Saturday, January 21, 2017

Top Ten DVD List for January 24, 2016

This Week’s DVD Releases
by Kam Williams


Ixcanul

Peanuts by Schulz: Snoopy Tales

The Man Who Fell to Earth [Limited Collector's Edition]

The Code: Season 2


The Light between Oceans

Inferno

Sea Monsters: The Definitive Guide


Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Guardians of Oz


Honorable Mention

16 for 16: The Contenders

The Incredible Dr. Pol: Season 9

Adventure Time: Islands [Miniseries]

X-Rated

Odd Squad: The Movie

American Experience: The Battle of Chosin

Smithsonian: Polar Bear Town: Season 1

USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage





Friday, January 20, 2017

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

 
Film Review by Kam Williams



High-Octane Franchise Revived by the Return of Vin Diesel as the Title Character

When it was released back in 2002 , xXx grossed over a quarter-billion dollars worldwide in theaters alone. The visually-captivating espionage adventure starring Vin Diesel was reminiscent of James Bond, except it featured a hunkier hero and more spectacular stunts and special effects. 
 
The high-octane thriller so overshadowed the relatively-mundane Die Another Day that year that Pierce Brosnan would soon be replaced by Daniel Craig as 007. Ironically, Vin Diesel was also replaced by Ice Cube in xXx 2, a drismal sequel that bombed at the box office, leaving a once-promising franchise on life support. 
 
It's taken a decade and a half, but Vin is finally reprising the role he originated. The good news is that the picture arrives laced with the sort of death-defying feats that made the first xXx such a hit. That means a plethora of action sequences in which our superhuman protagonist proves impervious to bullets and the laws of gravity. 
 
There are also tons of the trademark titillation, coming courtesy of both Vin's beefcake and a bevy of adoring beauties. Directed by D.J. Caruso (Disturbia), xXx: Return of Xander Cage even tips its hat to earlier episodes via cameos by Samuel L. Jackson and Ice Cube. 
 
At the point of departure, we find Xander living under the radar in self-imposed exile in Latin America. He's still an extreme sports enthusiast, and just for fun skis across the treetops of a verdant rain forest before switching to a skateboard for an equally-breathtaking ride down a winding mountainside highway. 
 
Next thing you know, he's being coaxed out of retirement by a CIA chief (Toni Collette) to keep the world safe for democracy. The mission involves retrieving a devastating weapon of mass destruction code-named "Pandora's Box" that's fallen into the hands of a gang of daredevils led by a diabolical trio (Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa and Deepika Padukone) bent on world domination.

After jettisoning a standard-issue, U.S. military support team, Xander recruits a motley crew of renegades more in his own image. Can that rag-tag posse, composed of a crack sniper (Ruby Rose), a fearless getaway driver (Rory McCann), a state-of-the-art gadget wizard (Nina Dobrev) and an affable DJ/ jack-of-all-trades (Kris Wu), rise to the occasion?

Why not? Anything is possible, with cartoon physics on your side!


Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity and pervasive violence`
Running time: 107 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures


To see a trailer for xXx: Return of Xander Cage, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQEFmHsseaU


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Inferno


 
Blu-ray Review by Kam Williams


Hanks Reprises Role as Crime-Solving Symbologist in Latest Adaptation of Dan Brown Thriller

Dan Brown is the author of a quartet of best-selling mysteries featuring Harvard Professor Robert Langdon as the protagonist. The phenomenally-popular novels have sold over 100 million copies and counting, with the fifth in the series slated to be released in the fall of 2017.
Screen versions of the first two Robert Langdon books, The Da Vinci Code (2006) and Angels & Demons (2009), netted over a billion dollars at the box office. So, it's no surprise that another adaptation might be in order.

Inferno reunites director Ron Howard with Tom Hanks who reprises his lead role as a genius with an uncanny knack for deciphering ancient symbols and religious iconography. And Howard enlisted the assistance of a stellar support cast which includes Ben Foster, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan and Omar Sy.

Inferno is easily the most successful of the offerings, as it reins in Langdon's earlier tendency to overindulgence in inscrutable jargon. This go round, the intellectual badinage has been minimized to make way for a flurry of visually-captivating action sequences.

Another plus is the easy to follow plotline. The point of departure is a hospital in Florence, Italy which is where we find Langdon suffering from amnesia yet lucky to be alive given how a bullet to the head only grazed his scalp. 
 
