La La Land (2016)


City of stars, are you shining just for me?

Damien Chazelle is a revolutionary traditionalist. If he helms a movie chronicling the heroic travails of a drummer, he’ll grab you by your ungodly cuffs and make you feel the drummer’s rage and insanity until you start to sweat and swear quietly to yourself, unable to quite comprehend the magnificent crescendo of pure cinematic energy emanating from the screen. If he makes a bittersweet jazz-themed romance musical about the Herculean gap between dreams and reality, he will leave you unbearably dizzy with melancholy by the film’s end, shaken and wounded and gratified and intoxicated.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone pick up on the film’s exuberant flow and take it in stride. Their chemistry makes the film; there is some Annie Hall in there, some Casablanca, but the film, like its stars, is driven forward  with unbridled invention. The seamlessly flowing colors of clothes and aquamarine skylines and the neon-lit streets of L.A. mix together so wholesomely well, you’d think this guy’s been making movies for an entire century now. Because how else does a film like this even exist?

The film belongs to its cast and its director, but it belongs just as much to Tom Cross, whose editing prowess elevates the film’s pathos into some obscure, otherworldly feeling; it belongs to Justin Hurwitz, whose original score is the movie’s thrillingly rich, complex heartbeat; and it belongs to Linus Sandgren who shoots this odyssey in glorious widescreen Cinemascope at 24-paintings-per-second. All my respect and love to the lighting department, production design and make-up crew. La La Land looks and sounds and feels and breathes like a true musical: a relentlessly poignant film that has no other agenda for existing before you except to ask that you give a little more love.

To the people who, like me, sit and stand and walk and live in the sidelines of their lives transfixed by the endless possibilities of how it could all turn out: this movie is for us. Mia and Sebastian are our angels.


Zootopia (2016)


Nothing can quite prepare you for the startling impact of Zootopia. Disney’s new film is a revelatory incantation of distinct, near-unbelievable postmodern sensibilities that touches ponderously on racism, homophobia, gender identity, sexism in male-oriented professions, fear-mongering in mob mentality and doing away with culturally imposed stereotypes by a hierarchically classist social order, to name a few.

It is, by a miracle of concise, masterful storytelling, also a thematically correct neo-noir that calls to mind the works of its genre Gods: Hitchcock; and lord have mercy on my soul for saying this, even the hilariously inept lead detective of P.T. Anderson’s Inherent Vice. Zootopia takes a stand on nudist wellness centres, calls a sloth Flash, and hints ever so subtly on marijuana use.

This is a movie where the old, ever-reliable approach of tabula rasa works the best. Do not read the synopsis, watch the trailer, or read reviews which narrate scenes from the film. Screw that. Go to the movie, watch the kids enjoy the colorful paparazzi of its grandiose, echoey realm of unabashed imagination, and let yourself, as an adult, gape in stunned amazement at the instinctual depth of the narrative. Zootopia possesses a fearless showcase of ballsy moral dilemma, economic inequality and a Godfather bit so funny even thinking about it hurts my stomach.

A character in the film says, “This isn’t some musical where you sing sweet songs and all your insipid dreams magically come true. So let it go.” Sorry, Elsa.

Zootopia joins the pantheon of The Lego Movie and Inside Out to become the next Hollywood animation giant that takes squarely measured shots at everything we, as a civilization are doing (and doing wrong), and hits home, hard. I applaud with complete submission. Holy crap.

Quote from Better Call Saul (2015-).

“I’m open to the universe.”

Season 2 premiere of this deliciously goofy show is an ace. You have to be a genius to make something as enduring as Breaking Bad, but you have to be something beyond that to make a successor that is worthy of that name, those characters and that universe.

Better Call Saul is incredible in its ability to draw us in visually, talk about existential ennui, capitalism; and at the same time, juggle copious amount of humor, beautifully protracted character arcs, and fuck with its own timeline, sometimes do all of it in the same scene. So much so, that at this juncture (especially this episode), it is physically painful to see Jimmy (or S.G., as we would have him) settle into a comfy, honest job. Ironically enough, he is a straight crook to his very bones, and that is precisely why we love him.

This is fictional gold right here, people. Dig in.