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La La Land

Los Angeles usually gets a bad rap. Often depicted as a seedy place where dreams die and careers vanish, it’s a wonder why it’s still popular. The lure of fame and fortune is its driving force with the chance of making it big as addictive as gambling. ‘La La Land’ explores the city where Hollywood resides with glee. A musical about love and desire, it may not change anyone’s thinking about the area but the film makes it look as glossy as any big movie coming from it.

Living in Los Angeles in the hope of making it big, Mia (Emma Stone) aspires to be a famous actress. Waiting tables to earn a crust, she hopes to be discovered by the many power players she serves. Her routine is brightened by the appearance of Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). A jazz musician playing dingy bars while waiting for his big break, he falls for Mia’s charms. As their romance blossoms so do their growing careers. While enjoying the trappings of success, their love is tested in ways that only a strange city like Los Angeles can create.

‘La La Land’ is a throwback to the glossy musicals of the 1940’s/50’s. Whilst set in modern day, it has a classic feel echoing past melodic spectacles. The staging and vibrancy of the dance/music numbers are superb, perfectly capturing the wondrous energy of the leads. The romance between Mia and Sebastian isn’t anything new, going through the clichéd motions of many romantic dramas. What it succeeds in is the performer’s genuine chemistry and the effective blending of mundane reality and sparkling set pieces.

Damien Chazelle’s direction isn’t always perfect with the pacing dragging the narrative. Like so many recent films, he doesn’t know when to stop. But he does, however, show much flair in the stylised look and structure in the lover’s romantic entanglements. Los Angeles has never looked so enticing as it captures Mia and Sebastian’s imaginations but potentially destroying them too. The mix of music, drama, humour and some fantasy make for an engaging package.

Although slow in places, ‘La La Land’ maintains a consistency in tone and colour. The music is great with the actors diving into their roles with gusto. The movie musical genre always re-invents itself with ‘La La Land’ another fine addition sure to further enhance its reputation.

Rating out of 10: 7

Into the Woods

Debuting in 1986, James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s musical ‘Into the Woods’ has been enduringly popular.  Combining elements from various Grimm fairy tales, the mix of fantasy, horror and music has appealed.  With the current obsession with all things fantastic, it was a given Hollywood would soon come knocking.  Filled with an excellent cast, tight direction and stirring melodic arrangements ‘Into the Woods’ fits the bill in providing enchanting escapism.

 

When a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) learn they have been cursed childless by a witch (Meryl Streep), they aim to set things right.  Journeying into the mysterious forest where the witch resides, they must find objects that will break the curse.  Encountering Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) and others during their quest, their task is made harder by the witch’s machinations.  Learning about responsibility and the power of wishes, the duo set forth on an epic and bedazzling adventure.

 

Unlike recent movie musicals, ‘Into the Woods’ achieves the right balance of story and song.  As characters sing about their predicaments, their tunes allow the tale to briskly move along.  Graced with a strong cast embracing their roles with gusto, ‘Into the Woods’ is a very delectable treat.  Whilst moments are predictable, the actors never over-play them with Streep and company enjoying the challenge.  They equip themselves admirably during the musical numbers and remember to have fun as well.

 

Director Rob Marshall is an old hand in this genre, having overseen ‘Nine’ and ‘Chicago’.  He does it well as he ensures the visuals match the story’s grandiose sweep.  Managing to avoid the confined ‘stagey feel’ that often drags down similar works, Marshall successfully utilises the many locations ‘Into the Woods’ requires.  The blend of story-book vistas with dark, brooding spaces are finely melded as the many colours on display mirror the multiple turmoils the characters face.

 

Entertaining while imparting its messages, ‘Into the Woods’ is a fine stage to screen adaptation.  Fans should be pleased with its aim for quality more than achieved.

 

Rating out of 10:  8