I like musicals and I think it’s a shame that the film musical is mostly a relic of the past, dusted off a couple times a decade for a big revival and then set in the back of the closet for a few more years. La La Land is a generally competent film that I just can’t make myself stomach. It’s well-made, the script is good, and the chemistry between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling is frankly delightful. But it’s not a movie I liked. It’s so convinced that it’s fresh and wonderful just for being a big Hollywood musical that they didn’t bother to make a good musical, or a compelling love story, or to cast more than three people. La La Land is cuter than it is good, and I’m just not feeling like loving a cute movie right now.
La La Land is the kind of self-congratulatory nonsense that Hollywood loves to reward with gold statues and is invariably met with countless articles about how out of touch the entertainment industry is. This is a movie about a struggling actress and her boyfriend, a jazz pianist obsessed with doing things the old-fashioned way. These aren’t particularly relatable characters, and I say that as someone who lives in Los Angeles and knows a fair number of struggling actors. It’s the Hollywood that exists in movies and, honestly, mostly older movies at that. It is, however, the kind of Hollywood that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences loves to believe exists and will happily shower awards on movies that depict it as such. I’m sure that’s just a happy accident.
The biggest problem I have with La La Land is it isn’t a very good musical. They cast actors who can sort of sing and kind of dance instead of getting any dedicated singers or dancers in leading roles. John Legend is in the movie but he only gets one number and it isn’t a naturally occurring number, it’s a musical performance within the movie. Aside from an opening non-sequitur and an early ensemble number, everyone but Gosling and Stone get locked out of musical numbers for the rest of the way. It hardly feels like a magical world where everyone breaks into song, and more of a look at two people who break in to song while the rest of the world looks on.
By “the rest of the world” I really mean a shockingly sparse cast of extras. I live in Los Angeles, but I certainly don’t live in the Los Angeles depicted in La La Land. That Los Angeles is a place where a couple can always be alone wherever they are and whatever they’re doing. If they’re hanging out in Griffith Park there’s no one to be seen, if they’re going to a revival movie theater playing Rebel Without a Cause there’s barely five other people in the house, and if they’re breaking in to the observatory there’s not even a security guard there. I’m not saying that scenes need to be a realistic level of crowded, but between no crowds and a sparse supporting cast the world in this movie feels so sparse. You could set La La Land on an arctic research lab and you’d only have to change some dialogue about what LA really cares about.
The most damning thing I can say about La La Land is that I saw that movie two days ago and I could barely hum you the tune of any of the songs (I think I have one of them but it might just be “Blue Skies” by Irving Berlin) but I’m still singing “You’re Welcome” from Moana at basically any opportunity. It’s a movie that seems to be hitting with a lot of people I know but I just stay in the theater thinking about how this would have been a better movie if they made it back when they really cared about making a good musical. La La Land isn’t West SideStory, it isn’t even Newsies. It’s a novelty, it’s a love letter to an Los Angeles that only existed in 40 year old movies, and it feels like a cynical attempt to get Oscar attention. There’s a version of La La Land I would have liked, but this one is too low effort and too calculated for me. Maybe next time.
As a movie critic I believe I am obligated by law to review Focus through the lens of what it means for Will Smith’s career: if we have finally reached the end of the dark ages after almost eight years of films that were both critical and financial mixed bags. I might even tell you that we are back at the peak of the mountain we haven’t seen since I Am Legend and that we have our unquestioned biggest movie star in the world returned to us from the exile of After Earth and Men In Black 3. This isn’t that triumphant return; Will Smith is good but not extraordinary in a movie that will never be a blockbuster nor is it a critical darling. Focus is a perfectly serviceable crime movie that feels confined by a lack of ambition and, perhaps, a lack of budget.
It’s hard to classify Focus, because it is honestly unlike any crime movie I’ve ever seen before. (more…)
Movies based on comic books have had to fight a practically never-ending battle for respectability but, for now at least, it seems that they’ve won. Superheroes are hot commodities at the box office and studios have embraced the idea that making them more like their source material is preferable to making movies that anger the core fanbase for an attempt to appeal to the mainstream. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is what happens when that faithfulness goes too far and instead of making a simple movie filmmakers try and cram in all of the ancillary subplots of an ongoing series with none of the capacity to pay any of those threads off.