Before we even have a chance to blink, a gun-toting assassin (Ana Ularu) arrives to finish the job. Fortunately, Langdon's gorgeous doctor, Sienna Brooks (Jones), not only helps him escape on the spot, but is prepared to abandon her practice to go on the run with her traumatized patient. 
 
As it turns out, the hit woman was part of a much larger conspiracy. For, she was merely doing the bidding of Bertrand Zobrist (Foster), an evil billionaire on the verge of hatching a disturbing solution for the world's overpopulation problem. Essentially, the madman's plan is to unleash a lethal virus designed to kill half the people on the planet in less than a week. 
 
That sets the stage for Langdon and Sienna's dizzying race against time to unearth a cornucopia of clues enabling them to track down and disarm the diabolical Zobrist. That in a nutshell is the sum and substance of Inferno, except for a humdinger of a twist it would be unfair to spoil. 
 
Easily, the most accessible, engaging, entertaining and cinematic adaptation of a Dan Brown thriller yet!



Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for action, violence, profanity, disturbing images, mature themes and brief sensuality
In English, French and Italian with subtitles
Running time: 121 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Extras: Deleted and extended scenes; Ron Howard: A Director's Journal; A Look at Langdon; The Billionaire Villain: Bertrand Zobrist; This Is Sienna Brooks; Inferno around the World; and Vision of Hell.



To see a trailer for Inferno, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RH2BD49sEZI

To order a copy of Inferno on Blu-ray, visit:
  
 

Kam's Kapsules for movies opening January 27, 2017

 

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams


OPENING THIS WEEK

BIG BUDGET FILMS

A Dog's Purpose (PG for peril and mature themes) Three-time Oscar-nominee Lasse Hallstrom directed this adaptation of W. Bruce Cameron's fantasy novel of the same name about an anthropomorphic, reincarnating pooch (Josh Gad) that uncovers the meaning of life with the help of a series of owners. With Dennis Quaid, Peggy Lipton and Britt Robertson.

Gold (R for sexuality, nudity and pervasive profanity) Unlikely-buddies drama about a down on his luck businessman (Matthew McConaughey) who joins forces with a geologist (Edgar Ramirez) to search for gold bullion in the jungles of Borneo. With Bryce Dallas Howard, Stacy Keach and Bruce Greenwood.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (R for pervasive violence) Sci-fi horror series' swan song written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and starring his wife, Milla Jovovich. Post-apocalyptic adventure finds the fearless heroine forming an alliance with the hadnful of human survivors for one last stand against the undead. With Ali Larter, Iain Glen, Williams Levy and Ruby Rose.


INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

Behemoth (Unrated) Eco-documentary illustrating the devastating toll exacted by mining on China's population and landscape. (In Mandarin with subtitles)

The Daughter (Unrated) Adaptation of "The Wild Duck," Henrik Ibsen's classic play revolving around a man (Paul Schneider) who uncovers a dark family secret when he returns home to attend his father's (Geoffrey Rush) wedding. Featuring Nicholas Hope, Sam Neill and Ewen Leslie.

Get the Girl (R for pervasive profanity, graphic violence, drug use and brief nudity and sexuality) Action comedy about a wealthy guy (Justin Dobies) who attempts to impress the object of his affection (Elizabeth Whitson) by coming to her rescue during a fake kidnapping, only to have the stunt go horribly wrong. Support cast includes Daniel Quinn, Adi Shankar, Noah Segan and Scout Taylor-Compton.

I Am Michael (Unrated) James Franco plays the title character in this biopic about Michael Glatze, a gay activist who claimed to be cured of homosexuality after turning to Christianity. With Emma Roberts, Daryl Hannah and Zachary Quinto.

Kung-Fu Yoga (Unrated) Jackie Chan stars in this action comedy as an archaeology professor who embarks with a young protege (Amyra Dastur) on a globe-trotting adventure in search of a lost Indian treasure. With Disha Patani, Aarif Rahman and Sonu Sood.

Massacre on Aisle 12 (Unrated) Horror comedy about a hardware store clerk (Michael Buonomo) whose first day on the job is ruined by the discovery of a dead body and a duffel bag stuffed with cash. Cast includes Chad Ridgely, Jim Klock and Doug Burch.

