Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lady Gaga for "La La Land"

Or: Lady Eve Goes Gaga for La La Land

I stepped up to the ticket window at the Century Regency 6 on a Wednesday morning earlier this month intending to purchase an early bird ticket to a film that was in the last days of its run at the multiplex. But Fate would have it otherwise; the movie had already begun 15 minutes ahead of schedule for some logistical reason or another. When I asked if there was another film that hadn’t started yet but would soon, I was told, “Well, La La Land is starting right now.” Ah, one of the other movies I wanted to see. So I grabbed a ticket and hurried into the theater. The opening scene, a splashy and jubilant musical number set on a present day traffic-jammed L.A. freeway, was already in high gear. Taken by surprise at the hoopla onscreen, a near-over-the-top homage to a film genre so very long gone and out of fashion, I wasn't sure whether I was going to like this movie or not, but then...

The film’s stars, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, were soon introduced as two victims of this typical morning commute snarl on the interchange between the 110 and 105 freeways, he in his ‘80s Buick Riviera and she in her ‘00s Prius. As their stories began to unfold with unabashed Old Hollywood style and dazzle, my heart was stirred and I found myself becoming irretrievably enchanted.

"Another Day of Sun"
The story line is simple. After a couple of far less than electrifying encounters (in a nod to the Astaire/Rogers prototype), a struggling jazz pianist (Gosling) and an aspiring actress (Stone) meet and a spark finally ignites between them. The two fall very much in love but each has a dream and passionate aspirations when it comes to their respective careers. And there’s the rub. This is a theme that has been mined many times before, the clash between dueling passions – one’s love and one’s art. But what might otherwise have turned corny and trite, an exercise in tried, true and tired clichés, is entirely bewitching thanks to 31-year-old writer/director Damien Chazelle’s masterful genre-re-imagining vision, a heady swirl of Old Hollywood magic and 21st century Hollywood reality. In CinemaScope.

Ryan Gosling as jazz pianist Seb, and Emma Stone as Mia, an actress
Accurately labeled a neo-Classical musical, La La Land on first viewing easily brings to mind Vincente Minnelli’s many Technicolor musicals of the ‘40s and ‘50s and, even more so, two pop era musicals of the mid-'60s by French writer/director Jacques Demy, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967). In fact, Chazelle insisted that his cinematographer on La La Land, Linus Sandgren (American Hustle), make himself familiar with the Demy films.

Catherine Deneuve and Anne Vernon in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
Catherine Deneuve and Francoise Dorleac in The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

On a second viewing (just two days later at the same multiplex), I began to take more notice of the numberless allusions to scenes from classic films of several decades that are sprinkled everywhere in La La Land.

Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell in The Broadway Melody of 1940
Gosling and Stone in La La Land

Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire in Vincente Minnelli's The Bandwagon (1953)
Stone and Gosling in La La Land
Audrey Hepburn in Stanley Donen's Funny Face (1957)
Emma Stone in La La Land

Tribute is also paid to Astaire/Rogers classics like Top Hat (Mark Sandrich/1935) and Swing Time (George Stevens/1936), Minnelli's An American in Paris (1950), Donen and Gene Kelly's Singin' in the Rain (1952), Albert Lamorisse's The Red Balloon (1956), the two Demy films, Bob Fosse's Sweet Charity (1969) and many others. But homage is not reserved for musicals alone. Nick Ray's Rebel Without a Cause (1955) plays a significant role in bringing our couple, Seb and Mia, together. And one of that film's iconic locations, the Griffith Park Observatory, becomes a crucial setting in this rebellious pair's romance.

Griffith Park Observatory in Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
According to La La Land's location manager, Robert Foulkes, the shot of Seb and Mia driving up to the observatory is the same as the shot used in Rebel.

Unlike most musicals of old, La La Land doesn't have a perfect fairytale ending, although the last act pays a visit to the fairytale that might have been. Yet the film's wistful final moments do gently suggest a truer sort of Hollywood ending, where dreams may come true, but at a cost.

Here's to the ones
who dream
Foolish as they may seem
Here's to the hearts
that ache
Here's to the mess
we make

("Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasik and Justin Paul from La La Land)


Monday, January 9, 2017


The 2017 film noir festival season kicks off in the U.S. on January 20 in San Francisco when the Film Noir Foundation's Noir City 15 opens at the city's historic Castro Theater. Satellite Noir City festivals will follow through the year in L.A., Chicago, D.C., Seattle, Kansas City and Austin.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Deck the Halls with Holly Golightly!

Holly Golightly, that beguiling creature Truman Capote conceived as the centerpiece for his novella, Breakfast at Tiffany's, captured the imaginations of readers the instant she appeared in print in 1958. But it's doubtful anyone at the time could foresee that Capote's chic, free-spirited rebel would live on to become a cultural icon as well as a touchstone of style. Holly Golightly's longevity in our collective dreamlife, though, is all about Blake Edwards' 1961 film adaptation and, most especially, Audrey Hepburn's inspired and heartstopping turn as Holly.

In the 55 years since Audrey-as-Holly first stepped onscreen, her insouciant, Givenchy-gowned charm and style not only conquered the test of time, but have also sparked much emulation and homage...and so, on this Christmas Day 2016, I'm decking my blog with pix of Holly!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Holiday Classic "The Snowman" (1982) Comes to Town

The Snowman, the enchanting story of a young boy who wakes one snowy Christmas Eve, goes outside and discovers that a snowman he built has magically come to life, first appeared as a children's book by British author/illustrator Raymond Briggs in 1978. A 26-minute animated film adaptation of the story was released in 1982 and nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Animated Short Film category that year.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Très Distingué: "Breakfast at Tiffany's," another "Big Screen Classic" from TCM and Fathom Events

Each month this year Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events have teamed to bring "Big Screen Classics" into movie theaters around the country. The series kicked off with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) in January and will close with From Here To Eternity (1953) in December.
Audrey Hepburn and Jose Luis de Vilallonga
I've attended several of these screenings and last Sunday afternoon enjoyed the immense pleasure of viewing one of my favorite romantic comedies on the big screen for the first time, Blake Edwards' iconic Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) starring Audrey Hepburn in the role that defined her appeal and firmly cemented her status as a film and style legend.