Tuesday, December 27, 2016
Sunday, December 25, 2016
But it’s not all just a cinematic heaven of singing and lyrical passages of fancy: the eternal rival of romance and career soon takes over. Mia and Seb inspire each other to take risks, work hard and strive to make their personal dreams come true. The cost of pushing career first soon becomes the central conflict of La La Land, which leads to one of the most soaring and beautiful and melancholy and moving conclusions I have seen in a modern film.
The third character own this film— the namesake— is it’s wonderful, make-believe Los Angeles: Angel’s Flight, Mulholland Drive, Griffith Park, palm trees and stately SoCal architecture under an endless blue sky or deep blue night. It’s a fun, vibrant place full of artist, actors, strivers and dreamers. It’s been too easy in films of late to see LA as some of late-capitalist hellscape (see Training Day): It’s refreshing to remind all of us that LA is a place where people still go to try to make their dreams come true.
Director Damien Chazelle’s last film was Whiplash, a sort of crazy stalker film set in the world of jazz music about an earnest drummer and his insane instructor (J. K. Simmons, who has a lovely cameo in this film). Jazz plays heavily and strangely in La La Land as well: Sebastian is a young man obsessed with the world of jazz: he has posters of jazz greats in his apartments, Hoagy Carmichael’s piano stool and longs to open a real jazz club in Los Angeles. There are plenty of kids these days who passionately love alls sorts of dead or marginal forms of music: it never becomes clear of Seb is sincere or just really good at affecting his love of the genre.
|"A Lovely Night" on location.|
|Another nice PAST-magic hour shot.|
|Another girl in magical old Los Angeles, dreaming|
of acting fame. Naomi Watts in Mulholland Dr.
|I may well be mistaken and La La Land may have been released in the |
original CinemaScope aspect ratio of 2.55:1. But that's not how I saw it
in Redwood City: they couldn't even manage to mask the screen right.
If you love Hollywood genres old and new, this is a must-see.
Thursday, December 22, 2016
Having fallen in love with the Century Mountain View’s reclining cushy seats and large screens after seeing Rogue One there (the theater is a left-over from the domed auditorium days, refitted for pampered Silicon Valley kids) I decided to forgo useful endeavors and see Passengers in 3D.
The first impression is it is a very handsome film, as clean and smooth as a corporate vision of the future... Which this is. The film is set on the Avalon, a colonization ship making a 120-year interstellar voyage the scientifically factual way, without the assist of faster-than-light wishful thinking technology.
The Avalon is a wonder to behold, as interesting to comprehend as the handsome actors who clatter around in it. From the outside it resembles an immense Hobart industrial mixer blade. Inside, it is pure high-end hotel-resort: lovely cabins, swanky restaurants, all the amenities. The sheer amount of open-air space available detracts from the reality of the ship: If the Avalon is on a mission to create profit for it’s owners, they are wasting megatons of energy flying crystal chandeliers and huge swimming pools between stars. Sorry, it’s just a pure Sci-Fi quibble.
|The Avalon, in all it's mixer-blade glory. You can see the|
massive engine burning fuel from tanks that do not
seem to exist. Sorry, another pure Sci-Fi quibble.
To proceed with this review , I have to write about a •••spoiler•••. But it’s not really a “spoiler,” for two reasons: 1. It occurs at the end of Act I and propels the main narrative in Act II, and 2. many, many other reviewers have also revealed it. Hell, the trailers have revealed it. But it’s important to talk about this because it’s the moral dilemma at the center of both the narrative and the critical framework in which Passengers resides.
|In space, no one can hear you flirt. (I wish I had thought|
of that line, but it was some other reviewer.)
Nonetheless, the huge tension in Act II is waiting to see how she is going to find out— and how unbelievably pissed off she is going to be when she does. As audience to this act of kidnapping and deception, for most of Act II I was pissed off for her. What he did is the ultimate violation, a slow murder. Aurora had plans and dreams and places to be: Jim selfishly destroys her entire life because he does not want to be alone. The fact that Jim does this awful thing to a woman makes it worse— and, in fact, it highlights how deeply sexist it is. Imagine if the genders were reversed and Aurora woke up Jim ninety years early and lied about it. The aftermath of the revelation would be short and violent. (This premise pissed off the editors of women-centric website Jezebel so much they spoiled the entire movie, end to end, so nobody has to pay to see it.)
The astonishingly immoral center of the narrative takes what looks like a rousing sci-fi movie to disturbing new dimensions. And, strange as it may seem, it makes Passengers a great date film: the discussions after the film is over should really add a lot of new definitions to what a fair relationship is— and how far it can go.
Anyway, on to the movie. That asteroid-caused thing that broke Jim’s hibernation pod is still there and threatens to take down the Avalon, sink it like the Titanic. And this immorally created couple must do what is needed to make that big, utterly predictable Act III conclusion happen.
Passengers kicked around Hollywood for a decade; it was a “Black List” script, which meant it was a hot story everyone wanted to develop, but didn’t. Touches of this brilliance and originality show up here and there as the story unfolds. I recommend it— but know that after seeing it you may well go on an unexpected emotional journey of your own.
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Saturday, December 17, 2016
This new film, directed by Visual Effects artist turned director Gareth Edwards, is a very satisfying action film and one of the finest additions to the Star Wars universe yet. Co-scripted by Tony Gilroy (writer of most of the Jason Bourne films) Rogue One is a gritty, serious, surprisingly dark caper film. It tells the story of group of ragged fugitives and hardened resistance fighters gathered by a desperate Rebel Alliance and given the task of somehow disrupting or stopping deployment of the Death Star, the Empire’s terrible new weapon. Along the course of this film we see this task change and evolve due to changing contingencies, and in the end this modest little spy story becomes a tremendous and consequential battle against the Empire as bold as any in the preceding films.
|The Death Star never looked so evocative.|
There is also a lot of fun stuff in Rogue One. It is set in the early days of the Empire and the film is rich with callbacks and easter eggs. Look hard enough and you will see crowd scenes filled with characters and creatures from other Star Wars movies. Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) has a part to play, as does Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) a surprisingly major character considering the actor has been dead for 22 years.
|Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones): Fugitive becomes hero.|
In any case, the main franchise storyline is about a family of highly superior, Force-empowered individuals, fighting for governmental power over an entire universe of essentially powerless citizens. Rogue One isn’t about these people at all. It’s about the people they oppress: the Rebel troops Princess Leia sent to their deaths, Luke Skywalker’s wingmen blown out of the sky, the innocents on the planets Darth Vader and his grandson Kylo Ren had a hand in destroying. Because it’s a story about ordinary people fighting for freedom from the oppression of the Empire, it is both a noble and inspiring hero’s saga, and a tale of the frailty and ambiguity of ordinary lives.