City of Stars (La La Land review)

What do you mean you don’t like jazz?

It just means that when I listen to it, I don’t like it.

The most candid of responses, mixed with sweetness and optimism. That’s the kind of movie you can really get behind, you know? The kind that will propel film into the 21st century and get us out of our hum drum lives, the lives we need to escape from after the great war.

Just kidding, this movie happened in 2016, and it’s about the future.

La La Land (2016)

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, John Legend
Director: John Lee Hancock
released on blu-ray April 25, 2017
********** 10/10

IMDB: 8.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, Audience Score 83%
The Guardian: *****/*****


I’ve written about American director Damien Chazelle before, when I decided to review Whiplash last August. So yeah, we already know that Chazelle is a musical whiz, and that he can bring music and film to life in an epic pairing. Owed to his own musical background of course. Which he fully and completely does with the construction of 2016’s La La Land.

Here is a brief overview of the plot, courtesy of Wikipedia.

 Stuck in traffic on a Los Angeles highway (“Another Day of Sun”), Mia Dolan (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, has a moment of road rage with Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling), a struggling jazz pianist. Her subsequent audition goes poorly, where the casting director takes a call in the middle of an emotional scene. That night, Mia’s roommates take her to a lavish party in the Hollywood Hills (“Someone in the Crowd”). She walks home after her car is towed.

During a gig at a restaurant, Sebastian slips into a passionate jazz improvisation despite warnings from the owner (J. K. Simmons) to stick to the setlist of traditional Christmas songs. Mia overhears the music as she passes by (“Mia and Sebastian’s Theme”). Moved, she enters the restaurant, but Sebastian is fired. As he storms out, Mia attempts to compliment him, but he brushes her off.

Months later, Mia runs into Sebastian at a party where he plays in a 1980s pop cover band; she teases him by requesting “I Ran (So Far Away)”, a song he considers an insult for “a serious musician”. After the gig, the two walk to their cars, lamenting each other’s company despite the chemistry between them (“A Lovely Night”).

The next day, Sebastian arrives at Mia’s work, and she shows Sebastian around the movie lot, where she works as a barista, while explaining her passion for acting. Sebastian takes Mia to a jazz club, describing his passion for jazz and desire to open his own club. They warm up to each other (“City of Stars”). Sebastian invites Mia to a screening of Rebel Without a Cause; Mia accepts, forgetting a commitment with her current boyfriend. Bored with the double date with her boyfriend, she runs to the theater, finding Sebastian as the film begins. The two conclude their evening with a romantic dance at the Griffith Observatory (“Planetarium”).

After more failed auditions, Mia decides, at Sebastian’s suggestion, to write a one-woman play. Sebastian begins to perform regularly at a jazz club (“Summer Montage”), and the two move in together. Sebastian’s former classmate Keith (John Legend) invites him to be the keyboardist in his fusion jazz band, where he will be offered a steady income. Although dismayed by the band’s pop style, Sebastian signs after overhearing Mia trying to convince her mother that Sebastian is working on his career. Mia attends one of their concerts (“Start a Fire”) but is disturbed, knowing Sebastian does not enjoy his band’s music.

During the band’s first tour, Mia and Sebastian get into an argument; she accuses him of abandoning his dreams, while he claims she liked him more when he was unsuccessful. Mia leaves, insulted and frustrated. Sebastian misses Mia’s play due to a photo shoot with the band that he had forgotten. The play is a disaster; few people attend, and Mia overhears dismissive comments. Despondent and unable to pay the theater back, she moves back home to Boulder City, Nevada.

Sebastian receives a call from a casting director who attended Mia’s play, inviting her to a film audition. Sebastian drives to Boulder City and persuades Mia to attend. The casting directors ask Mia to tell a story; she sings about her aunt who inspired her to pursue acting (“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”). Sebastian encourages her to devote herself to the opportunity. They profess they will always love each other but are uncertain of their future.

