Who would have thought the innocent and just plain enjoyable La La Land from Damien Chazelle would have drawn up so much drama and controversy after being loved upon its launch. But that’s Oscar season for you. One minute you’re the favorite, and when you received all the (Well deserved) praise and award accolades to go with it, then its cool to turn the tables and bring the hate. It happens every year. Word to the wise: despite who wins an award, you can love BOTH La La Land and Moonlight. Nothing says you can’t. While it was my favorite film of 2017, I’m relieved La La Land lost the Best Picture award (Shortly after winning it) to Moonlight as I was tiring over all the crap it was getting, as that would have only brought on more. Chazelle just made a loving, charming and fun little film harkening to a that all of a sudden became some sort of evil film promoting racism and being incredibly misguided. If you missed this wonderful film, you’ll be able to check it out on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD April 25th.
La La Land tells the story of Mia, an aspiring actress, and Sebastian, a dedicated jazz musician, who are struggling to make ends meet in a city known for crushing hopes and breaking hearts. Set in modern-day Los Angeles, this original musical about everyday life explores the joy and pain of finding someone while also pursuing your ultimate dreams.
To be Damien Chazelle. Whiplash was quite the accomplishment and landed me lots of accolades and award notices. Just as he was being drawn a spot on the map, here he is already winning the Best Director Oscar for his third film, just after his first really recognized one. The man is doing some fantastic things in telling musical stories for the screen in many different ways. In a way, you could possible consider Whiplash to be “musical”, but in a more darkened reality sense of things and without the song and dance. With La La Land, he takes the approach of a full on musical.
People have mistaken this movie as the “white guy tries to save jazz”, but I think they are seeing it all wrong. Sebastian is nostalgic for a certain period and its history, but he’s not saving it, just wanting to showcase it. The real person saving it is John Legend’s “Keith”. His ideology is that jazz is about the future, about evolving and bringing it in a language that speaks to younger generations and opening up the gates for them to be allowed to add their own touch to it. THAT’s the guy who is “saving jazz”. Gosling’s Sebastian is living in the past and working his way to that level.
Keith’s ideals are the same as this film and Chazelle’s when approaching it if you look carefully. With La La Land, he is wanting to both pay his respects, relish in his nostalgia, but ultimately make a “classical” musical that isn’t living in the past, but is looking toward the future, toward modern, sophisticated movie-going audience. He wants that sense of scale, of wonder or almost a dream-like state at times, but knows his audience leans more toward realism and never tips too far there and manages to exercise keeping things natural even at their most fantastic. What Chazelle accomplishes is a rousing success and something this nostalgia fueled era in entertainment should be looking at and taking notes. The scene where Sebastian and Keith are at odd with one another about jazz music could easily be Damien Chazelle in Keith’s place talking to the harshest astute Turner Classic Movies loyalist blowhard (And I mean that kindly).
Helping things in the matter is the best cinematography of 2017. I had thought Neon Demon was my favorite and wouldn’t be topped, but La La Land is able to take a super small budget movie and make it feel like a hundred million bucks and on the grandest scale possible. This picture flowing with gorgeous attention to color, framing, movement and power. Even those who don’t care for the story or don’t have a soul cannot deny that this thing was shot fantastically. Its so good, even a musical put on mute would be an incredible two hour watch in silence staring at the visuals.
Oh, there’s a cast in this movie, too. Ryan Gosling continues what was a great year in performances showcasing his ability to do comedy (Go watch The Nice Guys, NOW!) in a role that convincingly has him playing music and dancing around. He’s a real, solid three dimensional character in the type of films that usually had one note players. This guy really is in his own realm from start to finish. Sebastian may find different gigs and be in different states of happiness or despair, but he really always knows who he is and stays himself. Which, is something I’m going to attribute to Gosling’s approach in the matter. Its a fun, fitting character that sorta lands in the Lloyd Dobler-ish territory of silly-ish characters that really hold up in personal and dramatic moments quite well and provide good belief and support in the other protagonist.
Said other protagonist is Emma Stone in here Academy Award winning role. Stone is someone always great, but is typically always Emma Stone, which is a good thing (Think of the John Cusack-type). Here she adds singing to that repertoire, but some deeper, more lifelike emotion and grandeur than we’ve ever seen from her before. Her performance almost make this story feel really personal to her (Which, given the subject matter, she probably had plenty of experience to pull from). She’s dynamite in this role and is truly a great “in” for the audience, both male and female.
One thing I see strongly in this film, and maybe I’m crazy for, is it not only being a modern musical, but it also has the 1970s vibe with its dramatics/relationship approach to that of Annie Hall. In fact, this realization hit me in the face the first time I saw it during the “Epilogue” number at the end of the film which gave me the feeling and emotional resonance that the final montage with Annie singing “It Seems Like Old Times” in that Oscar winning film. This really was one of the most beautiful and charming love stories that wasn’t meant to be since Allen’s signature film. Maybe I’m the only one who sees it like this, but even so, its a major plus in my book whether its a masterpiece influenced by another on purpose or not.
