Tag Archives: Hollywood

Film Review: La La Land

La La Land – Insipid But Entertaining

la-la-land-poster

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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Good Night

night night

Night, Night, Sleep Tight: A Novel of Suspense by Hallie Ephron (William Morrow, $14.99, 320 pages)

The setting is Los Angeles, California, and the time is May 1985. Deidre Unger, a woman whose life was forever altered by an event that took place 22 years earlier, finds her father, screenwriter Arthur Unger, drowned in the swimming pool at his sadly neglected house. Deirdre has come from her home in San Diego to assist in readying the house for sale. Her father’s untimely death appears to be an accident but that might not be the case. Deirdre can’t rely on her brother Henry who lives at the house to help her make sense of what has happened. Henry is a slacker and he lives a hazy existence.

Much of Deirdre’s life has been spent limping along on the leg and foot that were crushed in the wreck of Arthur’s Austin Healy convertible back in 1963. The circumstances surrounding the middle of the night drive and subsequent crash are a bit cloudy for her due, in no small part, to the trauma she suffered as a result. As she works to uncover the reason her father has died, Deirdre encounters people from her childhood – a neighbor boy, Tyler Corrigan, and Realtor Joelen Nichol, her best friend.

night night sleep tight wide

Author Hallie Ephron uses her childhood in Beverly Hills and a true-life spectacular only-in-Hollywood event that fascinated her as a pre-teen to underpin this memorable suspense novel. That event was the stabbing death of super glamorous actress Lana Turner’s boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato. This was no ordinary lover’s spat; Turner’s daughter Cheryl Crane was the killer.

Although characters Joelen Nichol and her mother, Bunny, have a past not unlike Turner and Crane, the similarity ends there. Ephron uses her considerable writing skills to draw the reader into a cleverly woven plot while maintaining a tone that places this book in the category of literature. The treatment of the scenes is cinematic and yet subtle. Readers who are familiar with southern California will easily see the places and scenes in their minds.

Hallie Ephron

The initial attraction to this Ephron’s work was spurred by this reviewer’s enjoyment of her sister Nora’s writing; however, Hallie now has a new fan. I look forward to reading her past and future works.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Elusive Hummingbird

Fastest Things Amazon

Fastest Things on Wings: Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood by Terry Masear (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25.00, 306 pages)

When Frank and I first moved into West Hollywood, twenty years ago, it took me three months to attract one hummingbird to my feeder. Now, with the explosion in the local population that has resulted from over five hundred releases and their progeny, new sugar feeders immediately draw dozens of interested birds.

Hummingbirds, the zippy little colorful creatures that fascinate the young and old alike – humans and felines, are well documented in Fastest Things on Wings. Educator-writer Terry Masear has dedicated her “free time” to rescue and rehabilitate hummingbirds that have dropped from nests, been caught by cats, or fallen down while perched on tree branches trimmed by city maintenance workers. You name it, and Ms. Masear has heard of a way that these little birds have been put in peril. She takes calls from people who have found them in dire straights.

As there are two sugar feeders hanging from a gazebo just outside our kitchen door and a large bougainvillea climbing nearby, the daily visitors are often the subjects of excited viewing. Other than the recipe for their food (one-half cup of white granulated sugar dissolved in two cups of boiling water that is then left to cool) there’s not much this reviewer knew about our little buddies.

During the months that I don’t have to teach classes in the morning, I gather fresh flowers for the fledglings in large flight cages and young adults in the aviary.

Ms. Masear, like her subjects, flits between narratives of her own experiences fueled by an undeniable dedication to rescuing and rehabilitating the tiny birds and a somewhat repetitive discourse on the growth and development of hummingbirds in general. This back and forth between the styles is interspersed with in depth segments chronicling the challenges presented by one or two standout birds in particular. Ms. Masear’s writing style tends toward very long sentences. This book could have benefited from more editing.

The book includes color photos toward the last half of the text. These photos provide the reader with the opportunity to get up really close to the little buzzing wonders.

Well recommended to hummingbird and nature lovers.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “This is a book that is actually a book about love.” Los Angeles Times

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My Man

James Dean 2

Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die: James Dean’s Final Hours by Keith Elliot Greenberg (Applause Theater & Cinema Books, $24.99, 286 pages)

“Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.” James Dean

Some will be tempted to buy this book based on the subtitle, James Dean’s Final Hours. It’s not so much a minute-by-minute account of Dean’s last day as it is a short biography. The subtitle is a hook to draw the reader in.

If you’re interested in Dean, but not so much that you would want to read a 400, 500 or 600 page bio, this may serve your purposes. Yes, it does cover the circumstances and details of the actor’s death in September of 1955, but it’s told in a style that bounces all over, around and about Dean’s life. The reader who appreciates a chronological telling of a true story may find this somewhat frustrating.

Also frustrating is a high amount of repetition. For example, more times than I could count the writer makes a statement to the effect that, “Much of Jimmy’s inner torment came from the early demise of his mother.” Stating this once would have been sufficient. Greenberg is fixated with the notion that those close to Dean all died under untimely and strange circumstances. And like many Hollywood biographers, he’s a bit too caught up in his subject’s sex life.

A fascinating story told in a less than captivating manner.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on September 15, 2015.

