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.


Forget the Oscars: 5 Snubbed Movies You Should Watch Instead

by Danielle Owen

 British LGBT historical comedy-drama “Pride”

Whatever credibility the Oscars once had as a legitimate award ceremony—assuming it ever had any—has undoubtedly been lost. The overwhelmingly white, male institution responsible for deciding which movies deserve praise is only one manifestation of a predominantly racist and sexist film industry. Instead of binge watching all eight Best Picture nominees (like the rest of the country is doing), here are some fantastic—and significantly more diverse—movies you should watch instead. Besides, any category that includes the xenophobic, highly offensive, obnoxious patriotic romp American Sniper doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. 

Contrary to what’s written on all of Reslife’s “Installment” posters, Gone Girl actually isn’t a contender for Best Picture (or even Best Director). Suspenseful, creepy, and well-acted, the film certainly deserved a nomination. It’s worth watching just for Rosamund Pike’s performance.
2) Wild
Wild tells the story of Cheryl Strayed’s modern-day Odyssey as she hikes alone on the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s refreshing to see a woman over 30 allowed to be the centerpiece of a major film. 
Are you looking to wallow in intense feelings of weltschmerz and general disillusionment for a couple of weeks? Do you enjoy thinking about the structural inefficiency of capitalism and pondering the hypocrisy of a hierarchical class system? Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s epic film Snowpiercer is the perfect blend of science fiction, action, art house, and allegory to throw you into the depths of a long and unsettling existential crisis.  
You’ve probably heard of Belle before, as its New York premiere was during last year’s Athena Film Festival. The super-successful indie film tells the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the mixed-race daughter of Royal Navy Captain in 18th century England. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who plays the title role, also stars in Beyond the Lights, a film being shown during this year’s Athena Film Festival. 
5) Pride
The trailer alone makes me cry happy tears. Pride recounts the true story of gay and lesbian activists raising money for a town of miners during the UK Miners Strike of 1984-85. With an impressively large and talented cast telling a story that seems too good to be true, the film avoids feeling formulaic by instead offering inspiration mixed with bittersweet poignancy. 

Danielle Owen is a sophomore at Barnard College and Social Media Strategist and Politics Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image courtesy of CBS Films.

QuAM Movie Rec: 5 Movies With Queer People of Color as Leads

by Katherine Aliano Ruiz

In recent years, representation for LGBTQA characters in mass media has certainly increased but is still sadly dismal. GLAAD’s annual report on LGBTQA representation shows that of the 102 films released by major studios in 2013, only 17 of them included LGBTQA characters. Moreover, the majority of the LGBTQA characters in the films were minor roles or offensive representations of the community. GLAAD counted a total of 25 LGBTQA characters spread out in those 17 films. What is interesting–and very important–to note is that of the 25 characters presented, 19 were white while only 3 were African American, 2 were Asian, and 1 was Latino. Additionally, more than half of the films favored representing gay men over lesbians, bisexual individuals and transgender individuals. There were no portrayals of asexual individuals at all.

Movies and TV have grown slightly comfortable with depicting queer characters over the years, but the focus has more often than not been on white, able-bodied, gay men. It is important to recognize that misogyny, racism and ableism affect people within the LGBTQ community and deeply impacts who gets to be represented in media. Major networks and film studios need to push for  more encompassing and inclusive representations of queer characters and depart from the notion that white gay men are the only members of the community.

In honor of Queer Awareness Month, here is a movie list of 5 films that are not only amazing and have queer characters as their protagonists, but also feature queer women of color, and one film that features a queer man of color with a disability. Here’s to a happy QuAM and a hope that positive representation improves with every year!

Pariah (2011) trailer
Pariah is a powerful and moving film about 17-year-old African American teenager Alike embracing her identity as a lesbian. The story addresses first crushes (and first kisses), gender expression, friendship, a father daughter bond and how Alike’s sexuality impacts her relationship with her mother.

