Why La La Land?

Spoilers and snobbery ahead!

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With the Academy Awards coming up, I wanted to write a little something about the most buzzed about movie this year, La La Land. It seems whenever a musical or a film focused on dance comes out, suddenly more of my friends and family want to know what I think. As a former dancer and certainly a movie musical aficionado, I get that people might want to know how I rate such a film. Their assumption is usually, “Did you just love it?” Sometimes I do, often I don’t. You see, I am a movie musical snob. My standards for the genre, as well as for the art form of dance within said genre, are probably higher than reasonable, but why shouldn’t they be? When you have a lush history of films that bring together some of the most talented dancers with the most ingenious choreography, along with singers that have defined culture, and filmmakers that pushed the boundaries of what the moving image can do, I think it’s pretty fair to demand a certain quality from a musical.

La La Land doesn’t hold up.

Let me preface this scathing review by telling you that I really wanted to like this film. I really did.

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While there are certainly things I can appreciate about the film – The acting from Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling is fine. These are two top-notch actors with fantastic on-screen chemistry and like-ablity (even when Gosling’s character is being a straight up dick.) The cinematography is interesting and the array of LA locations summon up a “love-letter” to Los Angeles feel akin to, though not nearly as expertly done, as Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Everyone who knows me can attest that I am a sucker for a romantic movie (even a really crap one) so I must admit that my favorite moment of the film is at the end, when we are treated to an imagining of how things might have been if our protagonists had been less self-involved and made different choices. But that’s about all the positive things I can say about the film. Every other aspect of it left me either bored, annoyed, or even offended.

Firstly, why make this film into a musical? What did it really add? The sorry attempt to equate this film with classic musicals like Singin’ in the Rain or Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, which it did through numerous references and homages, seemed arbitrary, and added nothing to the story. Rather it came off as an ego-centric attempt by director Damien Chazelle to try and imitate those films or worse, educate us about them. I know what a good musical is Chaz! It’s the height of hubris to think that one could match those films’ artistry, especially when you cast your main characters with actors who can’t really sing and can’t really dance.

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So that brings me to the singing and dancing. Here’s how I see it – When the acting in a film is terrible chances are it won’t do well at the box office. When you make a musical you are adding additional skills to the recipe – namely singing and dancing – and those skills matter. Well, they should matter. And if you think they don’t matter, you’re essentially flipping the bird at all the incredible artists who worked tirelessly to legitimize this form of entertainment by upping the standards of both vocal range and dance technique – People like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Vincent Minelli and Arthur Freed. Part of this just comes down to casting, but blame also befalls the creative team behind the camera.

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Are you still with me? If so, let me just take a final moment to dissect the element I feel the most qualified to critique – the dancing. Ignoring the fact that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling make the most awkward attempt at on-screen partnering I’ve ever seen; even if you had Robbie Fairchild and Tiler Peck in those roles, the choreography would still fall flat. Predictable, cliche, lazy even, Mandy Moore’s choreography is fine for a music video or a TV show, but when stacked against a genre, and promoted as a peer amongst such films that exposed the masses to the work of Gene Kelly, Michael Kid, Jerome Robbins, Bob Fosse, and George Balanchine, it majorly misses the mark. I certainly do not mean to belittle the many challenges that may have dictated the way this film was choreographed; I imagine having leads not up to the physical requirements was partly an issue. However, I cannot help but feel that Damien Chazelle has done us a serious disservice by undermining the value of truly innovative choreography. He could have hired any of the best, most artistic choreographers working today – Justin Peck, Christopher Wheeldon, Paul Lightfoot or Alexei Ratmansky and I guarantee, the performances would have been better. As it is, the choreography in La La Land is typical, bland, and totally forgettable. Why do it then?

I realize that many aren’t watching the dancing with the same kind of intensity as I may be. I acknowledge that “silly musicals,” even modern ones, are a fantastic gateway for people to get into more complicated representations of the genre. I think that’s incredibly valuable and in this regard, I can conclude that this film does what it needs to do, and I can even be grateful for that. But I cannot condone a film that spends 30 million dollars on a musical meant to be on the artistic level of An American in Paris that instead serves up a sham of production, with terrible choreography, awkward dancing, weak music, and a paper-thin storyline that we’ve already heard a dozen times. It doesn’t move the genre forward, it is simply a sad attempt to imitate it.

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I will say one thing I liked, were the costumes. Well done Mary Zophres!

I am sure the film will win loads of Oscars. But in 50 years will it hold up the way all those classic musicals from the 40’s and 50’s do? I seriously doubt it.

“In the Greatest City in the World”

Gidget Goes Hamilton

There is simply no topping my birthday this past December. The Boy took me to New York to see Hamilton and it was nothing short of perfect in every possible way. 

Gidget Goes Hamilton

Since getting back, people have asked me how the show was, and I immediately melt into a puddle of adjectives, trying my best to put the brilliance of what I saw and experienced into words. But what comes out sounds just like the same overhyped rantings of every other theater geek out there. So, I won’t try to describe it, but I will say, it is without question, the best piece of musical theater I’ve ever seen performed (and I’ve seen a lot.) We were also lucky to have amazing seats and see Okieriete Onaodowan perform his penultimate show as Hercules Mulligan/James Madison. Also, Javier Muñoz was absolutely brilliant as Hamilton. I feel incredibly lucky to have seen his portrayal.