From the twisted minds of producers Peter Farrelly (Hall Pass, Shallow Hal) and Charles Wessler (There’s Something About Mary, Dumb & Dumber), comes Movie 43 — the outrageous new ensemble comedy starring some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Movie 43 is not for the easily-offended and contains jaw-dropping, sometimes shockingly disturbing, but always entertaining intertwined storylines you’ll have to see to believe. The all-star cast includes Emma Stone, Kate Winslet, Justin Long, Jason Sudeikis, Kristin Bell, Gerard Butler, and Halle Berry.
BD & DVD
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For a chance to win a copy of Movie 43, simply answer the question below:
Which Farrelly brother co-directed and co-produced Movie 43?
Long lost brother Jack Farrelly
Post your response by 11:59 p.m., Saturday, June 22 and the decision of ComicMix‘s judges will be final. Open only to residents of the United States and Canada.
Getting a film like GANGSTER SQUAD into theaters has had it’s issues, and we bring in in actors Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling to talk about the challenges they faced, plus more on the new season of JUSTIFIED with Timothy Olyphant and goodbye to THE COMIC BUYERS GUIDE.
Warner Brothers ran the following ad in The LA Times to promote the upcoming film, Gangster Squad. We couldn’t help but notice it’s pulpy nature.
Gangster Squad chronicles the LAPD’s fight to keep East Coast Mafia types out of Los Angeles in the 1940s and 50s.
An elite police squad fights to save the city of Los Angeles from a power-hungry East Coast mobster in this gritty police-detective film set in the 1940s, and based on Paul Lieberman’s seven-part Los Angeles Times series “Tales From the Gangster Squad.” Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, and Ryan Gosling star in a film directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland), and featuring Nick Nolte, Michael Peña, Emma Stone, and Robert Patrick.
Visit Gangster Squad’s official Facebook page here.
Gangster Squad is in theaters January 11, 2013. Here’s the trailer.
Saw my niece Isabel last week. She’s finished The Complete Bone Adventures, Volumes 1 and II and is now reading a collection of Calvin And Hobbes. She also told me that she’s in love with the Percy Jackson And The Olympians series by Rick Riordian; she had already read The Lightning Thief, and was deep into the second book, The Sea Of Monsters. Although by now she’s quite possibly onto the third title, which is The Titan’s Curse. She’s a fast reader. Based on her critiques, I have ordered The Lightning Thief from Amazon, and expect I’ll be ordering the rest of the series, too.
Last I heard Watchmen had not entered the public domain, so I will not be buying any of the Before Watchmen books. I think the whole idea stinks. I don’t understand how other creators who profess to respect creator’s rights could sign on to a rotten deal brokered on a broken promise by DC to Alan Moore. It’s a slap in the face to Alan, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins. Oh, wait. John Higgins participated in this mockery? Says a lot about your character, doesn’t it, John? If you need money that badly, there are other ways to prostitute yourself. And that goes for the rest of you, too.
John Ostrander’s latest column about “bad things he hates that he loves” caused me to go to my DVD cabinet and pull out a couple of movies that I should despise but actually love:
World Without End (1956), in which a rocket ship returning from Mars breaks through the time barrier and deposits four astronauts on an unidentified planet, which turns out to be Earth in the year 2508, 400 years after a nuclear war. The surviving humans live underground and are dying out because the men are scrawny, weak, and unable to perform their manly duties. In other words, they’re impotent. Which sure sucks for them, because all the women of the year 2508 are curvaceous, beautiful, and very, very horny. The reason the humans don’t live on the surface is because of the “surface beasts” – the descendants of those who did not flee underground during the atomic holocaust – roam the countryside. They look like mutated Neanderthals, and all they want to do – well, the men, anyway – is get their paws on the hot tomatoes living underground. Our brave, resourceful – and, of course, American; this was the 50’s, remember – astronauts reinvent the bazooka (“The good ol’ bazooka!” one of the astronauts says with a backslap to his pal) and defeat the mutated Neanderthals, and help restart human civilization on the surface for the Eloi. Oops. Sorry, wrong story. The horny women get the horny astronauts in the end, so everybody lives happily ever after. Except for the impotent guys, I guess.