Saving Face (2004) trailer
Saving Face is a heartwarming and hilarious romantic comedy drama film that tells the story of Wil, a Chinese-American surgeon, and her relationships with her proud and gorgeous dancer girlfriend and unwed pregnant mother. Mother and daughter both come to understand one another and accept each other’s secret loves despite their deterrence from traditional cultural expectations.

Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho (2014) trailer | original short film
Based on a 17 minute short film, this beautiful and adorable Brazilian love story is centered on a blind high school boy, Leo, and his two best friends, Giovanna and Gabriel. The movie addresses Leo’s need for independence from his overprotective mother and the feelings blossoming between Leo and Gabriel. While most queer movies exclusively feature able-bodied queer characters, Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho is one of the few queer films that has a lead with a disability.

Reaching for the Moon (2013) trailer
Reaching for the Moon is a dramatized telling of the love affair between American poet Elizabeth Bishop and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares. Set in Brazil between the years 1951 and 1967, the movie explores the tumultuous and passionate relationship between the two women in the changing Brazilian cultural and political climate.

The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love (1995) trailer
This movie is the love story between two young women, Randy and Evie, who come from different social and economic backgrounds and go through all the motions of teen romance–from best friends, to lovers, to ex-lovers–while learning to accept who they are. For any L Word fans, this was one of Laurel Holloman’s (L Word’s Tina) first films.

Didn’t see your favorite queer movie on the list? Rec us your favorite ones in the comments!

Katherine Aliano Ruiz is a sophomore at Barnard and Managing Editor at The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia

Information regarding statistics on representation courtesy of

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.

I’ma Let You Finish, But Frozen Really Shouldn’t Win an Academy Award

by Danielle Owen

Sorry Olaf. Give it to the minions!

Before I begin tearing apart something that makes small children happy, let me say that I enjoyed Frozen quite a lot. From the stunning visuals to catchy tunes, funny moments to seamless animation, I left the theater pretty okay with having paid an exorbitant amount of money to see it. So far, the film has won the Annie Award, the BAFTA, and the Golden Globe for Best Animated Film — it will most likely win the Oscar as well. Does it actually deserve it? Yeah, no. Not really. Any First-Year English or Film Studies major armed with a copy of Story by Robert McKee could point out the movie’s glaringly obvious flaws — its weak and superficial plot, its unnecessary amount of characters (all of whom go underdeveloped), the forced romantic relationships, the “cheap trick” out of nowhere Hans plot twist, the fact that all of the speaking characters in a fictional place are white, etc. Dani Colman has written a fantastic article pointing out why Frozen is a “faux-feminist” film, which you should definitely take the time to read.

Should Frozen win the Oscar even though it fails to tell a decent story? Why does good storytelling even matter? Why do the rules of good storytelling even exist?

The film’s exposition is lazily montaged together — it tells the audience how characters relate to each other through song, as opposed to showing the audience the characters interacting. The protagonist’s conflict is external, rather than internal, which emotionally distances the audience from the film. Superfluous and unnecessary characters (Olaf, Kristoff, and Hans) take up too much space in the story, leaving little room to see our main characters (Elsa and Anna) develop. When the climax occurs, the audience is left simply watching events happen without being emotionally invested in them or in the characters involved — the plot’s resolution then feels shallow, superficial, and a little bit cheap. Take a look at this scene from Lilo and Stitch. If the writers of Frozen had penned this scene, the dialogue would have sounded something like this:

Stitch: Wow, look at that duck. It has a family. I totally have no family. This is causing me some serious internal conflict. 
Nani: Lilo, your weird blue dog has ruined our lives. I can’t find a job and I have no means with which I can take care of you. You are going to be taken away from me tomorrow. I am sad. You are sad.

This is how you do a story about sisters.