La La Land is a loving, touching tribute to both the dreamer life in Los Angeles and the epic musicals of old Hollywood yesteryear. The film features chemistry from both leads that absolutely ignites the screen and really gives one a full investment. Its not just there though, everything in the film is firing on all cylinders, choreography, cinematography, set design, costuming, let alone the obvious music and directing; its the perfect lightning in a bottle situation. Damien Chazelle’s little masterpiece is one truly is not only a contender for one of my favorite films of last year, but of all time.
Encoding: HEVC / H.265
Resolution: 4K (2160p)
Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1
Clarity/Detail: I suppose there may be some debate coming on about how much of an improvement this is over the Blu-ray. While this shot on film and a 4K scan surely exists, word has it this is a 2K DI. They have kept the theatrical aspect ratio which is a plus. And to be quite honest, in comparison with the standard Blu-ray, I found this to be a very noticeable improvement over a pretty great looking Blu-ray. The colors are much more bold, vivid and dazzling. Not just on the obvious clothes and whatnot, but heir saturation on normal things and the way the bolden neon signs, street lights, table lamps, candle light and more. The skies are also a beauty. Right from the open we are treated to wide array of colored cars and clothing to go with beautiful sunshine. Blacks also are very impressive as well to go with the obvious crisp, film-like image that is easily ripe with plenty of detail. I was in love with the image that Lionsgate’s release provided and if for some reason we get a better one down the line, then fine, consider me spoiled.
Depth: The image is has an improved sense of space and distance between characters and backgrounds. At times, some of the camera movements and shots create an almost three dimensional look and appeal to the image. Look to the Griffith Observatory (Ceilings) sequence for a good example of this. Characters move cinematically and very smooth with not even a hint of jitter or blurring.
Black Levels: Blacks really find themselves look beautiful and wonderfully saturated here in this image. In direct comparison with the Blu-ray, this is probably the biggest improvement. Night time scenes bring on a real elegant sophistication and appeal that only a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray could express. Details on surfaces, clothing and hair that are darkened or in the shadows still comes through with very good precision and clarity. No crushing witnessed on this viewing.
Color Reproduction: Yellows! Reds! Blues! Greens! Purple! This disc is bursting with HDR enhancements popping right off of your screen. It also features a lot more saturation and distinct clarity on the colors than its standard Blu-ray counterpart. I saw a pretty significant uptick here with the HDR (From a very pretty regular Blu-ray) and its a real pleasure on your eyes. Filters feature a wonderful glow and manage to hold on to crisp details and sharpness with no bleeding. Even whites were noticeably given an upheaval. From hair to make up to clothing, everything shoots right off your screen in a loving image.
Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent throughout the film’s duration give or take a strong filter or two. Facial details like lip texture, make-up, eye crows, wrinkles, stubble, freckles and more come through clear as day from any given distance.
Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos (English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible), English 2.0 Dolby Digital (Optimized for Late Night Listening), English Descriptive Audio, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish
Dynamics: Wow, La La Land gets the full on real deal with its Atmos track. This isn’t just some sort of catering to modern times mix. Chazelle’s film finds itself to be an intricately well designed and fully immersive experience you would expect the movie to have, but could see it not panning out. Instrumentation in the film and the score feels like its been given careful and precise design on an instrument by instrument approach. All of them can be picked out, from a club jazz band to a random musical number to The Messengers in concert. Its rather impressive actually. The balance of this design grabs a perfect magical blend of sound, vocals and effects. This Atmos track will hopefully sweep away and convert new fans to this charming film.
Height: There is some solid ambiance from the ceiling speakers, but its actually used as an effective player with specific effects and soundscapes catered to them as well.
Low Frequency Extension: Most of the subwoofer’s job is found in the bass and drumming of the score. There are some stomps, bumps and engines that find their way to the vibrations of the subwoofer, but the film relies on it more for the music than anything.
Surround Sound Presentation: A wondrous score finds itself haunting through all the channels surrounding your viewing. Right from the start of the film, with the traffic jam number feeling like some sort of sound/speaker warm up calibration test. Environments have a full on 360 degree approach to their representation. Rear channels make themselves more known than just pretty ambiance with good individual essences peppered in with consistency throughout. Sound traveling is accurately displayed on screen as well as volume placed perfectly. La La Land finds itself a full on captivating experience.
Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are crisp and clear. Diction is both fully captured in dialogue and song. What I like about this musical is that the singing feels on the level with the dialogue in terms of how they transition into one another.
La La Land comes with the Blu-ray edition and an UltarViolet Digital Copy.
