La La Land (2016)

It would be an understatement to say that I was merely excited for La La Land. I have been waiting for this film for a little over a year. Luckily, I had the chance to see it a month earlier than its release date at a local film festival. I love musicals and grew up watching them, so the idea behind La La Land – along with its incredible cast and crew – was a dream come true.

*There are very light spoilers in this review. Read at your own risk.*

La La Land makes its nation-wide debut (USA) on Christmas Day. It is being released in several cities today, December 16. Directed and written by Damien Chazelle, it follows the journey of two aspiring artists in Los Angeles. One is a jazz pianist, Sebastian, who is played by Ryan Gosling. The other is an actress, Mia, who is played by Emma Stone. The story takes place in modern times, but there are inklings of classic Hollywood, which I appreciated. Both Sebastian and Mia start off struggling to achieve their dreams. Eventually, the two fall in love, and their dreams begin to grow realistic. Bittersweet sacrifices must be made in order for Sebastian and Mia to accomplish what each person wants in life. I walked out of the theater with all different kinds of feelings. I was amazed and overjoyed, but I was also reflective and emotional. I absolutely loved the film, and might even put it up on my list of favorites.

“Here’s to the fools who dream.”

La La Land was one of those films that was on my mind for days after I saw it. I have so much to say about it, but bare with me and I will try to condense most of it for this review.

First of all, I think that Damien Chazelle (who is only 31 years old) is one of the most talented directors in Hollywood right now. La La Land is his third feature film, his second being the critically acclaimed Whiplash from 2014. Chazelle actually came up with the idea for La La Land when he was a student at Harvard University, which was long before he started on Whiplash. However, studios were not willing to fund his idea because they did not believe that this type of musical could be successful. Not to be defeated, Chazelle put La La Land aside and began to write Whiplash. After the huge praise and success Whiplash received, studios were willing to give Chazelle the money he needed for La La Land. 

Chazelle was inspired by the musicals he grew up watching, and it is evident in the finished film. Some of those musicals included Singin’ In the Rain, Top Hat, and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Chazelle was so passionate about those films that he would actually screen them for the cast and crew during production to show them what he envisioned for La La Land. He teamed up with his close friend and composer Justin Hurwitz, whom he attended Harvard and worked on Whiplash with. Hurwitz wrote six original songs and the score for the musical, making sure each one matched the tone and mood needed for the specific scenes that they would be featured in. The song that is played in one of the film’s trailers, “City of Stars,” took Hurwitz thirty-one rewrites to satisfy both Chazelle and himself. The music in the film was fantastic, and I had several of the songs stuck in my head for days. All of the songs fit their scenes perfectly.

Although I loved everything about La La Land, if I had to pinpoint my favorite aspect, it would be the chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. This is their third film together, including Gangster Squad and Crazy, Stupid, Love. Both have said in interviews that it makes the experience a lot smoother and more fun when acting alongside a good friend or “buddy” as Emma Stone puts it. The two talented actors make the romance between Mia and Sebastian seem so authentic, that it is hard to believe they are not a couple in real life. I found myself so attached to both characters, and I wanted to see both be successful. Both Gosling and Stone give such great performances that fit their personalities so well, so I was shocked to learn that they were not the first choices Chazelle had. Originally, Chazelle reached out to Emma Watson and Miles Teller (who was the star of Whiplash). Watson was busy with another project, and Teller did not have the right chemistry with Stone. Thank goodness for this, because I truly think that Gosling and Stone are the closest modern-day comparison to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Obviously, Rogers and Astaire had more dancing talent and experience, but Gosling and Stone do match the chemistry of the legendary pair. There is one scene, which is probably my favorite, where Sebastian and Mia walk to their cars after a party. They are still acquaintances at the time, but that soon changes. The two begin singing and dancing with the Los Angeles skyline in the background, which creates a great cinematic moment.

It is fascinating to read about how much effort and practice went into nailing the song and dance scenes (choreographed by Mandy Moore) in La La Land. Damien Chazelle had the cast rehearse in warehouses for three months prior to when they began shooting. Ryan Gosling claimed in a recent interview that he spent four hours a day for three months practicing the piano pieces his character plays in the film. Yes, that is Gosling playing the piano himself without a hand double. My favorite story from the set is how the cast and crew managed to pull off the opening number (“Another Day of Sun”). Chazelle got a 48-hour permit to film on the 105-110 interchange in Los Angeles. Keep in mind that this interchange is 100 feet high; one of the production designers even questioned that someone might fall off. Somehow, Chazelle managed to pull it off in scorching 100 degree weather. The final result is stunning, and it brings the audience right into the film.