Queen Of Outer Space (1958) in which ZsaZsa Gabor plays a Venusian scientist on a planet on which once again all the women are curvaceous, beautiful, and very horny. Except for the Queen, who is curvaceous and very horny, but mysteriously wears a mask. But even though Venus is the planet of love, there’s not a man to be found. The story begins when our brave, resourceful, and yes, once again, American astronauts, on board their rocket ship – which looks exactly like the one in World Without End – and on their way to a space station in orbit above Earth, are hijacked to Venus by a strange red ray, which turns out to be the Beta Disintegrator. The ship crashed into snow-covered mountains that look exactly like the snow-covered mountains into which the ship from World Without End end-crashes. Turns out the Queen hates all men, and she imprisons the astronauts. But she’s got a hard-on for the Captain. “A Queen can be lonely, too,” she tells the Captain. The Captain decides to take her up on her, uh, offer to “get information.” This makes ZsaZsa very jealous: “30 million miles away from the Earth,” says one of the astronauts, “and the little dolls are just the same.” Because she has a hard-on for our Captain, too. (No, his name is not James Tiberius Kirk.) Anyway, just as the Queen goes in for the face-suck, the Captain rips off her mask, and – OMG! Her face is burned and scarred and horribly mutated! “Men did this to me,” the Queen says with hatred in her voice. “Men and their wars.” Then she seductively turns to the Captain. “You said I needed the love of a man,” she whispers as she puts her arms around him. “If you will be that man, I will let you all go.” But the Captain is trying not to vomit. Dumb ass. Put a bag over her head and do it for the flag. So the Queen sends him back and aims the Beta-Disintegrator at Earth. Talk about a woman scorned! You really have to see this movie!
It really sucks when your parents are sick.
Here’s the truth. The only thing I really hate about women’s costumes in the comics is that I’m not buff enough to wear any of them.
Political diatribe for the day: Vote for Romney, and we really will be living in the world of American Flagg! (We’re almost there now.)
I can wait for the Garfield/Stone Amazing Spider-Man to hit DVD. I loved the Maguire/Duns Spider-Mans. Perhaps if TPTB had moved the story forward, merely replacing Maguire/Duns with Garfield/Stone, I would have more interest.
Just finished The Lost Wife, a heartbreaking, “based-on-a-true-story,” and beautifully written story about a husband and wife, both Jewish, separated by World War II. He gets out of Europe, she is first is sent to Theresienstadt and then Auschwitz. Highly recommended!
In the middle of The Hunger Games. Loving it. Have to recommend it to Isabel.
Glenn and Mike were at the movies – separately – just so they could have a heart-to-heart conversation about The Amazing Spider-Man. This time, each has a fairly different opinion.
Of course, there are spoilers ahead.
Glenn: So, this is going to be an interesting exercise. I believe I could hear your teeth grinding from Norwalk…
Mike: You liked it?
Glenn: Most of it, yes.
Mike: Jeez. I found only the last third the least bit tolerable. What did you like about it?
Glenn: The casting, for starters.
Mike: The casting was fine. But it was in service of a director who put everything he learned in community college up on the screen.
Glenn: Andrew Garfield won me over very quickly, with a naturalness that Tobey Maguire never quite seemed to have. Emma Stone could have carried the film even if she didn’t look just like a John Romita drawing.
Mike: The direction was amateurish and the script was worse. They’re lucky this wasn’t an adaptation of an Alan Moore story.
Glenn: I’m curious – what marked this as amateurish to you? The action scenes played fine, the character scenes worked to the actor’s credits – although I think the film may have trod a bit too much to the sort of aspirational stuff out of a Aaron Sorkin script… of course, that might have been a subconscious reaction to Uncle Ben Bartlett.