The Salesman (PG-13 for mature themes and a brief bloody image) Crime thriller, set in Tehran, about an Iranian couple (Taraneh Alidoosti and Shahab Hosseini), appearing in a local production of Death of a Salesman, whose relationship is tested when the wife is raped right after they move into a new apartment. With Babak Karimi, Mina Sadati and Emad Emami. (In Persian with subtitles)

Un Padre No Tan Padre (PG-13 for profanity, drug use and partial nudity) Dysfunctional family comedy about a cranky 85 year-old (Hector Bonilla) forced to move into his long-estranged son's (Benny Ibarra) hippie commune after getting kicked out of his retirement home. Support cast includes Zamia Fandino, Camila Selser and Eduardo Tanus. (In Spanish with subtitles)


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Tears We Cannot Stop

 
Book Review by Kam Williams

Tears We Cannot Stop
A Sermon to White America
by Michael Eric Dyson
St. Martin's Press
Hardcover, $24.99
202 pages
ISBN: 978-1-250-13599-5



America is in trouble, and a lot of that trouble--perhaps most of it--has to do with race. Everywhere we turn, there is discord, division, death and destruction.
When we survey the land, we see a country full of suffering that it cannot fully understand, and a history that it can no longer deny. Slavery casts a long shadow across our lives...
Black and white people... seem to occupy different universes with worldviews that are fatally opposed to one another... What, then, can we do?
What I need to say can only be said as a sermon... I offer this sermon to you, my dear white friends... I do so in the interest of healing our nation through honest, often blunt, talk... Without white America wrestling with these truths and confronting these realities, we may not survive.
To paraphrase the Bible, to whom much is given, much is expected. And, you my friends, have been given so much. And the Lord knows, what wasn't given, you simply took, took, and took, and took.
But the time is here for reckoning with the past... and moving together to redeem the nation for the future.”
-- Excerpted from the Chapter 1, "Call to Worship" (pages 3-7)


Michael Eric Dyson teaches Sociology at Georgetown University, and is the prolific author of 20 best-sellers and a popular face on the TV talk show circuit. Many might forget that Professor Dyson got his doctorate in Religion from Princeton University. 
 
In his new book, Tears We Cannot Stop, he reminds us that, "Although I am a scholar, a cultural and political critic, and a social activist, I am, before, and above anything else, an ordained Baptist minister." That helps explain the profusion of captivating, flowery rhetoric whenever the brother's been handed a microphone.

While his previous works were aimed at a black audience, this is his first intended to be read by whites. It is also written in a unique literary style, namely, as a sermon designed to keep Caucasians standing on their feet like an inspired congregation of holy rollers. 
 
The chapters are even laid out like a church service, starting with the "Call to Worship," followed by "Hymns of Praise," an "Invocation," and the "Scripture Reading" leading to the "Sermon," and concluding with the "Benediction." The meat of the message can be found in the Sermon section which opens with the iconoclastic suggestion that there is no such thing as a white race. 
 
Professor Dyson's point there is that whiteness is an arbitrary (as opposed to a scientific) construct which affords one group advantages and privileges at the expense of others. He argues that "whiteness is made up, and that white history disguised as American history is a fantasy, as much a fantasy as white superiority and white purity." 
 
If I were Dyson, I wouldn't be holding my breath for a positive reception from his intended audience, given the ascension of Donald Trump and the celebration of rednecks in the runaway best seller, Hillbilly Elegy. He might be better off redirecting his sermon to the African-American community and changing his incendiary opus' subtitle to "Preaching to the Choir!"

Can I get an "Amen!"


To order a copy of Tears We Cannot Stop, visit:  


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Lion


 
Film Review by Kam Williams


Curious Adoptee Tracks Down Birth-Mom in Bittersweet Biopic


Saroo (Dev Patel) had the misfortune of being born into poverty in India's Khandwa district. He lived there with his single-mom, Kamla (Priyanka Bose), along with his big brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), and younger sister, Shekila (Khushi Solanki). 
 
His illiterate mother was reduced to carrying rocks for a living, and she could barely afford to keep a roof over their heads. So, when Guddu found a night job hauling bales of hay, Saroo leapt at the chance to contribute, too, even though he was obviously a little small. 
 
And he promptly fell asleep after the long ride to the worksite sitting on his brother's bike's handlebars. "It's my fault," Guddu lamented, before leaving Saroo alone to spend the night on a train station bench. 
 