I could go on and on about this film, but I will stop here. La La Land is a must-see for 2016. It says a lot that I saw the film for the first time over a month ago, and I am still thinking about it. It will affect everyone in a different way, so I am curious to see what the final consensus will be. The film is already getting stellar reviews and awards buzz, but time will tell. The musical numbers and dialogue scenes are so well blended; there is no awkward jump from song to reality. It has something for everyone, whether that be a great love story, entertaining music, or witty dialogue. La La Land will speak to idealists and those who have big aspirations. All dreams have little snags here and there, but that does not mean the next step should be to give up. It is happy and it is sad, but without that, there would not be much of a story to tell. ūüôā

P.S. There are appearances by J.K. Simmons and John Legend that make the film even better.

Fun Fact: The score composed by Justin Hurwitz was recorded with a 90-piece orchestra on a scoring stage. The stage was the same stage that many classic musicals, such as Singin’ In the Rain, had their scores recorded on.

La La Land is rated PG-13 only because of the very infrequent use of curse words. Other than that, it is a family film that everyone can attend. 

Please leave your comments below! I am very interested to see everyone’s opinions about this film.

Image credit to : http://www.theplaylist.net. and http://www.imdb.com

Don’t Think Twice (2016)

I have always been interested in improv because that is how several of my favorite entertainers got started in the film or television industry. Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Will Ferrell…the list goes on. Don’t Think Twice focuses on an improv troupe in New York City. There are six comedians, and one of them gets a big break. This film gives an inside look into the lives of the members of the troupe and the conflicts they deal with.

Don’t Think Twice, written and directed by comedian Mike Birbiglia, was released in July of this year. As mentioned before, the film follows a popular improv troupe, called The Commune, through their adventures as comedians. The troupe is like a close-knit family, but they all have their individual goals and desires. All six of them aspire to be on Weekend Live, which is supposed to represent the well-known Saturday Night Live. Jack, played by Keegan-Michael Key, finally receives his chance and takes it. This changes his life as well as the rest of the troupe’s lives.

I loved the messages in this film. As an aspiring filmmaker, I found the lessons to be helpful and a reminder of what “success” really is. Miles, played by Mike Birbiglia, is the leader and oldest of the troupe. He was Jack’s former improv coach, and has always had joining the cast of Weekend Live at the top of his bucket list. Miles auditioned once before, but did not make it. The big breaks never seen to come to him, as he watches the rest of his “improv family” move up in their careers. However, Mike finally realizes, near the end of the film, what his purpose in life is. This is his version of success.

The acting in this film was very authentic. I felt as if I was actually watching a real improv troupe and their documentary. Although the film is not made in documentary style, it sometimes felt that way. I felt as if I was just standing off in the corner of the room as the troupe performed, or sitting at a nearby table when the troupe was at a bar. The audience and character connection is strong. All viewers care and want to see each character achieve their dreams and do well. It shines an honest light on the trials that the troupe endures, whether that be envy of another member or the change in a relationship caused by diverging paths.

Personally, Sam (short for Samantha) was my favorite character. Gillian Jacobs does a great job of presenting a well-liked, sweet person who is happy with the little things in life. She, like Jack, has the chance to audition for Weekend Live, but she chooses not to go. Sam realizes that her version of success is being in the improv troupe and performing shows every night. She does not want the fast-paced, glamour life that she sees at Weekend Live. Sam is someone who is content with herself and her position in life. She has a moment of self-discovery at the end of the film, when she performs on the stage by herself. She knows that the small stage is where she belongs.

Don’t Think Twice shows that “making it big” does not make life any easier. It might even make it harder. Jack’s new job thrusts him into the limelight, and they have a hard time understanding that. The rest of the troupe has the impression that Jack can put in a good word for them and they will be hired for Weekend Live just like that. Unfortunately, that is not how it works. Just because Jack is on a higher level does not mean he has a secure job where he can just say or do whatever he wants. This whole dilemma puts a strain on the friendships in the troupe. These clashes not only happen in improv, but in other professions as well. This is why the film is so relatable.

