La La Land

The Empire Podcast

19/09/19

Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh

Can we review a podcast? Well, we reviewed No Such Thing As a Fish, didn’t we? And, nobody complained about that. Besides, me and Empire, we have some history…

The first issue of Empire came out in July 1989 and I purchased a copy. It wasn’t a particularly auspicious month to launch a movie magazine. The featured film was, if memory serves correctly, Great Balls of Fire starring Dennis Quaid and Winona Ryder. This isn’t a film that lingers long in the memory, nor one that’s likely to feature in The Criterion Collection, but nonetheless, I liked what I read in the magazine and, being the absolute obsessive that I am, I’ve purchased every single copy published since then. I’ve been reading it for more than thirty years, Indeed, anyone who possesses a copy of  issue 100 will find a picture of yours truly, grinning like an idiot, dressed in my grey Empire T-shirt (which I still own) and proudly showing off my collection of one hundred pristine magazines.

Somewhere back down the years (probably around the time when a copy started taking a bit less than three hours to download), I switched to a digital edition and I now read Empire from cover-to-cover on my iPad. The podcast, a relatively recent development, is something I listen to on my daily visits to the gym. Consequently, I know things about these people. I know, for instance, that Chris Hewitt’s greatest shame is giving a 5 star review to Attack of the Clones

So imagine my delight when I hear that the regular team of Chris (resident clown-prince), Helen O’ Hara (resident sage), James Dyer (resident grumpy-git) and Terri White (resident snappy dresser and editor-in-chief) are coming to Edinburgh – and, moreover, that they will be hosting their podcast at our beloved Cameo Cinema, less than a ten minute stroll from Caveney-Singfield Towers. Are we going to buy tickets? Are bears Catholics? Does the pope shit in the woods?

And sure enough, here we are. The Cameo is completely sold out, Chris is performing his rendition of Call Me By Your Name (as requested by yours truly via Twitter) and Scottish actor Jack Lowden is explaining why his greatest ambition is to play a character a foot shorter than his actual height. I even get to ask the team a question (“Which film would you nominate as the biggest ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ contender of recent years?”). Chris goes for Suspiria (agreed!), Terri chooses Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (agreed!), Helen opts for La La Land (Susan definitely agrees!) and James chooses… The Shape of Water (really don’t agree, but I did warn you he can be a curmudgeon).

Afterwards, there’s time to score a Bangily Bang! T-shirt and get a photograph with the team in the bar. And I reflect that podcasts really are weird things because, when you hear those familiar voices over and over, you start to feel that you are friends with these people, that you know them intimately – and, of course you don’t, and surely never will.

But I enjoyed their visit to Edinburgh and I’m already looking forward to getting on the old crosstrainer and listening back to that recording…

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

La La Land

08/01/17

Remember movie musicals? You know, the big sweeping MGM-style pictures, the kind they really don’t make any more? Well, clearly nobody told director Damien Chazelle, because, apart from a few subtle nods to the modern age, that’s pretty much what he gives us here. Apparently this is a long-cherished project for him, one that predates Whiplash, the picture that first propelled him into the public eye. Essentially, La La Land is a great big glittering love letter to LA and the creative industries that serve it.

The opening sequence pretty much sets out Chazelle’s stall. There’s a freeway full of gridlocked traffic. A girl in  a car begins to sing a song. She gets out of the car and dances a few steps and then the guy in the next car steps out and joins her. Pretty soon, hundreds of people are following their example, offering a brilliantly choreographed routine that is as audacious as it is delightful. It’s a wonderful start.

Soon we meet our protagonists and wouldn’t you know it, at first they hate each other on sight. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a musician, a jazz obsessive who dreams of opening his own club. Mia (Emma Stone) is a would-be actress, a barista by day, who slogs hopefully through an endless series of auditions for roles she appears to have no real chance of attaining. After their initial conflict, the two start to strike sparks off each other. And before too long, of course, they’re hoofing up a storm and singing most of their dialogue.

And if there’s a bit of this film that isn’t fully realised, it’s the songs. Don’t get me wrong, the jazz-inflected score is strong, yes, but the so-called big numbers aren’t exactly memorable. It says a lot when the tune you come out humming is the Flock of Seagulls song, that’s only there as an example of ‘bad pop’ by the cover band in which Sebastian is forced to play in order to pay his rent. And while you might be able to recall one of the film’s original melodies, chances are that the lyrics will escape you. But look, that seems an almost churlish observation in the midst of so much invention, so much undoubted chutzpah.The cinematography is ravishing and the film simply bristles with invention.

There are echoes here of some of the great movie musicals: A Star Is Born, An American in Paris… and then there are other scenes that are refreshingly original. Stone is particularly good, especially in an early scene where she auditions for a character receiving bad news over the phone and you feel like shouting at the casting directors who aren’t taking enough notice of her!

Of course, these kind of movies traditionally have a happy ending and I have to applaud Chazelle for resisting that temptation, even if the alternative he offers may be a cleverly devised way of him having his cake and eating it.

But what a cake! Delicious, delightful and ultimately satisfying. If you miss those old-time musicals, this one is undoubtedly for you.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney