La La Land: a 21st century Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers flick. When was the last time you saw a good old fashioned Hollywood musical? If you’ve been jonesing for a big screen romantic music & dance fete, this is your film. In fact, even if you are not a big fan of those Gene Kelly/Fred Astaire films, I think you’ll enjoy this movie written and directed by Damien Chazelle. The spontaneous dance numbers that pop up throughout the film are well integrated into the romantic tale of Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling) and Mia Dolan (Emma Stone), who have a refreshing on-screen chemistry. La La Land opens with a dance number out of the 1930’s and the movie takes place almost entirely in – of course – L.A. Mia works at a coffee shop located on a movie studio lot and has been auditioning for various roles. Sebastian is a piano player who wants to open a traditional jazz club. After a few chance meetings, Mia and Sebastian connect at a Hollywood party, which leads to a beautiful dance number at the Griffith Park Observatory. The film unfolds in unexpected ways. The musical score by Justin Hurwitz should earn him an Oscar nomination. The jazz is first rate. Also, there’s an excellent number by and performed by John Legend a little more than halfway through this 127 minute film. J. K. Simmons has two brief appearances; he doesn’t dance. Gosling and Stone do dance and their scenes carry this delightful movie. Gosling and Stone have paired up twice before in Crazy Stupid Love and Gangster Squad. This film is totally different. I don’t remember seeing a big time musical that has delighted me as much as La La Land. The only comparable films I’ve seen have been relegated to the Turner Classic Movies venue.
Monday, December 12, 2016
Manchester By the Sea: a family drama written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan. This Manchester is in Massachusetts, not England. When I saw the film’s preview, I thought it might be an interesting flick but given the number of films that debut during the holidays, I figured I would skip it. My normal M.O. is that if the preview isn’t sufficiently convincing then see something else. Then I read a New Yorker article about Lonergan and Manchester and changed my mind. I’m very pleased I did. Casey Affleck will probably receive an Oscar nomination for his performance as the lead character, Lee Chandler. Affleck is on screen for a significant portion of the film’s 137 minutes. When the film commences, Lee is working as the janitor of an apartment complex in Quincy, Massachusetts. The event that triggers the heart of this story is a phone call Lee receives advising that his older brother, Kyle, is in the hospital. Although Lee leaves immediately, by the time he gets to Manchester, Kyle has died. Via flashbacks, we learn that Kyle has had a heart condition and an ex-wife with an alcohol problem. Following Kyle’s death, Lee learns that Kyle had designated him as the legal guardian for his sixteen year old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges), which is totally unexpected. The rest of the film deals with how Lee handles the news (not very well at first) and why, and in the process we learn why Lee is living alone and what happened to his family. Michelle Williams is superb as Lee’s former wife. I think if you have had any relationship with working class Catholic New Englanders, you will easily relate to the characters in this film. Manchester is a film about grieving and how one man with significant communication challenges deals with death and relationships. The characters are genuine and the interactions among them have a level of realism frequently lacking in movies. This is particularly true for Patrick who is active in sports (New England = hockey scenes), plays in a band, is indifferent to his studies and is very interested in girls. You quickly grow to care about whether Lee and Patrick will work things out between themselves. The one negative in this film is its musical score; there were certain scenes I just couldn’t get into because of the background music. But in the overall scheme, this is a minor criticism. I believe this film will receive an Oscar nomination for best original script, among other categories, including Jody Lee Lipes for Best Cinematography. The film offers humor amidst the grief and presents us with a slice of life, some of which can be ridiculous. I won’t say more because I want to preserve for you the effect of the storyline.