- With Writer/Director Damien Chazelle and Composer Justin Hurwitz – These two both obviously have had a good working relationship and friendship. There is nary a quiet moment as both give anecdotes and there are even times when they are on different pages as there is a scene that Hurwitz swears was the next morning but Chazelle clarifies that its later in the afternoon. Also an interesting tid bit is that Whiplash is supposed to take place in the same world as La La Land, with the cue being a song from the film playing in the coffee shop early on.
Featurettes – Available in a PLAY ALL or individually. To go with the interviews, there is plenty of on set, behind the scenes and rehearsal footage.
- Another Day of Sun: They Close Down A Freeway (HD, 10:36) – Covers the specifics of the film’s opening number. From inception, to ambition, to its purpose to set the stage of the film and the execution of filming it (Even during 2 days of a heat advisory warning including the hottest day of the year).
- La La Land‘s Great Party (HD, 5:08) – This takes a look at the first party Mia attends, trying to show off a party based on LA stereotypes. It follows the production action from her apartment to the finish of the musical number.
- Ryan Gosling: Piano Student (HD, 5:03) – Ryan Gosling had to learn how to play piano for the film and this has he and his instructor talking about the how and what it took to get the job done for the movie.
- Before Whiplash: Damien Chazelle’s Passion Project (HD, 10:12) – Chazelle’s talks about taking Hollywood’s most artificial genre and putting it in a more real world setting. He was working on it before Whiplash was a thing in college with Justin Hurwitz. He believes he got to make the movie he wanted to make without compromise, estimated 95% of it was what they originally set out to make.
- La La Land‘s Love Letter To Los Angeles (HD, 6:56) – This goes over the impact of the city on the film and the appreciation of old Hollywood and its continued ability to give wonder and dreams to those interested in the world of film and filmmaking.
- The Music of La La Land (HD, 13:32) – Focuses on how important the music in the film is, considered one of the 4 leads in the movie (Emma, Ryan, LA and the music). Covers Chazelle and Hurwitz working relationship and his special score for the film which they wanted to incorporate “melody” back in.
- John Legend’s Acting Debut (HD, 4:40) – Chazelle and Legend actually met and began discussing during press circuits for Whiplash and Selma. Primarily this goes over Legend’s talents and his character’s role and ideology’s impact on Seb.
- The Look of Love: Designing La La Land (HD, 8:48) – A piece that goes over taking strong color and set design from the classic musical eras of the 30s and 40s, but taking it in modern direction feeling fresh and original without looking like an obvious nod. The production designers apparently reveled in the challenges of the film and were extremely detailed in their work to even the most insignificant street lamp.
- Ryan and Emma: Third Time’s The Charm (HD, 5:51) – Here we have a piece that talks about the chemistry of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone that the producer says is “one for the ages”. There is a lot of gushing on them, comparing the two to some of the most classic couples and that they need to be a modern iconic screen couple.
- Epilogue: The Romance Of The Dream (HD, 7:54) – A final segment, that goes over the themes, ideas and production on the final number in the film. Chazelle goes over how he wanted to tackle the classic “Dream Ballet” sequence to go along with his desired dramatic ending of the film.
Damien & Justin Sing: The Demos – These are recordings of the director and composer performing simple demo versions of the songs. They are accompanied with black and white behind the scenes footage.
- What a Waste of a Lovely Night (HD, 1:55)
- City of Stars (HD, 3:13)
- Trailer 1 (HD, 1:35)
- Trailer 2 (HD, 1:33)
- Trailer 3 (HD, 2:14)
Song Selection – Allows you to watch the individual songs from the film.
- Another Day of Sun (4K, 3:43)
- Someone In the Crowd (4K, 4:38)
- Mia and Sebastian’s Theme-001 Mia’s Storyline (4K, 1:16)
- Mia and Sebastian’s Theme-002 Sebastian’s Storyline (4K, 1:17)
- A Lovely Night (4K, 4:08)
- Herman’s Habit (4K, 1:45)
- City of Stars-Pier (4K, 1:46)
- Planetarium (4K, 4:17)
- Summer Montage (4K, 2:01)
- Acoustic Jam Session (4K, :58)
- City of Stars-Duet in Apt. (4K, 4:36)
- Start a Fire (4K, 2:59)
- Audition (4K, 3:22)
- Epilogue (4K, 8:01)
- City of Stars-Mia Humming-Credits (4K, 3:57)
Many fell in love with La La Land last winter and I was surely on of them, finding myself over the moon for it. La La Land makes it debut on 4K Ultra HD in stunning fashion. The video really makes terrific use of the HDR on your 4K monitor while also giving some scenes a real three dimensional appeal. In a no brainer, the Atmos track is flipping fantastic with a real attention to individual instrumental detail and their sound in any given environment bringing it to life. Extras are pretty loaded, too. Its the full package for a move that truly is just that. Grab it right away.