Five years later, Mia is a famous actress and happily married to another man (Tom Everett Scott), with whom she has a daughter. One night, the couple stumbles upon a jazz bar. Noticing the “Seb’s” logo she had once designed, Mia realizes Sebastian has opened his club. As Sebastian notices Mia in the crowd, he plays their love theme and the two imagine what might have been had their relationship worked perfectly (“Epilogue”). Before Mia leaves with her husband, she shares a smile with Sebastian.

What a whirlwind! I’ve seen this movie three times now, and I still can’t but smile when I think about it. Gosling and Stone have some of the best chemistry of all time, better than Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, Clarke Gable and Vivien Leigh, Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. I could go on for a while.

Point being, that while this appears to be a film about Hollywood, it’s moreso a film about love and the dangers of it, but despite those dangers, it’s far better to experience love and live a full life than to wait for life to happen.

Pros: The two leads play well off of each other, as they always do. Stone is beautiful and heartbreaking in her authenticity, and Gosling is too warm hearted to really be that rakish. The homage to the passage of time is so well done you’ll get all the feels.

Cons: There are an ever-present string of cliches to snip through as you watch, but you have to know the musicals that came before to be truly effected by it.

Runtime: 2 hours 8 minutes

Points of Interest: Emma Watson turned down this role to film the live adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. Ryan Gosling learned to play piano for this role, and John Legend learned to play guitar.

This is a love affair fully realized, passing through seasons, time and space, and ending on a high note. No, it is not a happily ever after scenario, but La La Land doesn’t need to be in order to showcase the starry idealism of today’s youth. Talented and romantic, these kids are paying homage to what has proceeded them, without falling into the tropes of the musical genre. Admittedly, I struggled with the very first sequence of the film, but I think like any good musical, Chazelle is capable of drawing you into this world and getting you to settle into it’s rules.

theories Summarized

There are musical numbers throughout this love story, but what I find most interesting of all is the love story that Chazelle has with this city. La La Land is so happy and sweet in it’s outpouring of emotion, that you have to wonder what Los Angeles did right to have this director fall so hard for her. I have a few theories, but I don’t kiss and tell.


Make A Name For Yourself (Moonlight review)

I’ve always wondered how much of our identities stem from ourselves, and how much of them come from the world that surrounds us.

Are we peerless souls encased in moonlight, shimmering ever so slightly in shades of indigo as the night wears on? Who is you?




Moonlight (2016)

Cast: Mahershala Ali, Alex R. Hibbert, Janelle Monae, Naomie Harris, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Trevante Rhodes, André Holland
Director: Barry Jenkins
released on blu-ray February 28, 2017
******** 9/10

IMDB: 7.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%, Audience Score 83%
The Guardian: *****/*****


Barry Jenkins is a an American film director and writer who has made two films thus far in his career – Medicine for Melancholy and Moonlight. There is an eight year gap between those two films, which I find kind of unsettling, but it managed to get the movie tons of accolades, so who am I to judge on his methods of working?

Moonlight is an interesting film, to say the least.

If we were to be honest with ourselves, would we not all have very different identities at various stages of our lives? Stages which defined us and drove our purpose forward, not matter the personal cost? That’s what Moonlight asks, all through the lenses of vulnerable gay black man, while simultaneously telling a universal story about identity. It’s intelligent, beautiful, difficult to stomach at times, and it is both timely and timeless.

The story is broken up into three parts – Little (Alex R. Hibbert), Chiron (Ashton Sanders), and Black (Trevante Rhodes).

The first part focuses on Little, a little boy named Chiron who is constantly teased by other children, but who receives little help from his drug-addicted mother. One day he is found by Cuban drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali), who decides to let Little stay with him and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae) for the night. Eventually Little tells Juan how to find his mother Paula (Naomie Harris). Juan spends a lot of time with Little, teaching him to swim and to become his own man, but Paula continues to be a bad influence on the boy, calling him a faggot at one point. Juan is ashamed when Little asks him if he ever sells drugs to his mother.

