La La Land – Beauty on Film

La La Land is about Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling).

Mia is a struggling actress turned cashier who stands in front of executives from Hollywood who would rather concentrate on their phones instead of listening to her giving her soul into her acting auditions. No one cares for her dreams and there are plenty of insecurities and fears lurking. Things are not as vibrant as her clothing. Sebastian, with Ryan Gosling goodness, is passionate for Jazz. He plays the piano like a king. In terms of achieving success he doesn’t really have anything but clearly a lot of desire. He aims to open a Jazz cafe in LA which plays “real jazz”. The story is an ode to the ‘City of Stars’ and our characters ask ‘Are you shining just for me?’ It’s a story about passion, love, jazz, colors, dreams, hopes and real life at the same time.

It’s about how we stay focused on course to find our passions and sometimes in life some person who we’d never thought we would date, comes in our life to completely derail us. The pain of gaining someone and then losing yourself. Now tell me you haven’t felt like that in real life.

The first shot of La La Land is 3–4 minute dance sequence with some brilliant and technically astounding camera/dance moves on a traffic jam on a flyover in Los Angeles. To be able to see this 35mm film shot with cinemascope lenses in IMAX was incredible. The colour palette of a beautiful dreamland of a city (LA) were an absolute delight to watch. I often love when film and film makers are confident enough to show meaningful wide shots of spaces where our characters live and breathe.

Damien Chazelle, the director of La La Land holds plenty of frames for a beautiful amount of time. The film, just because of the camera work, is able to allow us a proper window into the lives of these people. You might have heard/seen posters of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone dancing to beautiful sunsets of LA but what perhaps what you realize when you actually see them doing this, is the hard work and commitment which must have gone into a process of making this beautiful film. This is clearly a film made with passion, with love and for the artists and the dreamers. Yes this film is for the ‘fools who dream’ ‘no matter how silly it may seem.’

Let’s talk about the music, shall we? You would imagine a modern musical to perhaps be a little distinct in terms of the singing, dancing and the dramatic scenes? No … La La Land is differently abled masterpiece. The music, the lyrics, the technical proficiency, the characters and the story are all telling the same coherent story. Like Damien’s first film Whiplash where the editing and shots are so precise that it feels like a perfect blend of quick emotional surges and slow breathing holding shots. The film makes you feel so many emotions yet gives you faith and motivation to continue dreaming.

Spoilers Ahead:

Stands out scenes for me were …

  1. Mia’s audition at the end: Emma Stone singing in this continuous take revealing what her character feels is powerful. Specially when an image of a struggling artist like that lingers on screen for a while it leaves a lasting impression. This is the scene that will probably nudge the Oscar in her favour.
  2. Epilogue at the end: Beautiful and mesmerizing musical montage storytelling. With an end so heartbreaking yet poignant and true. The writing and characters are simply magical.
  3. ‘City of stars’ sequences: My favorite soundtrack in a loooong time.
  4. Basically the whole movie is brilliant.

Make no mistake about it …

La La Land is a destined to be a classic. It’s a worthy IMAX experience.

Although I have yet to see the likes of Manchester by the Sea, Silence, Moonlight etc. I would be surprised if this one doesn’t win the 2017 Academy Awards for best soundtrack, best song, best actress (Emma Stone) and best film.

Arrival — A Retrospective

From the first frame of ‘Arrival’ you feel like you’re in for a serious and deep exploration of the mystical and philosophical implications if aliens, beyond our technological capabilities, ever visited us. But the approach is science and linguistics, to understand the what ifs and not the usual taken for granted approach of the mystical (Marvel/DC movies). This is where this feels fresh. The almost transcendental qualities of this film comes from the real time showcasing of events with hypnotic music.

One can enjoy every second of the camera work. Every second of it. The wide shots to allow us entry to the world of the character, the little time she spends in her apartment opening her door and keeping the keys or as she talks on the phone is crucial. Everyone’s heard the buzz about how good Amy Adams is in the film but I felt this was purely a three-person show. The director, cinematographer and music composer all excelled in their ways. The editing falls just a smidge. One realizes when one watches a movie like Arrival how difficult it is to hold onto one tone and be constantly engaging and simulating but it manages that in the form of excellent direction. The cinematography is the most satisfying mix of, geometric and industrial yet inspired and essentially the tool telling the story, I’ve seen this year. I bet Oscar nomination if not the win. The music is not memorable yet fits in as an experiential device.

Spoilers Ahead:

So let’s not deal with the science fiction of it. There are time paradoxes and loopholes if you go too much into the why’s of the plot. The plot’s weak but the message and the visual narration is very strong. The first contact section of the screenplay is the strongest and we connect with the character of Amy Adams immediately. The underdog, the linguistics professor in a class where the kids hardly seem to care with their gadgets and relationships to hold their attention, who’s had a kid taken away from her by death are all things we relate to somewhere with someone we’ve seen in real life. She’s called upon by the CIA to decode and ask the big question from the aliens. What is your purpose of coming to earth? She feels important and overcomes fear and in the end becomes at peace with who she is and what she wants. That’s the essence of the film. Also how language plays a part in the international trade and political scheme of things and how we as humans treat each other due to different languages and how we’re crippled by the issues of the past. These are ambitious themes that are tackled within a story following “Louise” (Amy Adams) all the way through, going further in time and backwards in a flashy/dreamy loop of things that the writer of the book wants.

“Story of Your Life” is a science fiction short story, on which the film is cased, by Ted Chiang. It was the winner of the 2000 Nebula Award for Best Novella as well as the 1999 Sturgeon award.

“So many of our conflicts and our problems stem from miscommunication.” — Screenwriter, Eric Heisserer

The dreamy, mixed with realistic nature of the film, will make its way for comparisons with 2001: A space odyssey, Contact and Interstellar but the film is not for everyone’s taste and it is its own kind of animal we’re trying to communicate with. It asks more questions than it answers and that for me a strength for films sometimes. Questions like …

“Would you change anything in your life if you knew it from start to end?”