Instead, the audience sees that Nani is trying to communicate with Lilo, but she simply can’t. There are some things that are too painful to say and some emotions too complex to portray in simple dialogue. The writers of this scene are trusting that the audience can make their own inferences about what’s happening and how it escalates the emotional substance of the film. We feel an emotional connection between two characters, as opposed to simply being told about a character’s feelings. Compare this scene to Frozen’s “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman,” a montage-song that attempts to stand in for actual relationship building (and fails). Some lyrics:

Anna:We used to be best buddies 
            And now we’re not 
            I wish you would tell me why!

Or as in “Fixer Upper,” a song and dance that literally pushes Anna and Kristoff together in order to make up for the complete lack of relationship building or character development either character gets in the film.

All Trolls:But we know what to do
                  The way to fix up this fixer-upper

                  Is to fix him up with you!

In the Aloha O’e scene from Lilo and Stitch, we (the audience) don’t even know what Nani is saying, and yet we’re left at the end standing in a pool of our own tears with mascara running down our cheeks. Nani and Lilo both face internal and external struggles: their relationship and the external forces that trouble them have been well-written and well-developed so the audience sees them struggling, as opposed to being told about their struggles. This scene from How to Train Your Dragon (which, by the way, is the best animated film of the last five years) also serves as an excellent example of the power visual storytelling. By trusting that the audience is intelligent enough to think about the film’s protagonist and come to their own conclusions, they empathize with their struggles and feel emotionally invested in their goals. When the conflict gets resolved, we actually feel joy as opposed to seeing the characters feel joy. In Frozen, Anna acts as the protagonist of the film, although the only conflict she faces is external: her sister, Elsa, is the character who needs to grow emotionally in order for the conflict to be resolved. And yet, Elsa is basically relegated to non-character status: she isn’t a protagonist or antagonist, but is simply a plot device. In order to feel emotionally invested in a story, the audience needs to empathize with the internal struggle the protagonist faces. Because that aspect is missing in Frozen, the conflict’s resolution involves the audience seeing our main characters feeling joy, but not actually feeling any of it. The resolution and accompanying happy ending feels convenient and emotionally unfulfilling.

If the point of telling stories is to make the audience feel something – to have a cathartic experience – they need to empathize with the internal struggle of the protagonist, be allowed to make inferences about relationships between characters, and see characters develop instead of being told through simple dialogue and montage. In the case of Frozen, I paid $16 to sit in a theater with a ridiculous pair of 3D glasses on my face so that I could have a story told to me. Through my ears. Totally great. Yep.

So why does it even matter that Frozen is actually really bad? It’s a movie for little girls!

Disney’s character design department taking some serious risks.

Quality shouldn’t be what designates a family film from an adult film. I don’t care who the intended audience of your movie is, lazy writing and weak storytelling is unacceptable for a film with a $150 million budget. This is especially unacceptable in a universe where films like Lilo & Stitch and How to Train Your Dragon exist, neither of which won an Oscar by the way. Both of these films manage to be well-written with interesting and complex characters. They are “family films” because of theme, not quality. Disney has created well-paced and well-developed stories in the past, such as the A+ film Tangled, which is one of the many reasons why I’m so confused by Frozen’s quality. Did they just… not care? Or did they simply decide that a movie marketed towards little girls would get a pass for being poorly written? The film’s success is more saddening than it is confusing. I sincerely hope that it doesn’t lead Disney to believe that they can put out mediocre films that will inevitably succeed just because they’re “marketed towards little girls.” I hope we can all agree that recognizing a film’s flaws doesn’t mean you have to hate it entirely. The point of this article wasn’t to make you stop belting “Love is an Open Door” in the shower: I certainly won’t. But I think it’s fair to demand quality storytelling with well-written characters who are flawed, interesting, and complex, even if the Academy disagrees.

Frozen underestimates the intelligence of the audience and makes us waste $16 so that it can tell us a story through our ears, as opposed to showing us a story through a visual medium. The film leaves us confused and emotionally unfulfilled, but it will win the Oscar because it’s a movie “for little girls” and was made by Disney. Go rent How to Train Your Dragon or Monsters University and bask in the glow of a well-paced, well-written story instead.

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

Images courtesy of Danielle Owen.