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La La Land (2017)

Going in to films with high expectations can be a killer.  Rave reviews, constant awards buzz, a director's follow up to one of my favourite films of 2014, and starring the on-screen couple of one of my go to feel good films.  It's a huge amount of pressure - even the girl taking our tickets at tonight's preview screening told us how jealous she was.  How can the end product ever live up to that sort of expectation?  Damien Chazelle's masterpiece, La La Land, managed to surpass those huge expectations and transport me to another world I never wanted to leave.  This is why I love films and going to the cinema.  When films work best, they are the best form of escapism.  La La Land was a brilliant example of exactly that.
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As well as it's musical genre, La La Land's story themes are that of music and film.  The film centres around life long passions for the two, and ambitions to reach personal goals in each field.  Emma Stone's Mia is an aspiring actress trying to land the big break in Hollywood, while Gosling is Sebastian - a struggling jazz pianist with hopes of opening his own club and saving the genre from retirement.  Whiplash was about aspiring for greatness, and the lengths required to do that.  La La Land also praises those with passions, and anyone that keeps at it no matter what knock back they are faced with.  As a film it's certainly not as dark as Damien Chazele's predecessor, but obstacles and sacrifices are inevitable, hard to take, and La La Land faces up to that.

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Just as big a character as Mia and Sebastien are the city the story plays out in, and the music.  A visceral love letter to Los Angeles and it's film industry (warts and all), the abstract cinematography of it's sunny highways, hillside sunsets, neon nightlife, and dreamlike film studios are stunning.  The One Perfect Shot twitter account would have a field day, but to see Damien Chazelle weave his camera in and out of each sequence is another level.  There's breathless editing, but also very long takes when it comes to dance routines, and it kept surprising me as it went on.  It manages to balance the common dream factory idea of Hollywood with the hard work and struggles people behind the scenes face to 'make it' or even get by.  The film opens with the iconic CinemaScope logo, and then a row of cars each blaring out a different genre of music, only to be brought together in huge dance number, 'Another Day of Sun' that left me wanting to applaud as if I was watching it on stage.  The follow up, 'Someone in the Crowd,' takes us round a flat as it's four girls get ready to go to a party.  As far as I can remember it's a routine that is done in one shot, and as the camera dances around as well as Emma Stone et al, it's a sequence that keeps it's audience on it's toes too.  I had heard that 'City of Stars' is the song that is tipped for Oscar success (putting my neck out, I would be amazed if the film doesn't receive Best Picture too), but it's those two first songs that I'm currently humming round the house.  Gosling's three months training to become a piano virtuoso payed off, and the film wouldn't have been the same if that was faked.  Him and Stone have an electricity that comes alive with Chazele's funny dialogue, as well as in their dance routines - 'A Lovely Night' is the best example of that.  John Legend adds a certain amount of gravitas as an old friend of Sebastian's, and his 'Start a Fire' is one I would pay for a ticket to see live.
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Charlotte and I try to see as many films as we can, so it can be unusual to be genuinely floored by a movie.  Not since The Artist have I seen a film with such a love for cinema, and ability to give a fun, fresh take on the subject, and it's genre.  Apparently it's score was recorded in the same studios as Singin' in the Rain (1952) and The Wizard of Oz (1939).  That is the sort of musical legacy La La Land takes on, and does so perfectly.  It may fool you in to thinking it's story, boiled down, is one you have seen before, and it's a trick it should be commended for that.  Despite the dreamlike world of LA, the reality is that many are faced with hardships and adversity.  It should be of no surprise that Chazelle tackles that, but in a manner that is a huge amount of fun.  I can't wait to see it again.  And again.


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