La La Land **** ½
Dir: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, John Legend
Though I loved its music and J.K. Simmon’s Oscar-winning supporting performance in it, I wasn’t as enamoured of director Damien Chazelle’s first feature film, the Oscar-nominated Whiplash as a lot of people. But with La La Land, the 31-year-old director knocks it right out of the park.
Not a Broadway transplant (most recent Hollywood musicals originated in theatre), La La Land is a movie which harks back to the old glorious MGM technicoloured musicals with their wonderful songs, beautiful leads, brilliantly choreographed musical numbers, and a certain joie de vivre. But it’s not a simple rehash or rose-tinted tribute. It’s also about love and ambition, about passion and compromise, about jazz and about the movies, about paradise lost and paradise regained. The bittersweet ending comes from the experience of lives lived and wisdom earned and might recall for some the heart-breaking climactic scene of the 1964 French musical (itself inspired by MGM musicals) that turned Catherine Deneuve into an international star.
In their third movie together, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have wonderful chemistry together as a thwarted jazz musician and aspiring actress living and working in Hollywood, Los Angeles (also sometimes referred to both affectionately and cynically as La La Land) and learning to navigate the byzantine pathways of love, desire and career. And Chazelle creates magic and romance out of his stunningly choreographed musical numbers.
The movie absolutely deserves its recent Golden Globe nominations for Best Director, Best Comedy or Musical, Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical, Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical, Best Screenplay, Best Original Score and Best Original Song.
Don’t miss it.
Cut to chase: La la loved it!
Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
Dir: Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen
Starring: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Cyd Charisse, Rita Moreno
In the week that marked the passing of Debbie Reynolds, I thought it most appropriate to take a look back at perhaps the greatest Hollywood musical of all time and the movie that turned the then-19 year old into an overnight star. Featuring an outstanding soundtrack (the title track, “Good Mornin”, “Make ‘Em Laugh”, “Moses Supposes” and the sizzling “Broadway Melody” featuring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse), brilliantly choreographed numbers, witty dialogue and some hilarious scenes, Singin’ In The Rain is also an affectionate look back at the seismic shift experienced by Hollywood when it shifted from the silent era and into the talkies. It also features one of the funniest movie performances ever in Jean Hagen’s Lina Lamont, a silent screen star whose voice can shatter glass (Hagen was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, inexplicably and inexcusably losing out to Gloria Grahame, for the latter’s performance in The Bad And The Beautiful). Debbie Reynolds, in her first leading role, is lovely, charming and effervescent and doesn’t let you see what it took for her to keep up with her more experienced co-stars Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in the dance numbers. The “Good Morning” routine took from 8:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. to shoot, leaving Reynolds’ feet bleeding and she later said that “Singin’ in the Rain and childbirth were the two hardest things I ever had to do in my life.”
Cut to chase: Perhaps the greatest movie musical of all time.
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Rating system: *Not on your life ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection