Tag Archives: Diana Y. Paul

Film Review: La La Land

La La Land – Insipid But Entertaining

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This 2016 Academy Award nominated musical (a record tying 14 nominations), written and directed by Damien Chazelle (the wunderkind creator of the astonishing Whiplash) is this year’s can-do-no-wrong romantic comedy starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

La La Land is a bold resurrection of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers 1940-50s musical with a blend of nostalgia (using filtered-lens cinematography and period costumes) mixed with the novelty of contemporary millennial life in Los Angeles.  A flip-book of competing images of vintage and modern L.A. with twirling skirts and old-fashioned dancing, La La Land is all about dreaming for the big break in Hollywood.

An undeniable paean to the joy and ecstasy of following your passions, this film also touches upon the sacrifices to one’s personal life, to missed connections and to other dreams that will never come true.  Part “Never-Never Land” and part “Singing in the Rain.”  However, the conventional storyline – love versus ambition – never rises above being forgettable.

Perhaps the most interesting interlude in the film, however, is Mia and Seb’s friend, Keith (John Legend) whose relaxed approach to the commercial aspects of being a musician challenge Seb’s dogmatic “purist” views of selling out to music venues.  The difference between selling out and breaking through is not always clear, and La La Land is not so hypocritical as to pretend otherwise.  I loved this observation.

The cinematography and special effects are the best part of this movie.  Except for the song “City of Stars,” the music is more competent than dazzling.  You’re more likely to remember what you saw than what you heard.

La La Land (2016) Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Where is La La Land going?  Is this Hollywood couple going to make it after all?  Should we care?  The film suffers from what it is supposed to parody:  Hollywood’s addiction to artifice and self-congratulation.  (Amen, sister!  – Ed.)  By the end, La La Land is an imperfect film that entertains, partly because it is a pleasant surprise to see Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone singing and dancing.

Sometimes a movie comes along that is entertaining and refreshingly light when we desire that intensely.  Right for this moment, viewers can forgive La La Land for being a not very good but deliciously tasty confection of sound and color.  I expected more given all the awards and accolades.

Diana Y. Paul

Diana Y. Paul is a retired Stanford professor, an expert on Buddhism and an author (Things Unsaid: A Novel).  You can read more of her reviews at the Unhealed Wound blog:

http://www.unhealedwound.com/

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Sounding the Alarm

tolling of mercedes bell

The Tolling of Mercedes Bell: A Novel (She Writes Press, $18.95, 416 pages)

In the style and spirit of P.D. James, author Jennifer Dwight captures the tough terrain of a psychological thriller. Presented through an unflinching panoramic vision, the reader soon is pulled into the harrowing six-year journey of Mercedes Bell, a thirty-four-year-old paralegal; a recent widow with a four-year-old daughter. She soon finds what she believes is her dream come true. This award winning book novel lays the groundwork for its shocking, blood-curdling climax with a careful, meticulously crafted build-up of subtle clues.

After the midpoint in the narrative, when the plot reaches a crescendo following an accumulation of very subtle descriptions foreshadowing doom, we are still treated to vivid emotional imagery:

she was trapped into a reality, as if she had stepped into an Escher illustration where the stairs that seemed to go up really went down; where the doors that seemed to open to the outside really opened inward, into dark places of suspicion and fear.

tollling of MB amazon

This is a wonderful page-turner, with a number of of unpredictable subplots. I loved even the dastardly characters because I felt I could understand their insecurities and fears! In summary, this is a wonderful and astonishing page-turner and debut novel.

Highly recommended.

Diana Y. Paul

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on May 3, 2016.

Diana Y. Paul is the author of Things Unsaid: A Novel. You can read more of her entertainment and cultural reviews at the Unhealed Wound blog:

http://unhealedwound.com/

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“Brooklyn” – New World versus Old

Brooklyn-Movie-Poster-Saoirse-Ronan

“Brooklyn,” which was nominated for a 2016 Academy Award for best picture in a list of much more intensely themed dramas, is an easy movie to fall in love with. A classic boy-meets-girl coming-of-age film, set in the early 50s and reminiscent of movies of that era. Two young immigrants meet in Brooklyn and fall in love, yet the young woman still yearns for the country and home she left behind. Based on Colm Toibin’s novel of the same title (screenplay by Nick Hornby), “Brooklyn” conveys a specific historical time and worldview but the wounds and dilemmas are universal.

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Saoirse Ronan plays Ellis, a young Irish woman who has few options back home in the Green Isle. Adventurous but devoted to her widowed mother and sister, she feels unanchored, desperate to find a more welcoming environment in which to navigate her adulthood. Tenderhearted, gentle, and hesitant in speech, Ellis soon falls in love with a young Italian immigrant whose culture is every bit as new to her as living in Brooklyn.

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The film “Brooklyn” is much more than a simple coming-of-age tale, however. It is a story of choosing between the family one grows up in and the one created as an adult. Brooklyn – the location – symbolizes new frontiers of freedom and opportunity with little regard for the economic decisions Ellis must make. Ellis must find her own identity while choosing between two value systems and two futures.

Ronan, who was nominated for Best Actress (and cast in “Attonement,” “Lovely Bones,” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel”), gives a stunning performance as the innocence-lost maiden who has to understand what truly is the nature of home. Her moral choices are somewhat predictable but the dilemma is a universal one – choosing another’s happiness over one’s own, deciding on one’s own future first, or trying to have both. This young twenty-two year old actress is a pleasure to watch as she gains confidence one small victory at a time.

The overarching theme is one of possibility (which can be frightening) and independence (which can be depressing and isolating) versus the tradition and comfort of family. The known versus the unknown. Many have to make the decision of which path to take in life. These aren’t the life-and-death stakes we typically see in the movies but they’re the decisions that often dictate or determine fates.

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“Brooklyn” is classic! Highly recommended.

Diana Y. Paul

To see more reviews and articles by Diana Paul, go to:

http://unhealedwound.com/

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Don’t Talk

Things Unsaid B&N

Things Unsaid: A Novel by Diana Y. Paul (She Writes Press, $16.95, 300 pages)

“She had a college-age daughter now who needed her attention. Her daughter’s dream choice was Stanford. Everyone deserved to have dreams. But in order to make her daughter’s dreams a reality, Jules needed to change. Now. And fast. And her parents had to change, too, or they would all be destroyed.”

Leo Tolstoy said, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Things Unsaid is a novel about a very unhappy family; it’s a tale which may prove Tolstoy wrong as they appear to be unhappy in a common way. This is a typical American family in which each member cares far too much about what other family members think, do and say; for some reason, each member of the family is afraid of every other member.

Paul’s novel makes for an engaging, yet often disturbing, read. My suspicion is that readers who hail from highly dysfunctional families will get the most from it; they will identify with its characters. Those raised in emotionally healthy families – where people actually speak and listen to each other, and value each other’s hopes and dreams, may find it nearly incomprehensible.

Things is about a woman who sacrifices almost everything in her adult life, including her husband and daughter, to please her extremely demanding, elderly, parents. She must hit bottom before seeing that she’s throwing her own life away. It’s a valuable morality play, but I’d like to see Paul tackle something lighter and brighter the next time around.

Recommended for a select audience.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the author.

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Film Review: Trainwreck

Trainwreck – A Comic Collision

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Trainwreck is the best and funniest rom-com since Bridesmaids, another hilarious quasi-feminist film by Judd Aptow, known also for bro-coms like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. And like previous Aptow productions Bridesmaids and Girls, Trainwreck is both funny and a little sad. The scenes that are the most memorable and vivid, however, are comic fireworks. Written by and starring Amy Schumer, the humor is raunchy, pushes the boundaries of conventional one-liners, and is as sexually explicit as Schumer’s Comedy Central TV series.

Amy Townshend (Schumer) is the daughter of a cantankerous, alcoholic dad (Colin Quinn) with infidelity and commitment issues. Amy naturally follows in his footsteps. Disagreements with her younger sister about Dad’s assisted living expenses become a key indicator of Amy’s attitude toward the deeply unsympathetic man who helped shape the mess she’s become. And it’s all too clear that Amy’s commitment-phobia, compulsive drinking, and pot smoking are masking deeper wounds. As a staff writer for a low brow men’s magazine, Amy gets assigned to interview Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), a sports doctor to the elite like LeBron James (who surprises with impeccable comic timing). The reason for the assignment: she hates sports.

Schumer and Hader have unbelievable chemistry together. Hader’s goofy Mr. Nice Guy channels Tom Hanks early on in his career. And he plays perfectly to Schumer’s fear of intimacy and seeming invulnerability. That’s the basic theme here: rejecting those we desire before they have a chance to reject us. The why-try-if-we-know-how-it-will-end syndrome.

And what a comic team Schumer and Hader make! Funny or serious, they approach every scene without skipping a beat in timing. Open, fearless, undefended, masterful. The supporting cast (Tilda Swinton, Quinn, Vanessa Bayer, Brie Larson) also delivers hilarious and moving performances. What every great comedy requires!

Some of the comedy in this film may not appeal to all, but Schumer’s a juggernaut for women in comedy just as much as her predecessors: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, and Lena Dunahm, most of whom have been supported by Apatow. Beat for beat, Trainwreck is one of Aptow’s most consistently funny and charming films ever.

I want to see more of Amy Schumer!

Highly recommended.

Diana Y. Paul

This review was first posted on the Unhealed Wound blog:

http://unhealedwound.com/

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Muscle Shoals

Film Review: “Muscle Shoals” – Music Muscle from the Deep South

A 2013 documentary about an Alabama musical legacy, Muscle Shoals brings to light and life a group of musicians who never had their day in the sun.

Muscle Shoals

Two iconic recording studios in the tiny town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama – FAME (est. 1959) and its spin-off Muscle Shoals Sound (1960) – became the “must have” sound for, among others, Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynrd, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Boz Scaggs, Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, Etta James, and many other legendary Rock-and-Roll artists. The magic of a group of background musicians, who called themselves the “Swampers,” some of whom were classically trained, were the touchstone of FAME. The Swampers were all white (a fact that was to surprise Paul Simon). Keep in mind this is the early 60’s.

Muscle Shoals, which premiered at the Sundance Music Festival in January of 2013, is the love story of America’s music roots in the Deep South. For this viewer, some of the most spellbinding scenes focus on Rick Hall, the pioneer and open-minded founder of FAME studio. Hall’s own poverty and family upheavals allowed him to empathize with the racial hostility young music artists of color faced in most of the United States, not just the south. Before the Civil Rights Movement became a force shaping our country’s history, FAME gave some of our most creative musicians their break in the music business. The film gives the impression that the principals of FAME were unaware of the significance of their race-neutral music production.

Hall was to bring black and white music together. He produced signature music: “I’ll Take You There,” “Brown Sugar,” and “When A Man Loves a Woman”. White studio musicians were to make unknown black artists famous.

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Muscle Shoals bears witness to how Hall’s color-blind passion for music infused a magnetism, mystery, and magic into the music that became known as the Muscle Shoals Sound. The filmmaker allows the key players to speak for themselves, including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, and Etta James. On its own, the cinematography of Muscle Shoals, the backwater town along the Tennessee River is an eye opener. And Muscle Shoals is not to be missed for its music history, racial progressiveness, and its imagery. It’s a visceral and magical vision!

Highly recommended.

Diana Y. Paul

Postscript:

1.) The original Muscle Shoals Sound Studios building is listed in on The National Register of Historic Places and maintained by the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation. The foundation’s goal is to turn the historic building into a music museum.

2.) FAME is still owned by Rick Hall and his son Rodney. Beats Electronics, because of this film, is underwriting the renovation of FAME to support young musicians.

3.) Actor Johnny Depp is developing this movie into a TV series, according to Variety.

You can read more from writer, artist and retired Stanford professor Diana Y. Paul at her blog Unhealed Wound:

http://unhealedwound.com/

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Love and Mercy

“Love & Mercy” – Mostly Good Vibrations: A Film Review.

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If you remember the 1960’s classic album Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, there is a good chance you will enjoy the movie “Love & Mercy.”

In a highly innovative flashback structure in which Paul Dano plays twenty-something Brian Wilson and John Cusack plays his fifty-something 1980’s version, we see the backstory of a creative musical genius whose abusive childhood and teen life results in destructive adult behavior. Based on a biography of Brian Wilson, “Love & Mercy” tells the horrific tale of a pioneering musician and the wounds which never seemed to heal.

But a tragic childhood can have moments of redemption and hope. This film has both, with the introduction of Melinda Ledbetter (played beautifully by Elizabeth Banks, earlier seen in the film “Invincible”).

Brian (Dano): “I would listen to those harmonies. I would teach them to my brothers and we’d all sing… How about you, Melinda? Why don’t you have a boyfriend?”

Melindal Ledbetter (Banks): “He broke my heart.”

Brian: “He shouldn’t have done that.”

Melinda: “I shouldn’t have let him.

And that dialogue foreshadows one of the major motifs in “Love & Mercy”. Those closest to Brian let Eugene Landy, a tyrannical therapist use and abuse him, just as Brian’s father had. Paul Giamatti delivers a gripping performance as Landy reminding this viewer of JK Simmons in “Whiplash.”

And the music! It is absolutely essential to evoking and understanding the time period and the genius that is Brian Wilson. For those who do not know music theory well, “Love and Mercy” provides a hint as to why Wilson is considered to be one of the greats in music. He develops bold new orchestrations and arrangements, new sound textures in an analog era that, to those listening today, are taken for granted as marking the standard for the sixties and the seventies. His choral harmony, falsetto voice, and instrumentations were the most innovative of his time. Even the Beatles borrowed from him.

Beach Boys Concert poster

Understanding Wilson’s revolutionary compositions and inventiveness in his recordings (for example, by separating vocal tracks from instrumentals) is to appreciate when Brian’s mind was most stable, when he was most himself. His unbounded enthusiasm, however, was also indistinguishable, at times, from desperation.

“Love and Mercy” has some glaring flaws, especially if the viewer is aware of the details of Wilson’s life. In portraying the two lives of Wilson (pre-fame and post-fame), the movie sometimes loses momentum, with incomplete scenes suggesting a bigger story. This viewer was left with questions: Why didn’t Wilson’s family intervene when Landy was blatantly abusing him? What happened to the courageous maid Gloria who risked deportation? Who finally bought the legal challenge that ended Landy’s guardianship of Brian? Since Wilson’s father Murry is featured in several abusive encounters, one is left to wonder how he was treated by his mother Audree.

Brian with She & Him No Pier Pressure

Still, “Love and Mercy” deserves to become a classic not just for music lovers but for movie and biography aficionados. The single “Good Vibrations” was a signal to the world of Brian Wilson’s unique musical genius. “Love & Mercy” is a paean to the ongoing glory of Brian Wilson.

Highly recommended.

Diana Y. Paul

You can read more from writer-author, artist and instructor Diana Y. Paul by visiting her blog, Unhealed Wound, at:

http://unhealedwound.com/

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