hang in there, baby" makes an appearance.

Perkins makes it clear to Tom that if he doesn't want to remain a cat for the rest of his life, he had better clean up his act, so the film becomes a sort of "redemption by cat" tail, I mean tale. And speaking of the cat, this is one talented cat, considering how uncooperative cats seem to be.  With the help of CGI, Mister Fuzzy Pants does some spectacular stunts that at times are actually quite funny. 

Kevin Spacey plays the put-upon-man-turned-into-a-cat role well. Anyway, his voice does.  However, I don't quite buy Jennifer Garner in broad comedy like this.  She was trying too hard to be funny.  It didn't work.

However, the problem here is this.  Who is this film aimed at?  Kids might find the talking cat funny, but they won't really understand the backstory or Tom's need to become a better human.  Adults will understand the backstory and the moral, but might find the jokes...a joke. Let's just say the cat-inspired quips and the broad, slapstick humor gets tiring.

So, yes, this film has its issues, but I have to say it's hardly the worst film of the year. It was way better than "Zoolander 2" or "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,"  so if you liked those movies and are prone to watching cat videos when you are bored at work, you will LOVE this one.

And this film has a good message. 

Tom gets a wake-up call.  Get it?  He's in a coma and needs a WAKE UP CALL?  Ok, anyway. 

Here is the message: Don't act like a dick or you will get turned into a cat, an especially horrible fate if you hate cats!

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, I found this film funny at times despite the fact that I hated those two aforementioned films and never watch cat videos, but then I have always had an interest in animals playing humans and vice versa...

Rosy the Reviewer says...a sometimes amusing little film if you like to see cats with hangovers or see bad people get their comeuppance.

9/11 (2002)

A you-are-there look at the events that took place on that terrible day.

What are the odds? 

French filmmakers - Gedeon and Jules Naudet - were working with firefighter and filmmaker James Hanlon to make a film about what it was like for a rookie New York City fireman as he went through the nine-month probationary period to become a full-fledged fireman and ended up filming the only eyewitness account of what happened inside Tower 1 of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  Unwittingly their film became a documentary about a documentary and captured some of the most chilling images ever seen.

The film starts in June 2001 and follows Tony Benatotas as he is introduced to his duties at Engine 7, Battalion 1 Company by Chief Joseph Pfeiffer. It was supposed to be "a day in the life" of a rookie fireman (called a "probie" because he is on probation) as he waits for his first fire.  The filmmakers just happened to be downtown with Chief Pfeifer and some other firefighters investigating a gas leak...and then it happened.

As the Battalion 1 firefighters examined the supposed gas leak, American Airlines Flight 11 flew overhead. Turning the camera to follow the plane, filmmaker Jules Naudet taped one of only three known recordings of the first plane hitting Tower 1 of the World Trade Center. Chief Pfeifer and other firefighters were the first responders and Jules was allowed to follow the rescue operation. They were all inside the lobby of Tower 1 when Tower 2 was hit by the second aircraft and when Tower 2 eventually collapsed.  Gideon was back at the firehouse, filming the reactions of Tony and the rest of the firefighters.

As his fellow firemen race to the scene having no idea what they are dealing with, Tony is left behind to tend to the firehouse.  When the firemen arrive at Tower 1, there are no elevators because flaming jet fuel had run right down the elevator shaft so they had to walk up.  As they are determining what to do, the second plane hits and is captured on film.  It was clear that no one knew what to do. 

The filmmakers were filming the entire time, sometimes through a lense covered in dirt and debris. What they captured was the first plane hitting the North Tower, footage from inside the lobby of the Twin Towers as they burned, and the faces of the doomed firefighters as they raced to save people’s lives inside a pair of iconic buildings that would soon collapse into what could only be described as hell...and brace yourselves.  Plane parts are strewn over the street, and you can also hear the bodies of the people who jumped hitting the ground.