Trouble is, when Guddu failed to return by daybreak, the frantic 5 year-old inadvertently stowed away aboard a freight train headed to Bengal, a port-of-call 1,600 miles east. Upon arriving, Saroo couldn't get any help from strangers, between his not speaking the language and his mispronouncing the name of his hometown, "Ganestalay."

Consequently, he ended up struggling to survive on the streets until he landed in a local orphanage. Since Saroo didn't know his own last name or where he was from, he was ultimately shipped off to Melbourne to meet Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John Brierley (David Wenham), an Australian couple eager to adopt him.

For the next quarter-century, he enjoyed an idyllic life, whether playing cricket, swimming in a cove off the ocean, or dating Lucy (Rooney Mara), a lovely Aussie lassie. All was well until the fateful evening a childhood memory was triggered during a dinner of Indian food. 
 
Suddenly curious about his roots, Saroo was subsequently encouraged by Lucy to use Google Earth to find the spot on the planet that he hailed from. Once he recognized a few familiar places from his formative years, all that was left to do was to hop back on a plane and reunite with his long-lost family. 
 
Adapted from Saroo Brierley's autobiography, "A Long Way Home," Lion is a heartbreaking biopic that definitely packs an emotional punch, thanks to powerful performances by Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel as the young and adult Saroo, respectively. The supporting cast features equally-evocative turns by Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman as the women who played pivotal roles in the protagonist's life Down Under.

A bittersweet variation on the "I was lost, but now I'm found" theme of the parable of the Prodigal Son.



Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for mature themes and some sensuality
In English, Hindi and Bengali with subtitles
Running time: 118 minutes
Distributor: The Weinstein Company


To see a trailer for Lion, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RNI9o06vqo

Friday, January 13, 2017

Top Ten DVD List for January 17, 2016

by Kam Williams


This Week’s DVD Releases

Ali [Commemorative Edition]

Long Way North

Train to Busan

Ouija: Origin of Evil

Don't Forget about Me: 4 Movie Collection [The Freshman/No Small Affair/Fresh Horses/Immediate Family]

The Girl on the Train

80's Beat: Teenage Dreamboats: 8 Movie Collection [Flatliners/Private Resort/True Believers/The New Kids/Little Nikita/The Legend of Billie Jean/Like Father,Like Son/Side Out]

Roger Corman's Death Race 2050

Rizzoli & Isles: The Complete Seventh & Final Season

Surf's Up 2: Wave Mania


Honorable Mention

Secrets of the Dead: Van Gogh's Ear

WordWorld: Let's Make Music

The Whole Truth

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Kam's Kapsules for movies opening January 20, 2017

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
by Kam Williams

 OPENING THIS WEEK


BIG BUDGET FILMS

20th Century Women (R for sexuality, nudity, profanity and brief drug use) Tale of female empowerment, set in Santa Barbara during the summer of '79, revolving around the explorations of love and freedom on the part of a landlady (Annette Bening), one of her tenants (Greta Gerwig), and her teenage son's (Lucas Jade Zumann) BFF (Elle Fanning). With Billy Crudup, Alia Shawkat and Alison Elliott.

The Founder (PG-13 for brief profanity) Michael Keaton impersonates Ray Kroc in this biopic about the enterprising businessman who purchased an innovative burger joint from the McDonalds brothers (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) and franchised it into a fast food empire. Support cast includes Laura Dern, Patrick Wilson and Linda Cardellini.

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone (PG for mature themes) Faith-based feature revolving around a washed-up, Hollywood child star (Brett Dalton) who pretends to be a Christian to land the role of Jesus in a mega-church's annual Passion Play production only to end up actually finding faith in God. With Neil Flynn, D.B. Sweeney and Anjelah Johnson-Reyes.

Split (PG-13 for violence, profanity, disturbing behavior and mature themes) Harrowing horror flick, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, about three teenage girls (Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula and Anya Taylor-Joy) kidnapped by a maniac (James McAvoy) with 24 personalities. Supporting cast includes Kim Director, Brad William Henke and Betty Buckley.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage (PG-13 for sexuality, profanity and pervasive violence) Third installment in the high-octane franchise finds the extreme sports athlete-turned-spy (Vin Diesel) coming out of exile to lead a team of fellow thrill-seekers on a mission to disarm a diabolical madman (Donnie Yen) wielding a devastating weapon of mass destruction. With Samuel L. Jackson, Toni Collette and Tony Jaa.


INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

Detour (R for nudity, sexuality, graphic violence, drug use and pervasive profanity) Revenge thriller revolving around a naive law student (Tye Sheridan) who hires a hitman (Emory Cohen) to kill the scheming stepfather (Stephen Moyer) responsible for the car accident that left his mother in a coma. With Bel Powley, John Lynch and Gbenga Akinnagbe.

My Father Die (Unrated) Patricide saga about a deaf mute (Joe Anderson) who waits a couple of decades for his father's (Gary Stretch) parole in order to avenge his brother's murder. Cast includes John Schneider, Gabe White and Kevin Gage.

Paris 05:59: Theo & Hugo (Unrated) Homoerotic drama about two gay strangers (Geoffrey Couet and Francois Nambot) who have unprotected sex after meeting in a Paris night club, only to have one admit that he's HIV+. With Mario Fanfani, Bastien Gabriel and Miguel Ferreira. (In French with subtitles)

The Red Turtle (PG for peril and mature themes) Dialogue-free animated fantasy chronicling the life of a castaway stuck on a deserted tropical island populated with birds, turtles and crabs.

Starless Dreams (Unrated) Criminal justice documentary featuring interviews with teenage girls imprisoned in Iran for crimes ranging from drug dealing and addiction to burglary and murder. (In Persian with subtitles)

Strike a Pose (Unrated) Voguing documentary reuniting the surviving members of the all-male dance troupe who backed Madonna on her 1990 Truth or Dare tour.

They Call Us Monsters (Unrated) Rush to judgment documentary rethinking the convictions of three juveniles tried as adults and given long stretches behind bars for murder and other violent crimes.

Trespass against Us (R for pervasive profanity, disturbing behavior and brief graphic nudity) Crime thriller, set in Great Britain, chronicling the efforts of the son (Michael Fassbender) of a mob boss (Brendan Gleeson) to find a legitimate line of work. With Rory Kinnear, Lyndsey Marshal and Sean Harris.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Silence


 
Film Review by Kam Williams


Portuguese Priests Venture to Japan to Search for Missionary Mentor in Faith-Based, Docudrama



Portuguese traders first landed in Japan in 1543, followed soon thereafter by Francis Xavier and other Jesuits. So many locals started converting to Christianity that, less than a decade later, the emperor issued an edict banning Catholicism and ordering the expulsion of all missionaries. 
 
Violators were forced to either renounce the religion or face crucifixion, which resulted in many of the faithful's going underground to avoid persecution. Consequently, when a cleric disappeared, it was often difficult to discern whether the missing person had been martyred or was merely in hiding. 
 
This was the case with Father Cristovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who had been spreading the gospel around Japan for close to a quarter-century before he suddenly vanished without a trace after sending an ominous last letter to a friend. The ensuing silence prompted a couple of his proteges, Fathers Garrpe (Adam Driver) and Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) to mount a desperate search for their mentor, despite the fact that discovery of their identities might mean instant death. 
 
In 1633, the perilous trek began, and that ill-advised expedition is the subject of Silence, a faith-based docudrama directed and co-written by Martin Scorcese. The movie represents a bit of a departure for the legendary Oscar-winner whose name is most closely associated with gory gangster flicks like Goodfellas, The Departed and Mean Streets. 
 
Based on Shusaku Endo's 1996 novel of the same name, the film was a labor of love which took Scorcese almost three decades to bring to the big screen. The legendary filmmaker ostensibly identifies with the picture's protagonists questioning whether God even exists. 
 
Clocking in at a patience-testing 160+ minutes, the deliberately-paced production could easily have shaved another half-hour off the final cut and still delivered the same emotional impact. Blessed with a trio of inspired lead performances, Silence is nevertheless apt to find an enthusiastic audience among Born Again Bible thumpers. 
 
A thought-provoking, historical drama chronicling the ultimate test of faith.



Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for disturbing violence
In English and Japanese with subtitles
Running time: 161 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures


To see a trailer for Silence, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqrgxZLd_gE

Monday, January 9, 2017

Damien Chazelle

 
The “La La Land” Interview

with Kam Williams




Groundswell for Chazelle!

Damien Chazelle wrote and directed the Academy Award-winning Whiplash which landed five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for Chazelle. The movie won a trio of Oscars in the Film Editing, Sound Mixing and Supporting Actor (J.K. Simmons) categories.