The second part is about teenaged Chiron. Frequently bullied at school, Chiron spends time between his now prostitute and drug-addicted mother and the widow Teresa, as Juan had died previously. Juan is friends with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), but has a dream in which he sees Kevin having sex with a woman. On a different night the two friends smoke a joint together, discuss the nickname of “Black” that Kevin has given him, and as the conversation heats up, the two kiss. Then Kevin masturbates Chiron. Then at school, the bullies convince Kevin to punch someone, and Chiron is chosen. Kevin punches Chiron several times, and the bullies assault him, but Chiron won’t reveal the identities of who attacked him. The next day, Chiron assaults one of the bullies and is arrested.

Finally the third part of the story is about an adult Chiron who is now a drug dealer and goes by the street name Black. His mother is in drug treatment and wishes to reconcile, but he ignores her. Then one day an adult Kevin (André Holland) contacts him, leaving a message in which he apologizes for what happened in high school. Black decides to visit his mother and they hash out their feelings. Black then travels to see Kevin, who works at a diner, but Kevin can’t seem to get many details out of Chiron. The pair drive back to Kevin’s and Black finally admits he is not happy nor has he had another sexual encounter since high school. Kevin comforts him, and Chiron thinks back on childhood.

Pros: This movie is not full of big speeches or talking heads explaining feelings. It is full of real dialogue and deep silences, the conflicts of masculine identity are very real here. Stories of identity have been told like this before, but not in this way.

Cons: It has such a strong start with the first and second two parts that the harsh drop-off in intimacy and plot in the third act make up for it, but man do those last twenty five minutes feel strained at key points.

Runtime: 1 hour 51 minutes

Points of Interest: The film is based on the unproduced play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by MacArthur Fellow Tarell Alvin McCraney. Two firsts in the history of film, Mahershala Ali is the first Muslim person to win an Academy Award for acting AND this is the first LGBT film, and the first film featuring an all black cast, to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Jenkins is lucky. Many directors have tried and failed to capture such a wide audience with a powerful story, and this is only his second film ever full realized. Moonlight might represent a win for the LGBT community and another for the black community, but more importantly I think it represents a willingness for change on the part of decision makers within the film community. And as already mentioned over and over again, Moonlight is an excellent story of identity. It asks hard questions about exposure.

theories Summarized

Do I think this is a perfect film? No. But do I think it’s an excellent study in human nature. So often in life we portray versions of ourselves for others, never fully aware of what we look like to the world we live within. Hopefully the soul is what we see at the end of the day, but only moonlight can cast off those shadows that well. At least, that’s my theory.


Spring Thaw (timotheories March 2017)

Spring is in the air, winter is on it’s way out the door, and timotheories has a freshly picked purview of posts to share with you!


Are you excited yet friends? Because I’m not even going to give you preamble this month… we’re going to dig right in and pull up some fun. These topics have been hibernating forever and they need the spotlight – now!

*Disclaimer* As always, every week I purchase an album and movie one week ahead of the actual review release and while I have the best intentions, I don’t always get what I want… so if you follow me on instagram (@timotheories) you can actually see what’s coming.

timotheories summarized – March

Stimulating Sundays – (03/05) Cross Talk Ep. 19, (03/12) Cross Talk Ep. 20, (03/19) LOGOS, (03/26) Amanda Wall interview
Melodic Mondays – (03/06) The Flaming Lips, (03/13) Crystal Fairy, (03/20) The Shins, (03/27) Valerie June
Theatrical Tuesdays – (03/07) Moonlight, (03/14) Moana, (03/21) Fences (03/28) The Love Witch
Wisdom Wednesdays – (03/01) The Ongoing History of New Music, (03/08) Self-Portraits, (3/15) Women’s History Month, (03/22) Health, (03/29) Li Kunwu
Timely Thursday – (03/02) timotheories March, (03/09) Daylight Savings Time, (03/16)National Nutrition Month, (03/23) HMV, (03/30) Muttart Conservatory


After dropping the ball last month on interviews, I managed to do share some cool theories about defining meaning for yourselves, so I’ve decided to keep that idea going and explore LOGOS a little more deeply this month.  But interviews are back with a vengeance! Amanda Wall is my first artist who is also a parent, which means that she and I will dive right into the nitty gritty of how she manages to keep up with both responsibilities so well.