This film is different, but it is probably one of my favorites (if not my favorite) that I have seen this year. It was a limited release, so it has not gotten the buzz it deserves. Don’t Think Twice is a comedy, but it contains touching and emotional aspects that capture the audience. It is rare to watch a film these days where one can enjoy such a caring connection with the characters. It shows that even as one chases his or her dream, reality always gets in the way. But eventually, everyone finds their place and where they belong. If Don’t Think Twice is in theaters near you, I really recommend seeing it!

Main Cast: Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Birbiglia, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher, and Chris Gethard

*Don’t Think Twice is rated R for language (minor) and marijuana use (minor)*

Image from RollingStone.com

The Nice Guys (2016)

I have been waiting for The Nice Guys to be released ever since I saw the first trailer last year. I knew immediately that it would be a film that I would like because of the cast and story. Let me just say, my expectations were met and exceeded. I have never laughed so hard in a movie theater before, thanks to this film.

The Nice Guys made its United States debut today, May 20. The film was directed and written by Shane Black, who also directed Iron Man 3 and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Black was assisted by Anthony Bagarozzi on the screenplay. It stars Ryan Gosling, who plays Holland March, and Russell Crowe, who plays Jackson Healy. This is the first film with the pairing of these two A-list actors, and it should definitely not be the last one.

The film is set in 1977 in Los Angeles, California. The film was actually mostly filmed in Atlanta, Georgia, but one would never know. Holland March (Gosling) is an always-drunk private investigator¬†who does not take his job seriously. He is truly “in it for the money.” March has a thirteen-year-old daughter, Holly, who is played by Angourie Rice. Jackson Healy (Crowe) is a more “under the radar” private investigator who likes to play rough. The two characters cross paths when a girl named Amelia, played by Margaret Qualley, is brought to their attention. March and Healy team up to form an improbable crime fighting duo that brings tons of laughs and entertainment.

I have said this before and I will say it again: Ryan Gosling is at his best when he plays the comedic role. He was perfect in The Big Short as the comedic role and he is perfect in The Nice Guys. Gosling’s timing with his smart aleck remarks are on point. This film contains a lot of slapstick comedy as well, and Gosling flawlessly¬†executes. The witty screenplay helped, but not many actors can carry such a funny role.

Holland March: Look on the bright side. Nobody got hurt.

Jackson Healy: People got hurt.

Holland March: I’m saying, I think they died quickly. So I don’t think they got hurt.

Of course, it helps to have chemistry with the other leading actor. Both Gosling and Crowe compliment each other extremely well. Jackson Healy is more of the straight man, while he lets Holland March make a fool of himself (more often than not). Crowe is great at doing this. His comments about certain situations are ones that the audience can relate to. There are some truly hilarious exchanges between the two characters, whether it is fighting over something trivial during a tense moment or trying to figure out the best way to solve the mystery. The biggest surprise in the cast was probably Angourie Rice. As I mentioned before, she plays Holly March. Even though she is young, Holly March is in some ways more intelligent and effective than her father. Young actors can sometimes overact in their role, but Rice did not. Her character saves the detective duo from several traps and frequently assists them in their investigation. Based on this performance, I would say that her acting career looks promising.

Shane Black knows how to successfully incorporate comedy and drama. He has done it in all of his films. While The Nice Guys is mostly comedic, there are several situations where the audience can feel for and connect with certain characters. One can see that these guys actually have hearts and do not always enjoy going out and killing whomever is in their path. It takes a toll on them. All of the characters have their own story and personality. Although Holland March is a drunk and pretty much a failure (at the beginning), he is a caring father. The characters were not one dimensional.

If you are thinking about going to see this film, I highly recommend it. I could not stop laughing at certain scenes Рit was absolutely hysterical! It is a very entertaining story and has a sturdy plot. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe shine in this film with the help of a comical screenplay and several supporting actors like Angourie Rice and Matt Bomer. If you have seen it or have any questions, leave a comment in the section below!

This film is rated R for language, nudity, and violence. There is a lot of cussing and fighting, but nothing too gory. There is some nudity towards the beginning of the film since the story does involve the death of an adult film star.  