In addition to seeing Hamilton, the Boy and I had a whirlwind two days roaming around the city and doing very New York-ish sorts of things. We literally had two nights in the city before our flight home on Christmas Eve at dawn, so we had to move fast and pack a lot in… We’re good like that though. We managed to do everything we wanted –  from ice skating in Bryant Park, to viewing Lady Liberty, to eating at Momofuku Noodle Bar, to having after-show cocktails at Sardi’s. Here’s a look back at the trip according to my iphone…

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Gidget Goes Hamilton

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Gidget Goes Hamilton

Gidget Goes Hamilton

Gidget Goes Hamilton

Gidget Goes Hamilton

Gidget Goes Hamilton

Gidget Goes Hamilton

Gidget Goes Hamilton

#GidgetGoesHamilton 2016! 😉

Last Call Holiday Films: It’s A Wonderful Life

It’s the last few hours of 2016, so I saved the best holiday film for last – It’s a Wonderful Life.

It's a Wonderful Life

I always tell people that It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t really a holiday film – It’s good all year round, but the final scene does take place on Christmas Eve so I get that it get’s lumped into the holiday movie category. But in my opinion, this film is much more than that.

It’s a Wonderful Life is my favorite Frank Capra film, it’s my favorite Jimmy Stewart film, and it’s my favorite classic film second only to Singin’ in the Rain. It tells the story of George Bailey (Stewart) who, despite having big dreams of travel and business, ends up staying in the same small town he grew up in. Viewing his life through the eyes of his guardian angel, we see all the key moments in his life that led to George’s current state of being. Time and time again, he puts his own desires aside in the name of helping his friends and family. Through his small business efforts, he keeps the tiny town of Bedford Falls from being monopolized by money-grubbing Mr. Potter, “the richest, and meanest man in town,” played to devilish perfection by the brilliant Lionel Barrymore. He makes sacrifices for everyone, and in the end, he feels like a failure, and completely worthless.

It's a Wonderful Life

Perhaps my favorite element of the film is George’s sweet relationship with his wife Mary, played by Donna Reed. She is the epitome of the perfect match for him, and in many ways, becomes his salvation.

It's a Wonderful Life

George is told by Mr. Potter that, with his life insurance policy, he’d be worth more dead than alive, and George is sent into a deep despair. He’s considering ending it all, when salvation comes in the form of his guardian angel – Clarence Oddbody, AS2 (angel second class.) In an effort to “earn his wings,” the humorously sweet Clarence (played by Henry Travers) shows George a world in which he had never been born so that he might see what a difference his life has made on so many others.

It's a Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful Life

There are few films that get at the heart of the human experience so elegantly and honestly. Few films portray the struggle, the romance, and the disappointment of the average American. And few that so poignantly affirm the meaning of life and the true definition of success.

It's a Wonderful Life

It’s a Wonderful Life was released in 1946, but amazingly, I think it especially relevant now. In our corrupt, consumer-driven society obsessed with wealth as the only earmark of success, I think the film’s message is vital. And if you want to watch one last “holiday film” before ringing in 2017, it doesn’t get any better than this one (they even finish the film singing Auld Lang Syne, so bonus!)

Watch It’s a Wonderful Life

Last Call Holiday Films: Holiday Affair

I’m halfway through my Last Call Holiday Film list, so I figured I’d throw in a wild card film – Holiday Affair.

Holiday Affair

I just watched this film for the first time this year and I cannot believe I never stumbled across it before. It’s really cute, and fits right in there with Miracle on 34th Street minus the Santa bit. It stars a charming Janet Leigh (I only have ever seen her in psycho, so seeing her play a smiling, delightful ingenue was a surprise) as a widow who finds herself torn between two men – a steadfast secure lawyer (Wendell Corey) and a funny, but dashing store clerk (Robert Mitchum.) 

What evolves is a fun, but complicated drama as Leigh works through her faithfulness to her late husband, her commitment to Corey, and her unexpected passion for Mitchum. Throw in her precocious six year old son, a toy train, and New York’s Central Park Zoo and you’ve got yourself a Holiday Affair.

Holiday Affair

Holiday Affair

Watch Holiday Affair

Last Call Holiday Films: The Bishop’s Wife

The Bishop's Wife

In all honesty, I think this film is somewhat weird. But it’s Carey Grant, so that makes up for things. The Bishop’s Wife is my second pick for a last-call holiday film because it’s a peculiar look into the lives of a dysfunctional faith-focused family that requires the help of  an angel to get things back on track… (This theme may turn up again!)

The story revolves around an Episcopal Bishop, played by David Niven, who has been working for months on the plans for an elaborate new cathedral which he hopes will be paid for primarily by a wealthy, stubborn widow. In the process, he slips into work-a-holic behaviors and stops giving his wife and child the attention they need and deserve, especially at Christmas time. Enter Dudley, (Carey Grant) an angel sent to wake Niven’s character to the reality that his family is more important than his work. He starts showing the Bishop’s wife Julia, played by Loretta Young, a fantastic time – ice skating, shopping, partaking in snowball fights – sparking jealousy in her husband, and a sudden realization he may be missing out.

The Bishop's Wife

The Bishop's Wife

Perhaps the best thing about this film is that it deals with religious side of Christmas in a completely relatable and non-preachy manner.  Factor in Carey Grant’s charm, played to perfection (mainly because he is perfect) and I mean, what’s not to love? What overlooked housewife wouldn’t be encouraged by Carey Grant’s delightful attention? That’s right, none.

The Bishop's WifeIf you’re looking for a slightly different holiday film, complete with a truly delightful ice-skating scene, then The Bishop’s Wife is what you want!

Watch The Bishop’s Wife