Tag Archives: Damien Chazelle

La La Land

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Having swept the boards at the Golden Globes and up for 14 awards at this year’s Oscars the hit musical La La Land is on a high. But will it have me singing it’s praises?

When aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) meets jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) it’s not exactly love at first sight. But as their paths keep coming back to each other they find it hard to deny their mutual attraction. But in LA where hopes and dreams are crushed daily can they keep love and ambition alive?

Just like everyone else I seemed to have fallen under the spell of La La Land. From it’s dazzling opening number on a busy highway to it’s poignant ending it’s a fine piece of filmaking by Damien Chazelle. I loved his previous work Whiplash and La La Land shows that he’s no one hit wonder. Whether it’s turning an observatory visit into a dance among the stars or a simple solo in an audition, Chazelle balances the film perfectly.

As the two young dreamers Gosling and Stone once again show off their great on-screen chemistry, and their characters’ passion for their ambitions (and each other) shines through. While they are not professional singers and dancers they admirably throw their all into the numbers and although some may prefer pitch perfect singers I would argue their rawness adds realism and vulnerability to their performances that otherwise may have been too polished.

So why if I’m praising it so much have I not awarded the film with five stars like everyone else has? Well, while I really liked the film, and some parts I absolutely love, I’m not in love with the film like all the critics seem to be. Maybe it’s a side effect of having so much hype behind it that I was expecting it to be a modern classic whereas it’s ‘just’ a really great film. Also there were moments of cliches that really bugged me such as Sebastian realising he has an important photoshoot which just happens to be on the night of Mia’s big theatre opening. Scenes like this brought me out of the moment and irritated me no end.

So close but no cigar. However if you fancy a hark back to old school Hollywood with modern sensibilities and catchy tunes (which is better City of Dreams or Audition/The Fools Who Dream? I can’t decide) then take a shot at La La Land, and see what all the fuss is about.

Rating 4/5 – while it isn’t note perfect this bittersweet musical is still a worthy awards contender

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Whiplash (2014)

One of the dark horses in the Oscar race this year, Whiplash has been wowing critics all over, with particularly praise going to J.K. Simmons performance. But will it have the same effect on me?

Andrew (Miles Teller) is a first year student at a prestigious music school. After hearing him play one evening, conductor Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) accepts him as a drummer for his band. However Fletcher’s methods for conducting his students are unconventional to say the least and physically and emotionally abusive at worse. As Andrew strives to prove to Fletcher he’s the best drummer he has to decide whether Fletcher’s tactics work and at what cost?

It’s not often I see a movie that I can’t get out of head for days after I’ve seen it but Whiplash is one such film. Writer/Director Damien Chazelle has made a movie that could possibly become a modern classic. It is that good.

That’s not to say that Whiplash is an easy film to watch. At times Fletcher was so horrible to his students that I was covering my eyes like I do in a horror film. Whilst categorised as a drama film, I’ve seen comparisons to sports movies, and I can see the similarities. The ongoing battle between Fletcher and Andrew can feel like a boxing match, with Fletcher constantly displaying his dominance and Andrew just doing his best not to get knocked out entirely. At times the movie can be pretty funny too, there’s a lot of dark humour here. What I also liked was that the film provokes a lot of discussion and debate about the methods Fletcher uses. He seems to be of the end-justifies-the-means school of thought, but doesn’t seem to care about the repercussions of what he does to his students. And if he does happen to produce a genius from his methods does that make what he does ok? I don’t think so, but I can imagine others may see it differently.

It’s no wonder that J.K. Simmons won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. After spending years in the background in small character roles Simmons finally gives a wider audience a chance to show what he can do. Fletcher is at times monstrous but Simmons never hams it up. The character is grounded, he feels terrifyingly real. Like the worst teacher you’ve ever had multiplied by a thousand. Yet at times we see a softer side to him. You’re never quite sure whether he is being genuine and that makes for an interesting antagonist.

While I’m glad that J.K. Simmons has been getting a lot of deserved praise it’s a shame that Miles Teller has been rather neglected this award season, however he has been nominated for the BAFTA Rising Star Award so at least he has not been completely ignored. Teller plays the part of Andrew just right. At times he is the victim and at other times a self-entitled brat that treats his girlfriend (Melissa Benoist – soon to be Supergirl in a new tv series). You can really see Teller putting everything into his performance as Andrew fights blood, sweat and tears (literally) to keep up with Fletcher’s demands.

Is it a perfect film? Maybe not. The anecdote about Charlie Parker that Fletcher uses as his reason for why he pushes his students so far has been long been discredited. Also if you prefer a film about nice, likeable people, this isn’t one of them. And if it were, it would be a far less interesting and compelling movie for it.

Rating 5/5 – a brilliant movie with two leads who spar off each other perfectely

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