Image credit: http://www.knoxnews.com

 

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Do you ever ask the question, “What in the world?” when you are sitting in a movie audience? Is there ever so much laughter that you cannot hear the dialogue? This was the feeling and atmosphere when I went to see Hail, Caesar!¬†The film was released nationwide (USA) on February 5. It is star-studded, with actors like George Clooney and¬†Ralph Fiennes. Directed and written by Joel and Ethan Coen,¬†Hail, Caesar!¬†is a very entertaining and different¬†film.

For Old Hollywood fans, this film is a dream come true. Hail, Caesar!¬†is set in the 1950s at Capitol Pictures. Everything has a vintage look and feel. Every type of Old Hollywood film, like aquatic films and musicals, are displayed. The story follows a day in the life of studio executive Eddie Mannix, played by Josh Brolin. Mannix is the one who sorts out all of the studios’ and actors’ problems, from unplanned pregnancies to thick Texan accents. The job is no walk in the park because the people Mannix has to interact with can be downright bizarre. Of course, hilarity ensues, creating great laughs and surprises.

The film is loaded with big name actors and actresses. Alongside Josh Brolin, George Clooney stars as Baird Whitlock, who is the top actor at Capitol Pictures. Alden Ehrenreich plays Hobie Doyle, a sweet but unintelligent western actor who cannot seem to lose his very strong Texan accent. This character is hilarious and causes most of the laughs. Scarlett Johansson portrays DeeAnna Moran, an Esther Williams-like aquatic actress. Ralph Fiennes has the role of Laurence Laurentz, the classic Old Hollywood director with a calm demeanor. Channing Tatum is Burt Gurney, a character with elements of Gene Kelly. He performs one musical number that is very fun and amusing to watch. There are small roles played by Jonah Hill and Frances McDormand as well. This cast is excellent.

The Coen Brothers are known for their unique style of filmmaking. Hail, Caesar! does not fall short of this expectation as far as unusual goes. This film does not have a very deep plot at all. It merely shows studio life in the 1950s and everything that came with it. It has a satirical feel. Being a big fan of movies from the Golden Age of Cinema, I loved the setting and style of this film. The photography was terrific. There are many subtle references to films from the 1950s. Hail, Caesar! explores the old ways of editing, acting, and using sound stages.

This film is more entertaining than anything else. There are tons of laughs and strange plot twists. To be honest, I really was not sure what to make of it while walking out of the theater. It ends abruptly without a real finish to the plot. But I guess this just says that Eddie Mannix deals with these events daily, so they really never end. I liked this film, but I think it really depends on the person. If you are a fan of Old Hollywood, you will find it enjoyable to watch.

This film is rated PG-13.

(Image credit to http://www.hailcaesarmovie.com)

 

Joy (2015)

Joy, directed by David O. Russell, was released nationwide (USA) on Christmas Day. I have been wanting to see this film since I first saw the trailer at the beginning of October. The cast made up of¬†Russell’s usual people: Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Robert De Niro (Rudy), and Bradley Cooper (Neil Walker). These three stars worked together on¬†Silver Linings Playbook¬†and American Hustle;¬†their chemistry is evident. This film has not received the best reviews, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This film is based on the story of Joy Mangano and her “Miracle Mop” adventure during the 1990s. I would say “loosely based” because there are many facts that are missing and/or different. It is amazing to see how Joy overcame all¬†the adversarial situations and pessimistic individuals in order to create and lead her own company. This film really showed the importance of family, even if they are difficult at times, and how determination can go a long way.¬†Joy¬†is very inspiring when it comes to following one’s dreams. To me, David O. Russell’s quote about the film sums up the basic theme:

“If you’re going to live a fairytale, you’ve got to go through the goblins.”- David O. Russell

Jennifer Lawrence was terrific. Throughout the whole film, I felt like she was actually Joy! She completely grasped the role, including Joy’s unyielding personality. Surprisingly, Bradley Cooper does not have as much screen time as one might¬†expect. Because of this, Lawrence carries this film on her shoulders, which is very different from many male-dominated films in theaters today. Her performance creates a strong connection with the audience. When she struggles, the audience feels her struggles. One of my friends even said that she could feel the stress that Joy was feeling. Lawrence’s¬†Golden Globe nomination (Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy) is rightfully earned.

