La La Land: A Sham?

By Grace Armstrong


La La Land is a 2016 musical-romantic-comedy-drama written and directed by Damien Chazelle, whose work includes 10 Cloverfield Lane and Whiplash. La La Land is the story of Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz musician, attempting to pursue their dreams in modern day Los Angles. They meet, fall in love and try to balance their lives with their dreams. La La Land has won a vast array of awards, some include: “Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy”, “Best Original Score – Motion Picture” and “Best Screenplay – Motion Picture”. Beyond its numerous awards, La La Land has managed to capture the hearts of many. But did it capture mine?

I saw La La Land not expecting much, contrary to many who go in to see it. I managed to avoid the vast advertising and overall hype of the movie. As a result, I had no real expectations going into the movie. I knew it was a musical that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling were in, but that was about it.

To begin, the cinematography was overall very good, boarding on excellent. The color editing of the movie was absolutely beautiful, the movie felt alive. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. The movie is clearly trying to capture the essence of 1950s musicals, and I believe that it, for the most part, captures this very well. The choreography is spot on and whimsical. The clothing popped out of the screen and the lighting was almost perfect in every scene. There are many fantastic dance scenes that are beautiful-like the observatory scene. And everyone who’s seen the movie agrees-the ending scene was a powerful mixture of visuals and music.

The actors are, of course, very talented. However, they both suffer from two problems: poor writing and mediocre singing. Mia’s and Sebastian’s romance is contrived and lacking chemistry. They fall in love because they are both failures in their respective art/profession. She uses him to make herself feel better and he uses her to rant about jazz. I personally only liked the moments where they didn’t speak and just danced in silence. Although I personally thought Mia’s character was fine, I was irritated by Sebastian. This jazz purist is just a lazy hipster jerk. He established early on that he wants to have his own jazz club, but he refuses to do any work that would allow him to get that money.

Third, but most importantly, the movie tries to balance the whimsy of a 1950’s musical and the recent trend in more realistic films. Once again, the movie looks fantastic; however, the realism cripples the musical parts. The second half of the movie is basically completely devoid of any musical parts, until Mia randomly bursts out into song. Granted, this may be an artistic choice, but to me, I just forgot it was a musical. Of course, there are many musical-to-film adaptations that are based in realism and have many songs (Les Miserables, Grease, etc.). Les Miserables had its actors sing on set like La La Land, and Les Miserables is oft criticized for its poor quality. However, Les Miserables’s cast are people who are suffering and underfed; its gritty and dark, its music is there to emphasize the pain of characters, the poor singing from suffering people makes sense. For Grease, which is a 1980s nostalgia for 1970s nostalgia for the 1950s, the exaggeration and silliness is to be expected. La La Land’s commitment to reality hurts the movie’s chance in capturing the whimsy aspect of a musical.

To answer my previous question, La La Land did not capture my heart like it did with so many others. It had so much potential, but it failed to balance reality and whimsy, and therefore failed to be the masterpiece it sought to be. This movie was not written with the story in mind, but the story was written around the visuals. Chazelle clearly had an aesthetic and ending in mind for La La Land, and the story was just put in as an excuse for the visuals. Although visuals are a big part of a movie, they alone cannot carry an entire musical, and unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for me.

Grace Armstrong is a first-year at Barnard and contributor for Barnard Bite.


Fall Movie Preview 2014

by Tori Fourman

Fall’s most anticipated film is out today!

With summer blockbuster season over, we can now eagerly turn our attention to Fall’s store of much-anticipated dramas, thrillers, and comedies. Here are just a few films you won’t want to miss during the next few months. Don’t forget to pick up discounted tickets at the Barnard Box Office!

Pride: Based on the true story of an unlikely alliance, this drama focuses on the aid provided to English coal miners in 1984 by the young members of the LGBT community.

Gone Girl: Ben Affleck plays a husband suspected in the disappearance of his wife (played by Rosamund Pike). Based on Gillian Flyyn’s novel.

Birdman: With a dash of irony, former Batman Michael Keaton plays a washed up former superhero actor named Birdman, who struggles to put on a Broadway show and get his life together in the process.

Fury: Brad Pitt leads a crew of soldiers through Germany during the second World War in a tank called Fury. Co-starring Shia Leboeuf and Logan Lerman.

St. Vincent: When a divorcee (Melissa McCarthy) and her young son move into the neighborhood, a grumpy war veteran played by Bill Murray finds himself in the unlikely role of babysitter.

Nightcrawler: Jake Gyllenhaal plays a wannabe photographer who takes to the night and goes to desperate ends to capture gory footage.

Interstellar: In a post-apocalyptic world, Matthew McConaughey plays a father of two who is sent into space in order to explore interstellar travel as a means of human survival.

The Theory of Everything: Eddie Redmayne portrays Stephen Hawking in his early years as he falls in love with Jane, his future wife (played by Felicity Jones), works toward his PhD, and is diagnosed with motor neuron disease.

