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La La Land

What was all the fuss about La La Land? Since it got so many awards and nominations, I was quite excited to see it. After doing so, while I grant you it was fresh to see an update of a golden age musical, I wasn’t wowed.

La La Land stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who’re okay, but not favorites of mine. They seem to lack that star quality that Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers and the like all had. It’s the story of two young starry-eyed dreamers who go to L.A. to fulfill their dreams. He wants to open a jazz club and save jazz as a genre and she wants to be an actress.

I’ve lived in L.A. and went to pursue my writing dreams. It was an interesting period, more so than the movie and less clichéd. Here we see a sanitized version of two one dimensional characters struggling to “get in.” He’s an arrogant loner and she’s a single girl looking for love and acceptance. I wasn’t particularly interested in whether they stayed together or not. I was surprised that Gosling’s character was such a churl. He’s rude to her. She’s rude back and after awhile they’re in bed, when they both should have kept looking for a better partner (or in his case done some self-examination and improved his attitude and personality and then found someone).

The commercials made me expect Gosling’s character to be a kinder person. I was surprised by how self-absorbed he was. He certainly wasn’t someone it would be fun to spend time with.

The dancing and singing were fine, but neither performer is as skilled at the old greats or as those on Glee. I’d have casted people from Broadway, included a few catchier songs and created characters that were more engaging and unique. Giving both of them good friends would have allowed the story to show why we should care about these characters.

The lyrics of the one song that I remember elude me, but the melody does pop into my head now and again. MGM would have given me songs I want to hear again and again. Song’s that were memorable like “Oklahoma!,”  “I Could have Danced All Night,” “In America,” or “Gotta Dance.”

The ending wasn’t as sad as I think the creators intended.

I really hope there aren’t any young people who see La La Land as their first musical and give up on the genre.

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The Last Princess

The Last Princess (2016) captivated me with its dramatic history. It’s a film about a Korean Princess named Deok Hye, who lived from 1912 to 1989. Her father was Emperor when Japan was invading most of Asia. The Japanese wanted to control him, but couldn’t so they poisoned him. A few years later when Deok Hye was 13 she was sent to Japan to be educated. Though she didn’t want to go, she did to protect her mother.

As she grew, she realized she would never be allowed to return to Korea. The Japanese feared that this young, determined woman would stir up rebellion. When she was young, her father had hoped she’d marry Jang-Han Kim comes to Japan hoping to find a way to save her. He’s an officer in the Japanese army, but works with a group of underground rebels, who’re plotting to get the princess and her uncle back to Korea and to attack the core leaders of the Japanese army.

Throughout the film, the main villain isn’t a Japanese officer, but rather a Korean turncoat, Han Taek-soo, who was behind the emperor’s poisoning and will stop at nothing to please the Japanese by manipulating and spying on the Korean royals.

It’s decades before Deok Hye has a real chance to return to her home country. Along the way she bravely faces hardship, sorrow and betrayal.

You’re Ugly Too

Like Paper Moon and Zazie dan le Métro, You’re Ugly Too pairs a young girl, who isn’t so innocent, with a criminal who’s not used to children, forcing them both to connect. An Irish film, You’re Ugly Too follows Stacy who’s 11 and whose mother has recently died. Her Uncle Will gets released from prison to care for Stacy, his niece. Stacey’s wary and cynical. Uncle Will tries to cure her of her cursing and spitting. He takes her to live in a caravan her mother owned where they meet Emilie, a neighbor who comes pounding on their door seeking protection from her husband’s abusive friends.

Will soon discovers that due to her trauma and grief, Stacey has narcolepsy. A doctor prescribes stimulants, which Will is soon downing on the sly. A bureaucratic issue prevents Stacey from going to the local school. Since she was a teacher in Belgium, Emilie offers to tutor Stacey. The girl sees this just as a ploy to get near her uncle and tries some matchmaking. Oddly enough Emilie’s husband doesn’t care whom his wife sleeps with as that gives him permission to do as he pleases. Yet in the end Emilie turns out to be less reliable than any of the characters.

Stacey, played by Lauren Kinsella, and Aiden Gillen’s Will are both emotional porcupines, but I was drawn to them because they were so real, so scarred. By the end of the film they aren’t hugging and healed, but you could see they did love each other and did belong with each other.

The cinematography is terrific as it takes a bland, stark landscape and makes it dramatic. The film’s haunting and different, definitely worth your time.

 

 

 

L’Avventura

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Anna (L) and Claudia (R)

I admit I didn’t much like L’Avventura, the story of a rich Italian woman who goes missing while on a weekend away with her rich, jaded friends. I concede that the actors were gorgeous and skillful; the sets and cinematography excellent, but the story was lacking and the personalities were exasperating.

The story’s simple. Anna is unhappy in a general alienated 1960s way. She bickers with her boyfriend and pouts a lot because life’s missing something. When she’s off on a boat with her friends she dives in the water and is never seen of again. I do mean that. We don’t ever see her and though I can appreciate innovation in plots, this was too much. While her friends and father search for her, her boyfriend (he’s no boy – these characters seem to be in their late 20s or 30s) and her best friend Claudia go to look for her. Looking for Anna becomes insignificant compared to Claudia and Sando, Anna’s boyfriend, who embark on romance spiced up with occasional pangs of guilt on Claudia’s part.

The film is striking and beautiful. I did buy into Claudia’s dramatic emotions as she pushed and pulled at Sando. Much of the film is a critique of the shallow lives of the rich. I didn’t quite buy it, true as it might be. The characters were simply playboys and playgirls and I found it hard to actually believe they couldn’t find something to dedicate their lives to. I suppose there are people like this.