Bradley Cooper is one of the headlining actors, but his role does not give him much screen time. In fact, he does not make his first appearance until the plot is well on its way. Despite his¬†limited participation, Cooper shines as Neil Walker, the head of QVC at the time. He acts as a boss, mentor, and confidant¬†towards Joy. It is fun to see¬†Lawrence and Cooper’s characters¬†support each other through a strong friendship, which they have carried over from¬†the several¬†other films that they have starred in together.

Robert De Niro plays the role of Joy’s dad, Rudy. Rudy is divorced (twice, actually)¬†and always looking for love. He supports Joy, but often has a hard time showing it. Joy takes care of him more than he takes care of her. Rudy provides much of the comedy, since he has a very blunt personality and really no filter over what he says. His girlfriend, Trudy ¬†(played by Isabella Rossellini), financially supports Joy.¬†Both Rudy and Trudy frequently doubt Joy and her company, but they are always there for her. Loyalty is one of the main messages in the film.

I really enjoy¬†David O. Russell’s directing style. There is a sense of comfort and warmth in the way he¬†presents the setting. The camera movements are also very noticeable, in a good way. It is clear that Russell is inspired by many of cinema’s greats, like Steven Spielberg. He uses techniques that are lost in many of today’s films. The film was created in a unique and unconventional fashion that was refreshing.

Overall, Joy was an entertaining film that provided many themes relating to family and love. I really appreciated the inspiring message that hard work will eventually pay off. It was nice to see a director who uses artistic techniques to tell a special story. The acting was fantastic as well. Joy is a great film to see over the holidays with your family. I encourage you to go see it and share your opinion.

The film is rated PG-13 for one (I repeat, one) curse word. Other than that, it is a clean film that everybody can enjoy. 

Call Him a “Chef”

Recently, I watched Jon Favreau’s indie called¬†Chef. Released in 2014, it did not hit all major theaters but it made an impact in film festivals. It opened the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin and was awarded the Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Not only did Jon Favreau play the lead role, he also wrote and directed the film. Anyone who loves a witty but dramatic film would love it. Keep in mind that it is rated R, so it is not suitable for young children.

A summary would not capture the full experience given by the film. But I’ll try;) Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a chef at a popular restaurant in Los Angeles. He has always been known for his creative dishes, but as of late his boss will not let him experiment. This aggravates Casper, and a famed food critic just makes it worse. Soon, Casper is out of a job.¬†His life seems to have come to a halt. His relationship with his son (who he shares with his ex-wife) is falling apart. However, he gets the opportunity to grow closer to his son and use his culinary skills once again. The film is quick and witty, with a touch of sincerity here and there.

Throughout the whole film, I was captivated by the cooking skills of Jon Favreau. It was hard to remember that he is not a professional chef! Favreau had to learn to cook for the role. He took private classes at a culinary school and learned from chefs around the Los Angeles area. Many food magazines wrote about it if you would like to know more.

Overall, Chef was very entertaining. I really enjoyed it. It is well made and gives a good message. Jon Favreau is supported by an all-star cast which includes Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., Sofia Vergara, and Dustin Hoffman. If you have seen it or decide to watch it, let me know in the comments section!

It is rated R because of language and crude humor. There are no graphic adult scenes.

Feelings About “Inside Out”

Inside Out, released on June 19 (2015) in the United States, has already captured the hearts of its many viewers. Is it too early to say it will be the animated movie of the year? Directed by Pete Docter, it stars an extremely talented cast: Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Phyllis Smith. What makes it so special (besides the amazing cast)? Well, here’s the plot. Riley, an eleven-year-old girl from Minnesota, is forced to leave her home and friends when her dad starts a company in San Francisco. As expected, Riley becomes¬†upset. She tries to see the positive. Unfortunately, mishaps with the moving van and the drastic change in the overall atmosphere depresses her. She loves hockey, but it is not the same as it was in Minnesota. Enter the emotions. Joy, played by Amy Poehler, is a cheerful and bright individual. She creates all the happy thoughts in Riley’s mind. Joy, along with Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) try to steer Riley in the right direction. Once you meet this cluster of emotions, you will understand why things go a little awry. I do not want to spoil the movie, so I’ll just leave it at that. Inside Out contains many hilarious moments as well as lessons to be learned. Anybody at any age can take something away from this movie. Please go see it if you have not; I doubt you will regret it!