Foxcatcher: Steve Carrell takes on a dark role in this psychological thriller as schizophrenic wrestling coach John du Pont. Also starring Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum.

Mockingjay: Part 1: The beginning of the end to this much beloved series comes out November 21, and if it’s anything like the previous two films, we’ve every right to be very excited.

The Imitation Game: This WWII era drama stars Benedict Cumberbatch as mathematician Alan Turing working to interpret Nazi codes. Though I’m sure I had you at “Benedict Cumberbatch.”

Inherent Vice: Based on Thomas Pynchon’s novel and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, this film stars Joaquin Phoenix as a private investigator-slash-druggie. There is no trailer, so we’ll have to trust the Internet hype on this one.

Tori Fourman is a first-year at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image courtesy of MovienewZ.

How to See Frozen Without Self-Imploding: A Feminist’s Guide

by Danielle Owen

More mixed signals from Disney.

It’s safe to say that plenty of non-white girls will go to see Frozen—a movie with sorcery, living ice monsters, and talking snowmen— and without a single person of color. Historical accuracy!

Resist the urge to scream profanities at the characters on screen. They cannot hear you. There are children next you.

Actually, the entire theater is children and fatigued parents (with the exception of you and your friends). Feel no shame in this.

Suspend all knowledge learned from your social theory/women’s studies courses. Forget the fact that movies with male protagonists (such as How to Train Your Dragon) are marketed and viewed as gender-neutral stories while movies with female protagonists (such as Brave and Frozen) are viewed as girly movies. Do not think about the implications of this phenomenon.

 Ignore the fact that Princess Anna, after being forced to stay inside her castle for about a decade, sings an entire song about how glad she is to be free. Her first priority? Finding a man. The entire song is about her excitement to fall in love. Angrily claw at the arm of the person next to you for the entire scene.

Pretend not to notice that this is the whitest animated movie you’ve ever seen.

Bask in the glorious, feminist ending. It somewhat redeems the 105 minutes of problematic material you’ve had to endure.

Post-viewing, vent on your Tumblr or go on a Twitter rant. Be sure to include lots of caps lock. Lose followers. It’s totally worth it.

After the movie, stand near the 3D glasses return bin and hand every little girl you see bootleg copies of Spirited Away and Lilo and Stitch (two feminist masterpieces of our generation).

Remind these girls that their happy ending will not find them at the ripe old age of 19. It does not have to involve finding a boyfriend (although it certainly can). Tell them that they will face challenges and conflicts unrelated to and more important than romance, even if every movie they watch tells them otherwise.

Danielle Owen is a first-year at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image courtesy of The Disney Wiki.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: Gravity in IMAX 3D (Spoiler-Free)

by Danielle Owen

So true.

After enduring endless hours of flashcards and tedious highlighting, I woke from my 10-minute power nap groggy – but with a plan. I muddled together $21 that would have otherwise gone to Insomnia Cookies and boarded the downtown 1 with a friend. Together, we headed to a 12:45am showing of Alfonso Cuarón’s hyped-up new film, Gravity. The premise both terrified and intrigued me: how could 90 minutes of Sandra Bullock floating around in space garner such universal acclaim? We entered the almost vacant theater, took our seats in the exact middle, and suffered through an unnecessary amount of trailers. Gravity then began with the following words on a plain black screen:

At 372 miles above the Earth,

there is nothing to carry sound

no air pressure

no oxygen.

Life in space is impossible.

Prepare to be blown away.

We were immediately startled by a superfluously loud cacophony – my friend and I, along with several others in the theater, had to cover our ears. It was painfully loud. Within the first 20 seconds of Gravity, the audience has been made uncomfortable and tense. IMAX suggests that movies aren’t meant to be simply enjoyed, but rather, experienced. The best movies are those that disregard the blood pressure of the audience – and at the outset of Gravity, you’ve been made aware that this will not be easy viewing. Truly, the next 90 minutes were highly concentrated with nail-biting terror.

Gravity was chilling in an intensely beautiful and emotional way. Cuarón masterfully contrasts the hostility of the universe with the physical and emotional fragility of the human condition. My friend and I specifically enjoyed the characterization of Dr. Ryan Stone, a female protagonist who doesn’t fit the “strong female character” trope and portrays a breadth of emotions; she is vulnerable, intelligent, persistent, and fearful all at once. It’s a deeply symbolic movie that refers back to her past and her struggle to find the will to live. Bullock’s performance is poignant and stunning while Clooney is the weakest link in the entire movie (which means it must be a pretty damn good movie). His version of the charismatic and charming Matt Kowalski has been likened by many to Buzz Lightyear.

All things considered, go see Gravity. It lives up to the hype. Spend $22, get there early, sit in the exact middle, and allow yourself to be immersed in and terrified by a universe that is completely indifferent to the plight of humanity. After the movie, I returned back to my dorm with ringing ears and a plethora of existential anxiety. It was worth it.

Also, check out the amazing soundtrack!

Danielle Owen is a first-year at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of Danielle Owen and the thrill.