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The Chain

The Perfect Ghost: A Novel by Linda Barnes (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 310 pages)

I know it’s not art… but it’s writing. It’s work, a bold answer to the inevitable question What do you do? It’s a way to support myself beyond mere and meager subsistence. It’s a life. It’s my life.

The Perfect Ghost (nook book)

This is a story that devolves before the reader’s eyes. The Perfect Ghost begins as a novel filled with beautiful language that brings to mind Maggie Pouncey’s novel, Perfect Reader. Ghost is about a ghost-writer, Em Moore, who works with a partner — the public face of the team — to write a highly successful non-fiction book about Hollywood celebs. When the partner suddenly dies, Em must fight tooth and nail to convince the publishing company to let her finish a follow-up book about a famous film director for which she and her deceased partner had a contract.

Unfortunately, author Barnes — who in the past wrote numerous mysteries — is not content to stick with this intriguing story line. Instead, the book veers off the main road (that of a novel) and turns into a diversionary journey (a mystery) about multiple crimes. As in most mysteries, all is resolved in the final pages. But by then the thrill is gone.

At just 300 pages this story is almost a novella, which means that not too many hours of reading will have been wasted. That’s small comfort, very small. You know an author is in trouble when she begins larding the story with lines from Shakespeare’s plays.

“All’s well that ends well.” Such is not the case here.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on April 9, 2013.

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Here Comes the Night

Full Black: A Thriller by Brad Thor (Pocket Books, $15.00, 379 pages)

If Barry Goldwater were alive today, he might well identify Brad Thor as his favorite author.   For it was Goldwater who said, “Extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice.   And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”   Thor’s action-thriller protagonist, Scott Harvath, lives by these words; Harvath’s a former Navy Seal Team 6 member who’s now a covert counterterrorism operative for a CIA contractor.   Harvath does not wear kid gloves to work.   He often goes “full black” – meaning that his undercover missions officially do not exist.   He not only hunts down and kills terrorists, he maims and tortures them to get the information he  needs, and may kill them after promising to spare their lives.

There are no shades of grey in agent Harvath’s world and there’s more than a touch of paranoia:

“The only way to disrupt the enemy, and beat them so far back that they couldn’t attack, was to relentlessly hunt them down like the animals they were and unceasingly take the fight to them.   That meant the gloves were off.   It also meant that certain operations had to be kept secret from grandstanding politicians…”

As Full Black opens, there’s been a deadly home invasion – seemingly involving former Russian secret policemen – at the residence of a Hollywood documentary producer.   This does not seem like a major development but interest on the part of the media builds when the producer suddenly disappears.   And the company that Harvarth works for sees this as the signal preceding a major terrorist attack – the largest since 9/11 – financed by a billionaire who hates the U.S.

“If we began hanging traitors, we’d lose a good many of our politicians, business and union leaders…”

Harvath is sent to Los Angeles to begin unraveling the mystery of the home invasion which he views as beyond the capabilities of the LAPD to solve.   He’s got several resources on his side, including a computer genius and a highly-experienced mentor, but it’s hard to separate the good guys from the bad in Harvath’s world.   For Harvath, paranoia equals a very principled loyalty to the U.S., and he believes that the means are always justified by the end.

“…at some point in the last seventy-or-so years, the political class had become completely disconnected from reality…”

On its face, this may sound like Kill Shot by Vince Flynn and Red Cell by Mark Henshaw, but unlike those espionage thrillers, Full Black does not start out in overdrive.   Thor takes his time building interest in the story, making sure the reader’s fully invested in the tale before building speed.   Once Thor shifts into second, third, four, and fifth gear, you’ll see why his books are found in bookstores, airports and your local grocery store.   His writing style might occasionally be over the top, but as Mitt Romney might say, “You can’t argue with success.”

The end of Full Black is actually the beginning of Thor’s next thriller.   Get ready to put that one on your nightstand.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Black List: A Thriller by Brad Thor will be released by Atria Books on July 24, 2012.

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Deacon Blues

Red Cell: A Novel by Mark Henshaw (Touchstone, $24.99, 336 pages)

The president of Taiwan orders the arrest of a set of spies from China, and China retaliates with a military attack.   As the U. S. moves battleships into the war area, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) learns that its top mole within China, “Pioneer”, has been uncovered; and that the president of China is ready to go to war with America.   It seems that the Red Chinese have a secret weapon known only by the code name The Assassin’s Mace.

With the prospect of a war to end all wars on the horizon, The Company turns to Kyra Stryker, a young Jason Bourne-like agent who barely survived her prior mission in Venezuela.   Now she’s called upon to not only rescue Pioneer, but to also – as a member of the select Red Cell think tank, find and destroy The Assassin’s Mace.   Nothing less than the future of the Free World rests in her hands.

Mark Henshaw has written an espionage thriller that can stand beside the very best of its genre.   A former, highly-decorated CIA analyst and member of the Red Cell, Henshaw takes us deep within the world of spies, from Virginia to South America and Asia.   This one will make a great film, and every young actress in Hollywood will vie for the role of Kyra Stryker!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Red Cell was released on May 1, 2012 and is also available as a Kindle Edition and Nook Book download.

 

 

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