Mike: Gwen is the nexus of all coincidences. Her dad just happens to be a police chief in charge of the Spider-Man beat. She just happens to have an after-school job that gives her seemingly complete access to all areas and secrets of one of America’s largest high-science development companies – at 17 years-old – where she just happens to work for the arch-villain, who just happens to be the lab partner of the hero’s dead father.
Glenn: Yes, there’s a bunch of coincidences jammed there. But she was a science geek in the comics, just at the college level, and her dad was a police captain.
And yes, Connors and Richard Parker also happen to work for the upcoming big bad villain, too.
Mike: And all that was spread out over several years’ worth of comics. Here, this was all crammed into two hours – although, to be fair, it seemed like much longer. There’s coincidence, and there’s really bad storytelling. This is really bad storytelling. I really wanted to like this movie. Unfortunately, we knew two best actors weren’t going to make it out of the movie alive. There most certainly is such a thing as a great remake. The classic versions of Maltese Falcon and Wizard of Oz were both remakes. The Amazing Spider-Man is in absolutely no danger of joining this crowd. A remake has to answer the question “Why bother?” This movie, like the Superman remake, didn’t.
Glenn: Two best actors? I mean, we knew that Uncle Ben had to die. I can see a few reasons for retelling the story. For one thing, the effects work has improved a lot in places – the web-swinging in particular. Although the Lizard… well, you don’t always get it perfect.
Mike: Yeah, and we knew the Titanic was going to sink. But the latest movie was about a lot more than the sinking of a boat; ASM wasn’t about anything we hadn’t seen before. Why didn’t they show us Spidey actually using his powers? The webbing thing was fairly cool, but outside of that we rarely saw him in action. He’d be on the ground and there’d be a quick cut to him stuck to the ceiling. Web-slinging through the Manhattan cityscape? Nope; it was mostly long-shots or Peter’s point of view. You don’t have to get the villain perfect, just menacing. Certainly the Goblin looked less-than-stellar in the original.
Glenn: Just out of curiosity, did you see it in 3-D?
Mike: No, 2-D. Which doesn’t address a single one of my storytelling and direction complaints. You rarely saw Spider-Man being Spider-Man. Not even if he pops out of the screen and eats the popcorn out of your lap, 3-D has nothing to do with storytelling. Certainly not in this movie. It doesn’t come close to the Sixth Avenue shots in the first movie. Talk about your John Romita influence…
Glenn: The action sequences, web-slinging, etc. worked for me in 3-D. The Lizard – well, it’s a giant lizard. Hoping for emotion in a lizard’s face is going to be an uphill battle, no matter what insurance company mascots teach us.
Mike: You don’t have to get the villain perfect. Certainly the Green Goblin looked less-than-stellar in the original. But the Lizard looked like the Hulk had pooped out a baddie.
Glenn: Of course, there’s a point. How many times can Spider-Man lose his mask in this film?
Mike: About as often as they want the 12 year-old girls to go all Beatles over Garfield. Who, by the way, looks about 30. Did they cast Garfield and Stone because Dwayne Hickman and Tuesday Weld looked too young?
Glenn: Yeah, college age would have been easy to believe. High school?
Mike: And Peter, Gwen, and obviously ol’ Lizzieface certainly weren’t New Yorkers in the least. Flash might have been, Ben and May and Stacy certainly were, but the three leads seem like they never even visited New York. Conners had been there longer than Peter has been alive.
Glenn: I don’t think the Lizard was a poor choice of villain. Curt Connors was played well… except for that “must turn evil” bit, and even there, it played in character more than Doctor Octopus’s character turn in Spider-Man 2.
Mike:. It was in character for the original comics version that evolved over decades. In a two-hour movie (that played like an eight-day bicycle marathon), it was almost campy. At least Alfred Molena had the chops to pull Doc Ock off. I’d seen scarier villains on Doctor Who… in the black-and-white days!
