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Rob Edelman: Different Films

Right now, the heavy hitters-- translation: the high-profile Academy Award hopefuls-- are debuting in theaters. Two of the very best are as different as old-fashioned Hollywood fantasy-gloss and slap-in-your-face reality.

In the former category is LA LA LAND, directed and scripted by Damian Chazelle. LA LA LAND is a musical set in the present-day, and it features a pair of performers who one never would associate with musicals. They are Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and their characters are dreamers. Gosling is Sebastian, an ambitious, struggling musician, and Stone is Mia, an ambitious, struggling actress-writer. The two meet and fight and, of course, they fall in love.

This lush, clever film is refreshingly retro in its feel. LA LA LAND features characters who burst into dance and song in the very best tradition of the classic Hollywood musical. Some may find the catchy, lyrical sounds reminiscent of the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart, or Cole Porter, but there is a definite French influence here. You will pick up on this if you are familiar with THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG and THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT, two mid-1960s musicals directed by Jacques Demy, with music by Michel Legrand.   

A 21st-century cynic might write off LA LA LAND as cornball, but those who are open to unabashed escapism will embrace it, and enjoy it. And do not miss the film’s dazzling opening sequence. It alone is worth the cost of a movie ticket.

On the opposite side of the celluloid spectrum is A MONSTER CALLS, directed by J.A. Bayona. Now given its subject, this is a tough film to watch. However, with much soul and heart, it deals in a very real way with a very serious life issue: one that more than occasionally may touch the youngest among us.  

A MONSTER CALLS is the story of Conor, played by Lewis MacDougall: a boy who is approaching adolescence. For good reason, he is introduced as being too old to be a kid but too young to be a man. Conor is bullied and beaten by his schoolmates and is bossed around by his authoritarian grandmother, but these are the least of his problems. That is because Conor’s mother is slowly dying of cancer. So despite his tender age, he must face one of life’s cruelest and most nightmarish truths.

Now the question here is: How does a 12-year-old deal with a very real tragedy? He may be convinced that his mother will recover, but what will happen when her situation only worsens? No one in his life will directly deal with his fears; and so, after seeing a clip of the original KING KONG, Conor is “visited” by a monster: a deftly-designed tree-like figure who is voiced by Liam Neeson. Is the monster present to merely intimidate him, or is he there to challenge him, to teach him, to heal him?  

A MONSTER CALLS reflects on the sheer cruelty of people of all ages. One boy who torments Conor is well-aware that his mother is gravely ill, yet he shows no compassion. And when Conor fights back, it somehow is his fault. Without giving away what happens, the point here is that some adults are more concerned with their financial bottom line than with showing sympathy for children who are in dire need of sympathy.

For indeed, we live in a world that often is grossly unfair. And in its best moments, A MONSTER CALLS offers a potent, in-your-face look at the world’s inequities. This is a film that astutely touches on basic human emotions, starting with how a mere child must deal with real-world heartbreak.

Rob Edelman has authored or edited several dozen books on film, television, and baseball. He has taught film history courses at several universities and his writing has appeared in many newspapers, magazines, and journals. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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