First airing on TV, this was supposed to be a documentary about a boy becoming a man over his nine month probationary period but turned out to be a story about a boy forced to  become a man in six hours.

"Did it make me a man?  What's a man...?"  Tony says, shaken, at the end of the film. 

He also says that the "New guys will never know what it was like to be a fireman before September 11."  And the same goes for our nation.  Since that day, we can hardly remember what it was like before and we have never been the same.

The film ends with all of the pictures of the many firemen who died that day and I had no idea there had been so many. Sadly, Chief Pfeifer's own brother, another firefighter, died during the rescue attempt.

My son told me about this film and since we have never been the same country since that awful day, I am still interested in what took place in a probably futile desire and need to understand it. I had to see this. I have never gotten over the film "United 93," which dramatized what might have happened on that plane that went down in Pennsylvania, and I won't get over this one, either.  

This film, fourteen years later, is still a powerful reminder that though we may never understand what happened, we must never forget it. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...a chilling documentation of a terrible day but one we must never forget and a fitting memorial to those who died doing their duty.


***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

221 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Yi Yi: A One and a Two (2000)

This film follows three generations of a middle-class Taipei family from a wedding to a funeral.

"Yi Yi" is the story of the Jian family seen through the eyes of three different characters who represent three different generations: that of the father NJ (Wu Nien-jen), the young son Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang), and the teenage daughter, Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee). This three-hour film starts with a wedding, concludes with a funeral and bored the hell out of me in between.

I don't know what it is, but unless the movie is "Gone With the Wind" or "Dr. Zhivago," I just can't tolerate movies that run to three hours, especially if there isn't much going on.

Anyway, NJ's computer company is failing and he is hoping to align himself with a Japanese computer game company. He is also unhappy with his career in general, because he finds that his partners are all only concerned with making money and his honesty is unappreciated.  His wife is having a midlife crisis and has left to go to a Buddhist retreat, so when NJ's old girlfriend, Sherry (Su-Yun Ko), comes back into his life, he is tempted.

Meanwhile NJ's youngest son, Yang Yang, is having difficulty at school and his daughter, Ting Ting, is having the usual boyfriend troubles.  At the same time, NJ's mother-in-law has had a stroke and is in a coma.  There are a host of other family members who also complicate matters.

Director Edward Yang wrote and directed this epic film (are three hour movies always called epics?) about the everyday lives of an ordinary family and how we all silently deal with our human struggles. Everyone makes decisions and deals with their problems in their own way but despite their efforts, no one seems to get anywhere.  In life there are no easy or definitive answers.  We just go along and do the best we can. 

Another theme is time as the film progresses through the stages of life - birth, marriage, midlife crisis and death - and the characters react and feel the urgency of time speeding by.

Why it's a Must See:  " of the richest family portraits in modern cinema."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Yang won the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival for this film in 2000 and the film garnered scores of other awards.  Most of the leading critics of the day also jumped on the bandwagon to proclaim it the best film of the year.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Yawn. Sorry, I couldn't jump on this bandwagon.
(In Mandarin with English subtitles)


***Book of the Week***

Superficial: More Adventures from the Andy Cohen Diaries by Andy Cohen (2016)

Andy Cohen shares his diary entries from September 2014 through June of 2016.

I love Andy Cohen. 

For those of you who don't have premium cable and can't get Bravo, Andy was head of development for Bravo for 10 years and was responsible for all of those "Real Housewives" shows some of us love so much (and many others hate and blame for all that is bad in the world).

Andy is also the host of the talk show "Watch What Happens Live (AKA as WWHL).  He resigned from Bravo in 2013, but continues to be the Executive Producer for the "Real Housewives" and to host his talk show.  He is the first openly gay host of an American late-night talk show, and that is relevant here, because he talks about life as a gay man in this latest edition of his diaries.