In 2013, his short film of the same name won the Short Film Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Previously, Damien wrote Grand Piano, starring Elijah Wood and John Cusack, and co-wrote the hit, horror sequel 10 Cloverfield Lane, starring John Goodman. His screenplays for Whiplash and The Claim
both appeared on the Blacklist, the annual survey of the most liked motion picture screenplays not yet produced.

Damien shot his first feature film, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, while still an undergrad at Harvard University. The critically-acclaimed debut was named
the Best First Feature of 2010 by L.A. Weekly and was described as “easily the best first film in eons” by Time Out New York.

Here, Damien discusses his latest movie, La La Land which just swept the Golden Globes, winning a record 7 awards.



Kam Williams: Hi Damien. Congratulations!
Damien Chazelle: Thanks, Kam.

KW: Not that I'm at all surprised by your incredible success. After all, back when you released your first film, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, I told anybody who'd listen, "Appreciate Damien now and avoid the rush!"
DC: I remember those lines so well. I think yours was the first Rotten Tomatoes review of it. La La Land is sort of like Guy and Madeline, but with a budget. [Chuckles]

KW: Well I loved it! It's #1 on my Top 100 List for 2016. And I started my review saying, "If you only see one movie this year, you need to get out more. That being said, La La Land is the picture to catch."
DC: Thanks! I'm thrilled you liked it.

KW: I've seen four times already. It's a movie you absolutely have to see on the big screen.
DC: Yeah, part of my hope was to make a movie meant for the movie theaters, in the old-fashioned sense of a film designed for a group of people to watch on the big screen. I think that old school idea was so beautiful, kinds like those roadshow musicals from the Fifties and Sixties.

KW: The first time I saw it was with fellow critics, and everybody applauded when the closing credits started to roll. That was the first time in ages that there was a standing ovation at a film critics' screening I attended. We're a jaded lot that's pretty hard to impress.
DC: That's awesome!

KW: I understand that this movie took six years to make, partly because other studios were willing to greenlight the project on the condition that you agreed to substantial revisions, like changing the ending and the music from jazz to rock.
DC: One of the reasons we actually ended up making La La Land with Lionsgate was that it was one of the few places that was willing to let us make the movie the way we wanted to make it. Two of the key things that other studios had had issues with were the ending and the music. They wanted us to farm out the songs to a bunch of top pop songwriters or music stars, since the score was almost all going to be composed by Justin [Gurwitz], my former college roommate who no one ever knew of before this. And we wanted the soundscape to have a sort of timeless style by being played on acoustic instruments with lush, sweeping strings and a jazz rhythm section. Those were two things we really had to fight for a lot, as well as for the resources we needed to make the movie the way we wanted to make it.

KW: I'm glad you stuck to your guns.
DC: Once we were set up at Lionsgate, then it was a great process, because they were really supportive. I was as lucky as you can imagine, because I was given the freedom as a filmmaker to make exactly the movie I wanted to make, with zero compromise.

KW: I know you used a wide-angled, CinemaScope lens, a technology that hasn't been used by anybody in decades.
DC: It's not exactly the old CinemaScope technology. we kinda did our own version of it. We shot the entire movie in anamorphic 35 mm. And Lina Sandgren, our DP [Director of Photography], had some lenses custom built to allow us to go a little wider than 2.40 [aspect ratio]. We went to 2.55 which is closer to the classic CinemaScope aspect ratio of the Fifties that doesn't exist anymore. We liked the idea of giving the picture that extra bit of width because L.A. is really a wide-screen city, a panoramic kind of city. So, we settled on a combination of using old technologies like celluloid and that aspect ratio in combination with new technologies like new lenses that were specially built for this and a steady cam. Obviously, almost all of the movie was shot on steady cam. There was some crane work and some dolly work, as well. But the steady cam gives you a freedom of motion that you couldn't have in those classic MGM musicals. So, it was fun to try to combine old and new in terms of how we shot it.

KW: One thing I loved about the singing was how I found myself pulling for Emma [Stone] and Ryan [Gosling], as if I were watching community theater or a high school production. I knew they weren't seasoned pros used to belting out show tunes. Yet, they appeared to be naturals, performing effortlessly within their capabilities.
DC: You're speaking to one of the things I loved about a lot of the older musicals. You didn't see the sweat. You didn't feel the work. Some of those movies were the hardest to make, yet the entire aim with a musical, in my mind, is to make it look easy. Ryan and Emma have this amazing ability to make everything seem effortless and natural. We always talked about how the singing, acting, dancing and piano playing could never be just about technique. They had to be about character and emotion. So, Ryan and Emma approached everything like actors, where everything was rooted in a sense of character, a sense of vulnerability, and a sense of humanity, in order to ground it all. Even though they were able to make it look effortless, I agree that there's this tremendous hat trick that they were able to pull off.