Glenn: One thing that did work for me was the more naturalistic interactions between characters. Garfield and Stone clicked here in a way that Maguire and Dunst never quite did; for that matter, Garfield seemed more natural with everyone – Sally Field’s Aunt May, Martin Sheen’s Uncle Ben, Denis Leary’s Captain George Stacy, and even the crooks.
Mike: I agree, but those moments were brief. ASM wasn’t about the one-man Greek chorus, and that’s good. It’s about a 17 year-old, but only at times did they allow themselves to go there. Tell me. Did you like this movie as much this morning as you did last night?
Glenn: No, but I’ve had a morning that would make Pollyanna grumpy.
Mike: Did anybody applaud at the end? At my screening, absolutely nobody applauded. Not a one. Virtually everybody who wasn’t in the comics business left before the end of the credits.
Glenn: A decent amount of applause, nothing like the roar at the end of Avengers.
And I have to wonder how this plays in the rest of the country, since Spider-Man is really such a New York character.
Mike: That didn’t hurt the development and the success of Marvel Comics, which was almost entirely New York based for decades, and largely remains that way today. There was nothing particularly New Yorkish about the movie. It could have happened in Cleveland or Phoenix.
Glenn: There’s that same moment in this film that came in the first Spider-Man where New Yorkers pull together to help Spidey out.
Mike: New Yorkers like to think they live in the only city that pulls together in a crisis. It’s human nature. It’s what’s kept humans alive as a species. And wolves.
Glenn: Sadly, it didn’t work nearly as well as it did in the first one, mainly due to a big logic problem. There’s a helicopter right above him. Why doesn’t he just hitch a ride on that?
Mike: By the end of the movie I think only Flash Thompson didn’t know Peter was Spider-Man – and he was the one guy who should have figured that out, given all the scenes where Peter used his powers against him.
Glenn: Flash, despite his name, has never been that quick. And Aunt May – well, I don’t know if she knows or not.
Mike: I was never certain what Aunt May understood, except getting over her husband’s death right quick. Oh, and the costume really sucked. Seriously. Cirque du Soleil should stick to cribbing Mummenschanz.
Glenn: One of the nicer bits between Peter and Aunt May is there’s a lot of unspoken subtext there, with her obviously knowing there’s something Peter’s not telling her, but not knowing quite what – maybe that Peter’s suddenly going in for rough trade or something.
Mike: Sally Field handled each scene quite well; not once did I think “Flying Nun!” But together the movie made May Parker seem schizo.
Glenn: Was there anything you liked about this movie?
Mike: Denis Leary, both his performance and the way they handled his character.
Mike: This movie will do well opening weekend because opening weekend lasts six days and has a major holiday in there. But I don’t see it conquering the world. I can understand Garfield wanting to be in Avengers 2. He wants to be in a good super-hero movie.
Glenn: I’m still thinking Sally Field is too young to play Aunt May, but that’s purely a construct that carries over from the comics that has almost no logical basis. Of course she shouldn’t be old enough to be his grandmother, but still.
Mike: You’re absolutely right – if May was Ben’s husband and Ben was Richard’s brother, then Sally was the right age. In the comics Aunt May was born sometime before Barnabas Collins. I should point out I liked this movie more than most of my companions. One, who’s about 17, said it was the worst movie he ever saw. Ric Meyers (who thought less of this than I did) and I replied in unison: “You’re still young.”
Glenn: And ironically, my companion is one of the surliest bastards in comics and prose (David A. Mack, the killer of the Borg) and he enjoyed it even more than I did. This may be the rare film where I can’t easily say in advance whether or not a particular viewer will enjoy themselves.
Mike: Yeah, well I give it a thumb’s up – where the sun don’t shine.
Glenn: I give it a thumb, index finger, and pinky up. Which makes for a very tough review. But hey, kids, go and find out for yourselves.
To promote the release of The Amazing Spider-Man in theaters on July 3, a number of events are taking place in New York City this week, starting with the cast of the movie appearing on The Today Show tomorrow morning, and continuing across all five boroughs from museums and zoos to Yankee Stadium and the Empire State Building.