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Monday, January 16, 2017

Cindy Prascik's Reviews of La La Land & Live by Night

Dearest Blog: This weekend it was off to Marquee Cinemas for La La Land (finally!) and Live By Night.
Spoiler level here will be mild, nothing you wouldn't know from the trailers. I will offer thumbs-up or thumbs-down on endings, without divulging specifics; if that's more than you want to know, read no further until you've seen these.
First up: Oscar hopeful La La Land.
An aspiring actress and a jazz musician chase their dreams in Los Angeles.
Let it be noted, dear reader(s), that, from its first trailer, I've anticipated La La Land as a great movie and likely Best Picture winner. I generally love musicals, and--while romances aren't my favorite--who could resist a pairing as adorable as Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling? Certainly not I! it turns out, La La Land IS a great movie, and the probable Best Picture winner...but it's a lousy musical.
Getting the bad news out of the way first: La La Land features forgettable original tunes and unimaginative choreography. Neither Gosling nor Stone is a great singer, at least not as demonstrated here. (Stone has done Broadway, so I know she has to be better than this.) The musical numbers are exactly why some folks hate musicals: random songs dropped in mostly random places; there's no flow whatsoever. Finally, the movie has a disappointing finale that's so at odds with the rest it feels as if someone accidentally tacked on the ending of a different film. As La La Land's final impression, it casts a heavy shadow on the whole. (This is not a judgment of a happy or unhappy ending; it's about how the ending fits the rest of the picture.)
Having said all that, the good news is, there's lots of good news! La La Land is a compelling enough story that its musical failings are almost entirely forgivable. Stone and Gosling manage to out-cute Lawrence and Pratt as the movie year's most lovable couple, a feat I would have thought impossible. Remarkably, their weak singing voices play as part of a self-deprecating charm, and their characters' struggles and dreams should be relatable to just about anyone. La La Land boasts lovely production design and costumes, and there is one smokin' number, performed by John Legend, that even manages to break the movie's tired-old-showtunes mold.
La La Land clocks in at 128 minutes and is rated PG13 for "some language."
La La Land is a very good movie, a terrible musical, and a love letter to Los Angeles that fails to sell Los Angeles as anything worth loving. 
Of a possible nine Weasleys, La La Land gets seven. 
Next on the docket: Ben Affleck's mob thriller Live by Night.
A Boston mobster takes over Florida operations for a former rival.
By now you've probably heard enough negative commentary to guess Live by Night won't go down in the annals of legendary gangster movies. While that's probably true, that's not to say it isn't a worthwhile afternoon at the pictures.
Writer/director Affleck has created an interesting--if deliberately paced--story full of twists and turns. Per usual, he's crafted himself a role that plays to his stoic style and, while he does an admirable job, it's Sienna Miller who steals the show as his sometime girlfriend. If you're into mob movies in general, there are some...erm...offers people can't refuse, but the violence isn't overly graphic, and the movie never feels like a shoot 'em up where the story only occasionally interrupts.
Live by Night runs 128 minutes and is rated R for "strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity."
Live by Night may not rank among the all-time great gangster pictures, but it's a well-executed tale with a satisfying payout. 
Of a possible nine Weasleys, Live by Night gets six and a half.
Fangirl points: Christian Clemenson! Brendan Gleeson! Titus Welliver!
Until next time... 

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