A color-awash ode to those who dream and an absurd bilingual comedy series are this week’s picks.
Folks, the time has come for Binge Blog to return.
The feature took a short hiatus after the departure of Katie Johns, whom I wish the best of luck. But this started as a way to beat the summer heat, and darn it, I’m not going to let you down this summer, the temperatures being what they are.
“La La Land” (2016)
Amazon Prime, PG-13, 129 minutes
I’m not comparing this to “Moonlight.” Let’s get that out of the way. I get why it happened during the Oscars race, but doing it now only does a disservice to both films. They can both be — and are — great, and important, in different ways.
So, that said: All I know is every frame of this film, every color choice and unrequited glance and tap of a piano key, is perfect, to me. There's so much more here than a (quite excellent) relationship story. It’s a film about not giving up when the world kicks dirt in your face. It’s a film about the nature of happiness. It’s a film about reckoning what is and what could have been. And, as IndieWire senior critic David Ehrlich said, it see-saws between a romance about movies to a movie about romance. Not love, necessarily, but the butterflies that roost in your stomach, the electricity that flows in and out of you and your partner’s fingertips when they touch.
If “La La Land” doesn't make you want to find your passion, the thing that makes you feel at home more than anything or anyone else, and follow it as far and with as much vigor as your heart can take, no matter what you have to leave behind, then we are different people.
I guess I should explain this movie for those that have not seen it. “La La Land” follows Mia (Emma Stone), a failing actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a failing jazz pianist, as they meet, fall in lust and motivate each other to pursue their passions no matter what it costs — even their relationship. It’s also a musical. That’s the plot. It’s not complicated, nor should it be. Director Damien Chazelle’s love of old-school musicals is obvious from the film’s opening number, a dazzling dance display on a Los Angeles freeway called “Another Day of Sun.” Chazelle’s eye might be unmatched in filmmaking at the moment, in terms of the sheer number of “wow” visuals in his films. “La La Land” has plenty of these, including a twirling trip to the stars at an observatory and a show-stopping daydream sequence during the film’s final act that explores how easily Mia and Sebastian’s lives could have gone a different direction. And remember when I talked about the colors in “Her”? It’s the same deal here. Goodness, does everything pop.
I know people have Quite Strong Opinions on “La La Land,” so let’s pull an “Eight Mile” and cut off some of the most-parroted complaints right now.
1. “Musicals suck and this is a musical, so this sucks.”
Not much I can do for you, pal.
2. “This is a movie about jazz, and jazz history, and there are hardly any people of color in it.”
I’m going to quote Demi Adejuyigbe, one of my favorite comedians and a fellow movie-lover, from his Letterboxd review of this film, since he’s more qualified to speak on this issue than I am:
“Gosling's portrayal of a jazz fan in this film seems to flip back and forth between ‘he's right’ and ‘he's going overboard,’ as I don't really think John Legend's stance on jazz, or musical take on jazz, is supposed to be ‘he's wrong and this is bad jazz.’ I think Gosling considering himself a jazz purist is supposed to be a bit eyeroll-y, and both his and Legend's take on jazz are supposed to be right, but only for themselves.
“In terms of ‘no people of color in Los Angeles’ — that's straight up wrong! One of the first things my friend remarked to me upon leaving the theatre the first time we saw it was about how colorful the cast was … I'm still well struck by how colorful the cast is, outside of the main two characters. Almost every speaking and musical role that isn't the main two characters is a person of color, and the first voices we hear in the film are those of a south asian woman and a hispanic man, in a wildly diverse opening dance number.”
So there you go.
3. “There aren’t any show-stopping numbers in it. Also Stone and Gosling can’t sing.”
This is the criticism I can understand most ... but I still disagree with it. Or, rather, I think these things make sense in the context of the movie. The songs in “La La Land” aren’t about going big, they are about setting a mood. This is a musical, yes, but one grounded in reality (for the most part). Songs are sung when the characters are performing. Only a few come in the traditional “break out into song randomly” mode, and all of those are in the first act. Even Stone’s big song toward the end of the film, “Audition” comes, well, during an audition, when it’s plausible she would sing. These aren’t show tunes, they are jazz numbers, and jazz is naturally a bit more low-key than Broadway.
As far as their singing voices: Sebastian’s talent is his piano playing. Mia is an actress. They’re not supposed to be professional singers. Wouldn’t it be odd if Mia had the voice of Beyonce and was ostensibly struggling to find work? They are perfectly fine singers, just not once-in-a-lifetime talents. I think that’s how it should be. (For the record, I actually quite like the raspy qualities of both their voices. Maybe this is because I listen to a lot of indie rock, but imperfections tend to lend more personality to a voice, and I like that. When Emma Stone laughs while singing “City of Stars”? Yeah, that’s the good stuff.)
Anyway, this movie rules and inspires me a lot, and if you were jaded about it in 2016 I think you should give it another watch, preferably at night, in a dark room, with surround sound and a bucket of popcorn. At its core, it’s a film about not giving up hope during dark times. In some ways, it might be more relevant now than ever.
“Los Espookys” (2019)
HBO, TV-MA, 30 minutes
I’ve never seen a show quite like “Los Espookys.”
It’s a comedy. An absurd one. So absurd, it takes a few episodes to adjust — not for the show to find its rhythm, mind you, but for you to find it. It follows the titular group of Spanish-speaking friends (Julio Torres, Ana Fabrega, Cassandra Ciangherotti and Bernardo Velasco) who create horror scenes for parties and other needs. For example, a town asks them to create a sea monster to plop in its lake to attract tourists, and a widow asks them to scare guests at her mansion as part of a game to see who stays the longest. It’s almost like a reverse “Scooby-Doo,” in a sense.
But it also goes beyond that into ... something else. The show is bilingual, Spanish and English, so there are always subtitles of some sort on the screen. Some characters speak both languages, others don’t, and that plays into some laughs. And those laughs, well ...
Torres plays Andrés, a man who was left on the steps of a church and marked as evil by its priests, but adopted into a family of millionaire chocolatiers. It’s implied he might have secret powers. Fabrega steals the show as Tati, the sister of Ciangherotti’s Úrsula who is the test dummy for the group’s more complicated stunts. Sticking with the “Scooby-Doo” analogy, she’s Shaggy and Scooby put together. But she plays the character with such wide-eyed enthusiasm that you laugh with her, not at her.
I haven’t even mentioned that Fred Armisen is in this, playing the uncle of Velasco’s Renaldo. He is a car-parking prodigy. His storyline is almost entirely separate from everything else happening on the show.
Also, aliens might exist?
Once your mind catches onto the show’s rhythm, it’s pretty delightful. A large part of the fun is watching the show’s world unravel itself to you. In most series, Los Espookys themselves would be considered freaks. Here, they’re the most normal people you see. It’s a brilliant twist from brilliant comedic minds, ones that should garner more attention over the next few years, especially if this show succeeds. I hope it does, and I hope you will support it, because this is the type of original idea Hollywood sorely lacks.
Quote of the week:
Ryan Gosling, as Sebastian, in “La La Land”:
“I'm letting life hit me until it gets tired. Then I'll hit back. It's a classic rope-a-dope.”
Have a great weekend.