Plus she’s a friend, so no pulled punches!

Of course I have a couple of neato episodes of Cross Talk lined up as well, and I’m betting you aren’t expecting what’s due on arrival. First we’re going to explore some common themes which show up in films regularly, no matter what the genre, and then we’re going to look at films which seem to be better after a second viewing for one reason or another.

It’ll be interesting for sure, and heck, you just might learn a thing or two.

Also I’ve got some great albums lined up, and now that I’m direct feeding into Amazon, I’m 100% certain that these are the records on the docket, so I just may have to do away with that disclaimer now. And if you can’t tell, there are a string of Academy Award winning films lined up for review this month too, but I won’t go easy on any of them!

As for wisdom and timely matters, well, I guess you’ll just have to consider the fact that health and politics are the themes of this month. Also spring. As always, let’s keep the theories growing creative cuties and I’ll be there to curate them.


Down And Out (Manchester By The Sea review)

Life is an inexplicably complex thing, which we are constantly striving to simplify for ourselves. Unfortunately this is neither realistic nor healthy for us. We have to confront our problems head on, for fear of losing ourselves to a sea of sorrows.




Manchester By The Sea (2016)

Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
released on blu-ray February 21, 2017
********* 10/10


IMDB: 8.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, Audience Score 80%
The Guardian: *****/*****


Kenneth Lonergan is an American playwright, screenwriter, and director.

Something of a selective creator, he’s best known for his writing ability, having written the scripts for Analyze This, You Can Count On Me, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Analyze That, Gangs of New York, Margaret, Manchester by the Sea, and an upcoming miniseries called Howard. His directorial offerings are a little more slim but stemmed from his writing career – You Cant Count On Me, Margaret, Manchester by the Sea. I should also mention that while Lonergan is also a little slow to the table with his creative projects, when he serves as both director and writer, something good consistently happens.

Manchester by the Sea is the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), an anti-social janitor and handyman in  Quincy, Massachusetts, who learns from a family friend that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has had a heart attack. Unfortunately Joe dies before Lee arrives at the hospital, and Lee heads to his home-town Manchester-by-the-Sea to bring his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) the news. While arranging the funeral, Lee learns that Joe wanted him to be Patrick’s guardian.

Lee is unwilling to move back to Manchester, but does not want Patrick to be with his alcoholic mother, so he works to move Patrick to Boston instead. Patrick has many friends, two girlfriends and is in a band; he hates this idea.

We also learn that Lee used to live in Manchester with his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and their three kids, but due to a mistake he made while intoxicated, a house fire took the lives of the children. He was never prosecuted, but Randi blamed him and they divorced. Lee then attempted suicide in a police station after he was found not guilty, but was contained. He moved to Boston shortly afterwards.

While they wait for the ground to thaw, Joe’s body remains in cold storage,and Lee stays in Manchester. Uncle and nephew become better friends and eventually Patrick’s mother Elise finds out about the situation. She offers to take Patrick in, but her sobriety is largely the responsibility of her controlling fiance Jeffrey. Lee also runs into a remarried Randi and her newborn. She regrets the things she said and confesses she still loves him. Lee does everything he can not to break down and leaves because he cannot stay in Manchester with her – He later picks a fight at a bar.

After finally arranging for family friend George to act as a legal guardian for Patrick, the pair have a heated discussion about why Lee cannot stay in Manchester any longer. After the funeral, Lee lets Patrick know that he is searching for a place with an extra room, so that Patrick can visit whenever he wants.

Pros: This might be a cliche, but this film is affecting. I was genuinely bummed out after watching it. The combination of raw performances, subtle scoring choices, and a well-laid script that pulls right out of the everyday make this film about death and mourning all the more powerful.

Cons: It takes a really long time to make it’s major points and there are a couple of moments where it feels like more of an exercise then a story.

