Movie reviews

'La La Land' cute, catchy but not perfect

Film has garnered numerous awards plus an armload of Oscar nominations

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Right off the bat, I’m going to say what needs to be said: “La La Land” is flawed. Despite its mountain of accolades, it is not the best musical ever made.

It does, however, accomplish what any serviceable musical must do: It dazzles. It excites. And, it will make you shrug off the grimy overcoat of today’s contentious reality to embrace a deliciously candy-colored cinematic fantasy as soon as that now-famous freeway traffic jam dance sequence hits the screen.

In many ways, writer-director Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” is fashioned just like those classic song-and-dance pictures that helped audiences forget about war and unemployment and hunger, even if just for an hour or two. That it does so amid gleaming modern Los Angeles and the lives of a struggling jazz musician and actress — with only the tiniest hint of cynicism and fashionable irony — is surprising.

Its plot focuses on the budding romance between Mia and Sebastian (Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, respectively), who briefly encounter each other at the end of that aforementioned traffic jam dance sequence. It’s winter, so Sebastian is on his way to a gig where he plays piano at a bistro where he is required by management to play a rigid set list made up of Christmas music. Mia, who also works as a barista on a movie lot, is anxious about an audition — right before getting coffee splooshed on her white blouse.

As we follow them through the seasons, we learn that Sebastian wants to ultimately run his own jazz club where the roots of the genre would be respected. Mia wants to be a star, to see her name in lights and to walk into a coffeehouse with all eyes upon her. Gosling and Stone, while cute and stunning to look at, don’t feel quite right for their roles.

Both characters have no money and, although talented, are probably working too hard at trying for a modicum of success. When they finally meet again, it’s by chance and amid one of those breathlessly cinematic moments where the camera mimics the audience’s emotions to move in closer and savor the color and mastery of the director’s art. Stone and Gosling will no doubt cement this instant as a time in their lives when the Hollywood dream factory actually made good on its promise.

The thing about musicals – and probably one reason I’m not terribly fond of them – is that they have only been sporadically great. To me, during Hollywood’s golden age, they were peopled by actors who were finely trained as entertainers in a wide variety of disciplines, whether on the stage or on the screen. They could sing and dance and act, all at the same time while wearing suits and ties, flowing gowns, gang attire, six-guns and petticoats. Rarely were they cemented into one genre, probably because big studios cranked out so many pictures that an actor had to be versatile or they wouldn’t work. In “La La Land,” which Chazelle wrote for the screen, so many movie musicals are referenced that a specially fan-edited YouTube video recalls them all side by side. But, without knowing that, it might seem completely fresh and original, something to make audiences wonder whether it might spawn a whole new resurgence. Don’t get me wrong. I really did enjoy it and the songs were catchy enough to dig an earworm through my brain. But, I didn’t feel like dancing out of the theater humming one of those tunes.

Back in the day, a picture like this would be followed up with the affirmation: “Isn’t that what we go to the movies for?” I’d say “yes,” even still.

“La La Land” is rated PG-13 for some language.

This film is screening daily at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4145 or visit storyteller7.com.

Also showing in Taos

The following were compiled from press materials.

A Dog’s Purpose

MPAA rating: PG for thematic elements and some peril

Mitchell Storyteller 7

A devoted dog (voiced by Josh Gad) discovers the meaning of its own existence through the lives of the humans it teaches to laugh and love. Reincarnated as multiple canines over the course of five decades, the lovable pooch develops an unbreakable bond with a kindred spirit named Ethan (Bryce Gheisar). As the boy grows older and comes to a crossroad, the dog once again comes back into his life to remind him of his true self. This film was the subject of controversy after a video was leaked by TMZ.com allegedly showing a frightened dog apparently forced into rushing water during the making of the film. However, the American Humane organization stated Friday (Feb. 3) that an independent animal-cruelty expert concluded that “preventative safety measures were in place. The group also said that the leaked video was deliberately edited to mislead the public.”

This film will be screened daily.

Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.

Arrival

MPAA rating: PG-13 for brief strong language

Movies at the TCA

In director Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival,” a dozen identical spacecraft appear at different locations scattered across the world. Not surprisingly, almost everyone on the planet goes into instant panic mode. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner play advanced scientists who are recruited to look into the intentions of the visitors. Ian Donnelly (Renner) is a math professor and Louise Banks (Adams) is an expert linguist. As they are transported to the American site, located in Montana, they discover that the nations where each craft has landed is doing what they are, puzzling out a way to communicate with the extraterrestrials — from scratch. Forest Whitaker plays Col. Weber, the voice of the military, and Tzi Ma plays Gen. Shang, a Chinese leader.

Mind you, there are some parts of the story that aren’t exactly linear, but at the end, all will become clear. Villeneuve’s film is part of a new wave of science fiction, which looks at the ways humanity might actually deal with something literally out of this world. In the 1950s, it was all about exploiting Cold War fear. In the ‘80s, we discovered nostalgia about our own legends. In the ‘90s, it was amped-up scary, gory, destructive, mindless insanity. Maybe now we’re finally getting serious about this. Could this be a blueprint? Cue “Twilight Zone” music.

This film will be screened at 2 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 5) and at 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday (Feb. 6-8).

Movies at the TCA film series, Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call the Taos Center for the Arts at (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

MPAA rating: R for sequences of violence throughout

Mitchell Storyteller 7

Picking up immediately after the events in “Resident Evil: Retribution” (2012), Alice (Milla Jovovich) is the only survivor of what was meant to be humanity’s final stand against the undead. Now, she must return to where the nightmare began: The Hive in Raccoon City, where the Umbrella Corporation is gathering its forces for a final strike against the only remaining survivors of the apocalypse. A TV series is supposedly in the works following the release of this final installment to the “Resident Evil” film franchise, according to imdb.com.

This film will be screened daily.

Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.

Split

MPAA rating: PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language

Mitchell Storyteller 7

From writer-director M. Night Shyamalan comes this acting tour de force by star James McAvoy. While the mental divisions of those with dissociative identity disorder have long fascinated and eluded science, it is believed that some can also manifest unique physical attributes for each personality, a cognitive and physiological prism within a single being. Although Kevin (McAvoy) has evidenced 23 personalities to his trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), there remains one still submerged who is set to materialize and dominate all the others. Compelled to abduct three teenage girls, led by the willful Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy), Kevin reaches a war for survival among all of those contained within him — as well as everyone around him — as the walls between his compartments shatter apart.

This film will be screened daily.

Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.

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