Review — La La Land (Opening Scene)

In the opening scene of La La Land (2016), hundreds of cars are parked on the freeway in a huge traffic jam. The camera pans across several open windows of varying types and genres of music playing, until one by one, people start getting out of their cars to start dancing and singing the same number.

This is the classic opening to a musical because it’s doing a number of things simultaneously, using the song to establish things like setting, premise, and characters. Musicals are interesting in that it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether or not the numbers are diegetic. Often I’m of the opinion that musical numbers aren’t diegetic, because it’s impossible to have so many strangers understand the same choreography, not to mention the absurdity of the situation. Obviously an entire band wouldn’t just be sitting in the back of a loading truck playing as the truck is rolling down the freeway, so these characters and situations can be seen as metaphorically expressing their thoughts and emotions. In a number like this, all the characters are expressing the same internal feeling, not just backing up and reinforcing the main character’s feelings. In fact, “Another Day of Sun” is meant to convey the struggle of staying happy in hard times, which is a core theme of the movie. The two lead roles in La La Land are also absent until after the song ends, even though they are also in this traffic jam. This helps to show that these two are no different from everyone else: nameless nobody’s just waiting for a break.

The camera panning across the freeway to feature skateboarders and dancers is iconic to the genre because musicals are all about spectacles. Watching crazy and awesome things happen in what would otherwise be totally normal situations, so the camera needs to capture every interesting thing. What’s more, most people in this dance number are wearing bright colors to help set the tone of the movie.

At the end of the number, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are both shown in this traffic jam. The audience might assume that they participated in the dance number, and are thus a part of the huge crowd of people that want to make something of themselves. If not, though, they can be seen as outcasts trying to live their lives without putting on a show. Their role in this scene helps snap the world back to reality (which adds credence to the dance number being a metaphor rather than an actual thing that happened in the movie), and it also establishes drama that the first interaction the two of them have is a negative one.

Overall, it’s a great opening scene. It establishes the world the characters are in very well and immediately gives the audience a good idea of what the main characters are striving towards, and I think the fact that the two stars are not in the opening number does a better job at setting this up than the alternative, because if they were also the “stars” of the dance number, then it would imply that they are destined to be something, which is the opposite of what the takeaway of this scene should be.

Me — New Job and Feeling Good

I’m in a really interesting spot in my life in that I’m very content. It’s sort of strange that that’s the case, given that I didn’t win the scholarship and I was excited for the prospect of leaving the country for the first time (plus I felt I had a really strong application this year). I also intended to both get my own car soon as well as move out. I don’t think either of those two are likely to happen any time soon, and yet… it’s fine.

I really love my new job. Working around machines and materials worth hundreds or thousands of dollars is stressful, sure, but it suits me far better than my previous taxable job at Target. I’m part of a small team and the things that need to be done take a long time, so on a full shift, I’ll probably be doing a total of four or five things for the entire day. There’s a lot I need to learn, but once you know what you’re doing these things are pretty simple. (Plus having somebody always there to double check whether you’re doing something right is good insurance.)

So, my life is pretty busy right now. I’m at the college for 24 hours a week, and at work 21 hours a week. Not including the homework from all my classes, writing blog stuff, teaching improv, and going to my writer’s group, I’m busy 45 hours out of the week. Nothing to sneeze at, sure, but then you throw in the 10 page research paper due in two weeks (that I haven’t started), the One Act play I’ll need to edit soon, and you know, other things I want to work on… and well, there goes all my free time. I’m trying to get through Hollow Knight right now, but man, it’s a much longer game than I anticipated.

The weirdest thing about my contentedness is the fact that I’m not currently writing any fiction. I left Lisa 3 half finished, Lisa 2 needs to be completely rewritten, and I have interesting ideas floating around in my head that I’m basically not giving much attention. A few years ago I’d have been stressed out by my lack of writing, but right now I feel fine because I’m already doing so much other stuff, that I know my writing would suffer if I tried. Staying up till 2am writing a thing after playing video games because I felt I needed a break was super unhealthy, so not forcing myself to write has been nice.

Added bonus: my job has required me to get up earlier, and since I no longer have any days off during the week, I’m waking up pretty much every day. Yesterday I slept in and didn’t get out of bed until 8:45am! Not feeling tired and having that be the natural time I woke up was the best feeling in the world, because I suddenly had so much time in the day. I hope I can make that a habit, getting out of bed at 11am feels bad.

I also just realized that my 600th post was a few days ago. I’m probably well over half a million words posted on my blog at this point. Go milestones!

Me — Being an Editor

I know that whatever vocation I end up with, it will be centered around writing. Even if I’m not cut out to be a writer, (or at least a novelist,) I’ll still do something with all the time I’ve put into wordsmithing. Lately, I’ve been wondering if I’m just better suited to be an editor.

I can’t stick with long term projects. I get bored after a while. I also can’t really analyze my own writing the same way I seem to be able to do so easily with others. I can read an author’s work and pick out grammar mistakes sure, but I would pride myself in being able to really probe into questions that will make an author’s work stand out. From works I’ve been handed in my writer’s group, I seem to make comments that nobody else does. People will often say things like “this character seems out of place to me”, or “I was confused as to who was talking here, I guess you need to put more dialogue tags or something.”