Inspired to keep a diary by the "Andy Warhol Diaries," Andy reports on his book tour and renovating his apartment as well as everything from his nightly talk show to his run-ins with the rich and famous to his daily workouts and ablutions, which leads me to tell you what I loved about this book and what I didn't.

What I loved about this book:

  • Andy is unabashedly and unapologetically in love with celebrities and the gossip they generate and so am I!
  • He is very honest about his dating life and relationships and at times poignant about his quest to find true love
  • His observations about the rich and famous are hilarious and no-holds-barred but never mean even when he is snubbed by Taylor Swift
  • You don't need to have read his first book of diary entries, "Most Talkative," to enjoy this one
  • He loves his Mom and he quotes from her extensively
  • The enjoyment of life that he exudes on his show comes out in his book

What I didn't love so much:

  • I know Andy loves his dog Wacha, but after awhile hearing about all of Wacha's issues wore thin (though I should talk. I am awash in dogs and talk about them all of the time).
  • He overshares about peeing and pooping, and I'm not talking about his dog's
  • Sometimes I didn't know who he was talking about. Most of the people he talks about are obvious.  I mean, I know Mariah and Cher and Bette, but he has a posse of friends who play significant roles, and he only uses their first names, so sometimes I didn't know who he was talking about. 
  • The details of his day were sometimes, well, too detailed. Did I really need to know about all of his workouts with "the Ninja" or his many naps or the hot window washers? This book works best in small doses. A nice book to have in the bathroom, and fitting, considering.

If you watch Bravo and like the "Real Housewives," there is all kinds of juicy stuff in here about them.  But since Andy also hosts a talk show and celebrities pass through every night, he also comments on all of the shows he did and people he interviewed over the two years (Sting and his wife Trudy Styler - she told Andy that Sting has a gay alter ego named Rene. Kelly Clarkson - "really nice, open, funny, boozy, and game.").

Andy also likes to go out and he is running into celebrities all of the time, so you get to follow him on his adventures and hang out with John Mayer (they are good friends - no, Mayer is not gay) and SJP (that's Sarah Jessica Parker to you and me - she is also a good friend of Andy's).

As I said, I love Andy and I am a faithful follower of WWHL  I even went to see Anderson Cooper (another good friend) and him when the two were on tour together and came to Seattle.  I was able to get up and ask Andy a question so, of course, I had to ask him if he was actually personal friends with any of the Housewives (Yes, Bethenny and Carole from the RHONY - you have to get used to these initialisms - and that made me sad because those two are not my faves).

Rosy the Reviewer says...Andy is living the good life and loving it and you can too, well, vicariously, reading this book.


Thanks for reading!

See you Tuesday 

for my list of

"The Best and Worst Movies of 2016"

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  1. Your reveiw of La La Land was wonderful It was as much a love letter to old Hollywood as was the film. I agree about Gosling...he is a bit of a scruffy gruff, and Stone has one of those wide mouth, big eyed faces you can't stop looking at. But I couldn't agree more with your selection of the two best moments: "...but tears fell when Mia sang a song about dreamers when she was auditioning for her big break, and the dream sequence at the end of the film." I was dabbing my eyes with my greasy popcorn napkin during her audition. I thought I was the only one who was such a sentimental fool! Mia wasn't even crying in the film (which is usually the trigger for me), she just sang from her heart. And the "What if" at the end had kind of a Sliding Doors feel to it for me...what if he had kissed me instead of pushed me aside? What would life have been like. Neither one of them had a bad life after all...but it was tender to have them wonder what could have been. The cinematography was breathtaking. And I couldn't stop wondering HOW they managed to film that opening number on a real LA off-ramp!

    1. See? The crying thing happens when you know you have just seen a really great movie! Hubby cried too and has been obsessed with the movie ever since. And yes, that opening number was something. It was done in real time on the highway in one long take though I think it had a little CGI help with the shot of the traffic in the distance. But as soon as I saw that number, I knew I was in for something really wonderful.