Tag Archives: damien chazelle

La La Land – Review

11 Jan

There are movies that come around every now and again where it’s so clear that the film makers poured their entire hearts and souls into it. Sometimes, a film maker comes along where it seems like that’s all he’s capable of doing. A few years ago, Damien Chazelle gave the movie world Whiplash, a film about jazz drumming, passion, and pain. It was easily one of the best movies of 2014. Chazelle knocks it out of the park yet again with his latest film, which just so happens to be an original musical, La La Land. Like WhiplashLa La Land is a film about jazz and passions to succeed in what you love, but told in a much different way. By the time the movie ended, I almost could believe what I saw.

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Hollywood is filled with a dreamers and hidden potential, but there are some who truly make these dreams part of their lives. Mia (Emma Stone) is a barista in a small coffee shop in a movie studio who also spends her days rushing to different acting auditions, hoping beyond hope that one of the will be her big break. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist who earns what little money he has playing in bars and restaurants, even when their theme or style isn’t the music he loves. His goal is to one day open a jazz club that truly is all about the music in its raw, organic form. The two also seem to keep running into each other as if by fate. While their both quite different, their passions for their respective dreams are very much the same and a relationship quickly forms. The ultimate test for them, however, is can it withstand what it takes for them to achieve their dreams.

There’s so much to talk about with this movie, I don’t even know where to begin. I left the movie feeling so excited and my brain was just going a million miles a minute. I’ve had some days to think on it, and I’ve been enjoying the movie even more as I think about it. I guess a good place to start would be the music. I’m not a huge fan of musicals. There are some exceptions to that rule like Meet Me in St. Louis, The Producers, or Chicago, but I really can’t get too into them. La La Land takes everything I do like about musicals and utilizes them to the fullest potential. The film opens with a big musical number on a crowded freeway, which is filled with different colors, sweeping camera work, and energy that flies off the screen. Every musical number keeps up this level of energy and wonder but uses them in different ways. Two standout scenes are a song and dance number on a cliff overlooking Los Angeles and a slower number inside Griffith Observatory. There’s grand numbers like the big finale, but there’s also smaller and quieter musical themes that tie the movie together.

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Chazelle has shown in Whiplash that he is more than capable of writing characters that feel very original and exist perfectly in the movie they inhabit. When I went into La La Land I was excited to see the musical numbers, the colors, and a lot of the more technical aspects of the movie, but I didn’t really have expectations for the characters. I was pleasantly surprised with how well rounded and real these characters felt, especially since they existed in a musical. They never felt like archetypes or characters made solely to break into song and dance. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have fantastic chemistry, and it almost didn’t feel like I was watching them act a scene, but rather peeking into the lives of the characters. A lot of their realness can also be attributed to Chazelle’s writing and how he throws in a lot of quick comedy and natural dialogue.

Finally, we come to the film making. La La Land is one of, if not the best directed movie of the year. The way this movie is shot is a marvel to behold. From the opening shot to the very last, the movie has a beautiful widescreen quality and a color palette that will catch you attention immediately. The aspect ratio of La La Land is 2.55:1 which is known as CinemaScope. This makes the film look really big, and there are certain scenes in this movie where it really shows. Of course, it’s no surprise that this technique was used mostly in the mid-1950s into the 1960s. Chazelle also works great with cinematographer Linus Sandgren to use the camera and the lighting to the fullest. I go back to the opening musical number where the camera swoops all over the freeway in such grand ways. It caught me right away and held me until the very end.

Just thinking and writing about La La Land is getting me excited all over again. This is some of the most fun I’ve had at the movies all year and it’s a reminder of why I love them so much to begin with. This film is a love letter to film and the passion and love of the arts while also standing as it’s own established movie. It’s filled with excellent music, natural performances, and so much magic that I’m starting to think Damien Chazelle must be from some other dimension. La La Land is absolutely phenomenal.

Final Grade: A+

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Whiplash – Review

13 Feb

Have you ever been watching a movie and thought that in the same situation you would have just given up? That’s pretty much how I felt all through out Whiplash. Going into this movie, I knew it was going to be great, but I didn’t really know what it was going to be about, and after watching it I’m still trying to figure out what it all means. The bottom line, however, is that it’s giving Birdman a run for its money as my favorite movie of 2014.

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Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is a nineteen year old jazz drummer studying at the Shaffer Conservatory in New York. His entire life is built around drumming and what he can do to perfect his skill and be remembered as one of the greats. This dream seems to be underway when he is accepted to join a prestigious school band led by Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a teacher who will do whatever it takes to push his students to perform at the best of their abilities. What Neiman soon learns is that Fletcher’s motivations takes the form of physical, verbal, and psychological abuse and punishment, which leaves Neiman wondering how far is too far and if this dream is even worth the punishment.

Writing a summary for Whiplash is very hard because there is so much happening beneath the surface of the story that’s really important and made me want to include, but I could really go on all day about how great and deep this movie is. It would be easy to have made a movie about a kid following his dreams to be an excellent jazz drummer, but writer/director Damien Chazelle went for a much more complicated approach. This is a movie about jazz and dreams, but it’s also a movie the explores complex human emotions and psychological warfare. If that wasn’t enough, Chazelle also created one of the greatest onscreen character relationships of all time between Neiman and Fletcher. Love/hate isn’t really what I’d call it. In fact, I’m still trying to completely wrap my head around it.

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This movie is being recognized in many ways as one of the best movies of 2014, garnering 5 Oscar nominations, but I just want to briefly mention the editing and Simmons’ performance. The editing in this movie can be so rapid fire and rhythmic, I really just wanted to look at the timeline the editor was using. As Neiman’s drums roar and saxophones burst with melodies, the editing matches it all, capturing Chazelle’s beautiful camerawork at the same time, but also capturing Fletcher’s rage. Simmons has always been known to be a good actor, but now it’s established that he’s fantastic. His performance as Fletcher is one of, if not the best performance of the entire year. One minute you hate him, and the next you begin to understand him. He’s such a complex character and Simmons managed to pull it off so perfectly.

What’s incredible about Whiplash is how intense it is. I never thought that a movie that takes place in a music school could be so insane. A lot of people have been comparing this movie to the beginning of Full Metal Jacket, and I do see where they’re coming from, but Whiplash managed to sustain that level of intensity without ever firing a shot and taking place not in the military, but a music school. Everything comes together so well that it creates a story unlike anything you or I have seen before.

Whiplash is plain and simply one of my favorite movies of the year. I knew that I was in for something great but this was just awesome. The music, the performances, the editing, and the nail biting, gut wrenching, butt clenching intensity were all note perfect, pun intended. It kind of shares the same themes as Black Swan, in the sense that you have to wonder how far people can go with what they love before it completely destroys them. It’s an interesting look at the fragility of the human psyche and also one of the best film of 2014.