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Marguerite

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Touching and true, Marguerite (2015) is set in France of the 1920s. The central character Marguerite loves music and supports her local music club lavishing funds on them with the one stipulation that she’s allowed to sing at various concerts. The film opens with such a concert that she hosts at her mansion. The musicians and young singer who opens the performance are top notch, but when Marguerite takes the stage glass cracks and you want to cover your ears. She has no idea what pitch is. Two cads from Paris who crash the event are delighted. Their twisted sensibilities find her the perfect means of satirizing the current art scene.

Yet no one — not her unfaithful husband, her duplicitous servant, the voice coach who’s desperate for money or her friends at the music club — will tell her the truth. Encouraged by the cads, Marguerite decides to sing publicly and while many know they should tell Marguerite that she can’t sing, no one can burst her bubble.

Listening to Marguerite’s screeching and seeing her tricked all the way to the rather sad ending isn’t easy but it is enjoyable enough. It was good for a long flight and the lead actress Catherine Frot made me sympathize with and like a character who would be easy to look down on.

The Freshmen

freshman_01The more I see Harold Lloyd, the more I love him and his films. In The Freshman (1925) Lloyd plays an young man also named Harold who saves up enough money to go to college. Once on campus, Harold’s main concern is getting popular by following the tricks he saw in a movie.

Instead of being the big man on campus he’s soon the butt of everyone’s jokes. His peers love putting him in awkward positions and taking advantage of him. He never catches a break as he inadvertently insults the dean, takes the dean’s car from the train station and makes wrong step after wrong step. The gags at the student assembly, the dance and the football field are priceless.

Jobyna Ralston plays the sweet love interest Peggy perfectly. Harold meets Peggy on a train and then it turns out that she’s the daughter of his landlady. Yes, it’s coincidental, but it’s a small town and she’s the one sincere woman in a sea of fakes.

I watched a Criterion Collection disc with the commentary, which I find adds to my appreciation of any silent film. I seem to need some talk.

A masterful comedy, The Freshmen is a film I can see watching again and again.

Lo and Behold

Werner Herzog’s documentary Lo and Behold shows the history of the Internet and provides insights, some I’d heard and others I hadn’t, about the Internet’s growth and it’s effects.

I found the segment interviewing a man who had an alternative version of the Internet and the actual look at the earliest equipment and its presentation by a man who was one of the computer scientists who invented the Internet 1.0. Herzog interviews his subjects well asking all the questions I wanted to know and finding people whose contributions and work are crucial to technology today. I liked seeing the people behind the bytes and bits.

Lo and Behold would a good film for technology students, though you don’t need to be an insider to follow it.

Brooklyn

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Based on a novel, Brooklyn tells the story of an Irish woman, Eilis, who leaves the Emerald Isle where there are no jobs or eligible young men, to make a life in Brooklyn. While fitting in isn’t easy, she does find a boyfriend and succeed in bookkeeping at night school so that she puts down roots. She soon marries her Italian boyfriend in secret.

Life takes a turn when her sister suddenly dies. Eilis returns to Ireland to help her mother who’s all alone. It’s intended to be a short trip, but then Eilis decides to stay for her good friend’s wedding and then someone finds her a temporary accounting job that she excels at and then she meets terrific young man. It seems that Eilis has found the life she always wanted in Ireland.

SPOILER ALERT

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In the Heat of the Night

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In rural Mississippi a local businessman, the most prosperous one in the city, is murdered. The first suspect is a black man waiting for a train. Who’s more vulnerable than an outsider with dark skin in the rural South in the early 1960’s? Thus there’s plenty of drama in In the Heat of the Night (1967).

Virgil Tibbs, played by Sidney Poitier, is waiting for his train. He’s brought in to the station and treated like the prime suspect till the police chief (Rod Steiger) learns that Tibbs is a leading homicide detective in Philadelphia. As much as it bugs the chief, he realizes that his force can’t solve the murder. They just don’t have Tibbs’ expertise. So he gets the Philadelphia Police Department to make Tibbs work with Chief Gillespie and his force.

The film shows the hostility and violence towards an African American whom the locals feel has risen above his station. The mystery is authentic and keeps the audience guessing. Of course Poitier and Steiger give sterling performances.

Identification of a Woman

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I thought this film was by the maker of We All Loved Each Other So Much, an Italian film that knocked me off my feet years ago. It isn’t. I also thought it was made in the 60s or 70’s. It wasn’t. So that’s two strikes.

Identification of a Woman follows a woe-begone film director, who’s divorced (and we can all guess why after say half an hour with him), as he searches for a dream woman for a film. As he does, he also pursues Mavi, an aristocrat, who’s bored, boring and gorgeous (or at least pretty and thin — it’s all in the eyes of the beholder, right?). Early on some secret thug whom we never see, whose identity is never revealed sends a henchmen to tell the director, Niccolo to leave Mavi alone. She’s the property of the thug. As any decent film hero would do, Niccolo won’t have it. He remains with Mavi, who lacks any personality, while looking for and sometimes hiding from the thug.

Later Mavi ditches Niccolo. I suppose she was tired of his obsession with the thug and his ennui, but she herself had so little in her life that I don’t quite buy her leaving him, as broken as he was.

Then Niccolo meets another woman, a young actress who’s loved him from afar. They form a relationship in the last third of the movie and that peters out.

Mainly, the film’s supposed to examine an artist, who’s lost and drifting, who doesn’t understand women, probably because he over complicates relationships. There were certainly some good elements. I liked the scenes which had Niccolo and Mavi driving through dense fog, which was symbolic and probably hard to film, but on the whole this was ho hum. Disappointing.

There’s a lot of explicit sex scenes which are a counterpoint to the lack of understanding between the characters. They were a lot more intimate than you see in a Hollywood film. I admit I have no idea what the title means. Anyone?

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