KW: I saw La La Land as an homage to classic Hollywood musicals, until a colleague mentioned that you were also influenced by a number of French films.
DC: Yes, mainly the French New Wave, especially Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Also Lola, and The Young Girls of Rochefort. Movies like that. Justin, my composer, was listening to a lot of those French New Wave scores, a lot of Michel Legrand, and a lot of French music from the Fifties and Sixties. There's a French quality about them that's very romantic and playful while also being very grounded, a little understated, very real, and very melancholy, as well. They sort of combine emotions. They live somewhere between happy and sad. I feel that's where a lot of French New Wave lives. And I just love that emotional fulcrum.

KW: How many of those French films are musicals?
DC: Well, full-fledged musicals, just those Jacques Demy movies. And I guess [Jean-Luc] Godard did a quasi musical with A Woman Is a Woman. What's fun about them is that they are sort of the French filmmakers' answer to the American Hollywood musicals that they loved. So, I liked the idea of doing an American answer to the French answer to the American musicals, if that makes sense.

KW: Absolutely! Who are a few of your favorite directors?
DC: Certainly, some of the French New Wave filmmakers like Godard and Demy. [Charlie] Chaplin is someone who is constantly inspiring me. He's actually someone Emma and I bonded over, initially. We both adore City Lights, and we were talking about that movie when we first met. And with this movie, Vincente Minnelli, one of my favorites of all time, was a big influence as well in terms of his use of color and his sense of emotion.

KW: When I interviewed John Legend, I was surprised to learn that he had come aboard as a producer before you decided to add him to the cast of La La Land.
DC: Yeah, what happened was I first met John's producing partner, Mike Jackson, on the Whiplash circuit. I met John through Mike. As soon as Ryan and Emma were cast, I want to fill the Keith role, and I loved the idea of casting John Legend in it. I knew I wanted a musician for it. I thought , "Okay, I know John's producer now, so maybe there's a play to be made here." So, they were the first people I sent a script to for that role. He ended up coming aboard in several capacities. First, as an actor, doing his first, big piece of onscreen acting, which was real exciting. Second, as a songwriter. He co-wrote the song that his character plays. And third, coming aboard with Mike as an executive producer of the movie.

KW: How did you manage to make a movie that's so much more than the sum of its parts. La La Land is, on the one hand, often larger than life, such as how the panoramic opening dance number is splashed across the screen. And yet, the picture is also intimate and accessible in a way that affords the viewer a very personal experience. How did you achieve that? Was that part of the plan?
DC: My hope was that it would be visually ravishing, but still very human, as you've suggested. That was kind of the through line [connecting theme] with everything in prep. Lina Sandgren, our DP, was just incredible. He, Mandy Moore our choreographer, David Wasco our production designer, and costume designer Mary Zophres all came on board way, way early on to sort of pre-prep the movie. Then, we had a very intensive three to four month, on-site prep with everyone almost housed together in these production offices in the valley. We were all trying to speak the same language. You have to sort of pre-design stuff really precisely and really minutely. But you hope that, once you get on set, you can still be spontaneous and have fun with it.

KW: Are you thinking about your next project yet?
DC: Yes, for a couple years, I've been developing this film about Neil Armstrong and the moon landing with Josh Singer, who wrote Spotlight. I hope to be shooting it next year with Ryan playing Neil. Knock on wood, that'll come together. But it's on the horizon right now.

KW: Finally, what’s in your wallet?
DC: Right now, not that much. But my girlfriend and I got a dog recently. We had to get him registered with L.A. County. That's another L.A. idiosyncrasy. So, I have an I.D. card for my dog which has his face on it and his name. It's pretty funny. [Chuckles]

KW: Well, congratulations again, Damien. I can't say I'm surprised at your success, since I recognized your phenomenal talent and predicted it way back when. But I am honored to know you and to have this opportunity to chat with you about La La Land.
DC: Thank you for all the support back in the day. You were there before anyone gave a damn, Kam. So, thank you.

KW: Talk to you again down the line.
DC: Can't wait. Take care.

To see a trailer for La La Land, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pdqf4P9MB8