Runtime: 2 hours 17 minutes

Points of Interest: This is the first film distributed by a streaming service to get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Matt Damon and John Krasinski were originators of the idea, asking for Damon to direct and Lonergan to write, and Damon to star in it, Damon eventually opted out due to scheduling conflicts, but remained on as a producer.

Lonergan understands intimately that life is full of grief. Wrongs which are never corrected plague us and while it can be nice to assume a storybook ending from a film, sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. The character of Lee is an excellent case study of a life unfulfilled, a responsibility not asked for, and working around the pain. A story about life lived in the world as it is, loose ends and all.

theories Summarized

Allegations and personal issues of Casey Affleck aside, the arresting nature of this story, and what it addresses capture the pains of life. It seriously broke my heart to watch this movie, ever so slowly, because I’ve loved and lost, and I’ve been on the ends of good and of bad as well. Affleck never redeems his character, but the glimmer of movement forward despite that unresolved pain makes it a worthwhile story, at least that’s my theory anyway.


On The Shoulders Of Giants (89th Annual Academy Awards)

Last year the two words whitewashing and oscars seemed to be synonymous with each other. I wrote a rather exhaustive post about it, point of fact. To be fair, I am an artist though, so it’s quite difficult not to be a lens for the big issues I find wrapped around my heart. Sigh.

Now, I have written about this theory before, but let me remind you that there is an idea out there which states that creative professional experience the highs and lows of life even more deeply than an average person. I want to posit something different from that.

We all feel things very deeply, and humans are capable of amazing things when we work together. In fact, I think it’s because we should work together that we achieve greatness.

Children start out with the same basic abilities and aptitudes, as we age, personalities come through and environments shape us into complex individuals.


The Full List of Nominees

I’ve always been a fan of film. Cinema. The movies. Whatever you want to call it, I’ve celebrated motion pictures in my life.

Sitting here at my desk, I’m watching the trailers for the nine films which have been nominated for Best Picture 2017. La La Land, Moonlight, Manchester By The Sea, Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Hidden Figures, Hell or High Water, Lion, Fences. I’ve seen more than half of these movies already and I cannot wait to watch the remaining ones I’ve missed. Films make my heart ache with joy, fear, sadness, compassion, anger, excitement, achievement and a number of other emotions.

It’s because so many creative people come together to engage our sense that films mean something. And I think that this year in particular, the academy has done an excellent job listening to the public. 4 of the 9 choices are headed by minority actors, and that’s a big deal.

La La Land has the most votes by far, and while it is an excellent film, it is something of a self-congratulatory piece about Hollywood. So I really hope that this movie doesn’t take it, because we’ve been there, and done that. And Arrival is my new favourite first contact film. On the other side of the coin, Hell or High Water is a classic film on all accounts – I reviewed it late last year and I loved it. It perfectly serves as to what film making is all about. It would be an excellent dark horse entry.

But looking more closely at the nominees, I have to notice something. I’ve only seen the 5 films with white actors headlining them, and that’s an important point.

Award Winning

When you give an award you are truly GIVING something as payment, compensation or as prize. Consider that statement for a second. How many billions of people are there in the world? 30? And how many different ethnicities make up that total?

The challenge we face is that for decades the Academy Awards (like many other institutions) have focused on certain types of people, non necessarily because those people were the most deserving, but because they were singled out for compensation. As the global community expands, it makes sense that we continue to honour those who do the best job, but in instances where many are deserving, it’s those who go over and above should be awarded. By default these means minority groups which need more representation. I haven’t seen Moonlight or Fences, but could easily see them taking it.

I hope they do. Hidden Figures and Lion would be fantastic as well, but based on what I’ve read, Moonlight and Fences are better films. Guess we’ll find out in three days though.

theories Summarized

#OscarsSoWhite was a necessary rebellion against disrespectful authority. I think with it came even more artists working together this year to create films that represent life as it is, and even better, the voters now have an opportunity to choose recipients that better depict humanity. We may be standing on the shoulders of giants, but while every statue has a head of gold, the feet are always made of clay, and liable to crumble towards the end. It’s time to choose a different champion, and that’s my theory.