But I’ll go a step further, and really pick apart in my own head why something isn’t working and how I would fix it. “Cut this character out of the story. Put those emotions into this character instead. You’ll end up with less characters and a more realistic and rounded character, so it’s a win-win.”

I feel as though if I could look at my writing the same way I did others’, I would be able to make something great, but maybe it’s the writing that’s hindering me. This is also why I don’t like working with entry level stuff or with people that don’t know me. I don’t want people to think I’m writing their story for them, but I honestly believe I can often see what they’re trying to do and tell them how to do it better. This isn’t to say I think I’m amazing and that I could write their story better than they can, simply that I have a good pair of eyes for identifying exactly what isn’t working.

I think that’s the core difference between me and many other people in my writing group. They can look at somebody’s writing and describe symptoms that they’re seeing. They understand something is wrong and can point it out. More often than not, I can compile all these symptoms, diagnose it, and prescribe treatment. Whether or not the author takes it is up to them. Plus, this metaphor has the added bonus in that it does not imply I am always right. Doctors misdiagnose all the time, so if I say something the author disagrees with, they are under no obligation to make the changes I suggest. (Nor should they feel obligated! It’s their story, after all.)

Maybe examining one’s own work as an editor is just a muscle that needs practice. The thing that sucks is that I think I can’t train that muscle without writing a novel to its completion first. It’s pretty frustrating. If I am meant to be a novelist, I obviously still have a long way to go.

Review — The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

(Sorry for the late post! Busy week!)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) is an interesting movie. It explores the lives of three men struggling to get by in America circa the 1920s. It’s a gritty film about greed and its power of corruption.

As far as genre goes, it’s very hard to place. I wouldn’t immediately classify it as a western, for example. It is set “on the frontier”, has gunfights, and features thematic elements of “civilization versus nature”. But there is no lawful sheriff-type hero, and the movie is much more about inner and intrapersonal conflict rather than about external political or territorial disputes. In fact, I would argue that this movie has no hero, as the only two “good people” are not proactive at all, merely reactive.

But at the same time, I would say this movie identifies most as a western. There is no mystery, little suspense, no easily identifiable antagonist, and an admittedly predictable plot.

To be honest, I didn’t like the film at all. It had a cool adventure element of the main characters going out into the wilderness on their quest for gold, but it proved early on that their quest was not a significant plot thread. It had a few scenes of action; a short train scene of robbers assaulting a train and later when the characters fight off the same bandits, but this was also clearly not a focus of the movie. The plot didn’t revolve around them attacking the bandits or a raid on the local town, for example. The movie had little mystery, as it was obvious that as soon as mistrust was foreshadowed, the camaraderie of the group would deteriorate by the end. At the same time, though, this specific element isn’t specific enough to tie it to a specific genre.

So it’s difficult to pin down. It clearly has strong “western” leanings, but it pulls away from that in the fact that there really is no hero. The first character established in the movie solidified in my head as “the protagonist” (even though it was more of a Three Musketeers situation), so when he was the one that was consumed by greed, I was frustrated as a viewer because I felt betrayed. I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to be rooting for, because he was given so much attention it felt strange to root for anyone else.

The whole movie felt unsatisfying in that it seemed to be half-finished. Every subplot it introduced was either resolved too quickly or given so little attention it seemed out of place. What’s worse, the main plot of searching for gold, figuring out the logistics of transporting it, and the devolution of trust, was uninteresting to me, so I was actively searching for something new to grab my attention, but everything the movie brought up seemed arbitrary or half-explored.

Watching movies that are obviously classics and being extremely disappointed with what it turns out to be is always strange. I suppose it’s safe to assume that in cases like this, cliche things that happen are because that movie established the cliche, so at the time it was made it was revolutionary. I’ve found that in such cases, these things don’t tend to age well.

Me — Being Independent

I love being independent. That isn’t to imply that I am completely independent. I’m a college student still living at home, after all, but even from high school at the latest, I never liked the feeling of needing others.

I lived relatively close to my high school (within a half hour’s walking distance), so whenever anyone was late to picking me up, I’d just walk home. I have no idea why this is. I would walk home with relative certainty that somebody is coming to pick me up just because I could. I hate asking for money or asking people to drive me places, because I like to hold onto as much agency of self as I can.

Psychoanalyzing this part of myself has never come easy, but if I had to guess as to the big reason this is, it would be that I’m the youngest of six, and have never had my own private bedroom. That simple fact restricts some life styles, and the fact that my roommate is so vastly different from me as far as lifestyle and preferences certainly doesn’t help. He likes artificial light, I like natural light. I’m a morning person, he’s much more nocturnal. That sort of thing.

Everyone says that “if my life wasn’t the way it is it would be much better”, but I do think there is some of that going on here. I don’t like recording audio narrations of my stuff because either he is asleep and I don’t want to wake him up or he is awake and making noise. I would probably be doing a bit of yoga, too, because I bought a mat for one of my college classes and I’ve found it to be relaxing, but the room is small, and I would rather it be a night activity than a morning thing. So if I were to do it I would be taking up all the space in the room.

I don’t like having any factors in my life dictated by those around me. I feel that when you have to rely on others they let you down (or the mere presence of other people makes things convoluted, assuming the task is a simple one).

As I said, I don’t really know the “why” for this line of reasoning. On one hand I don’t think it would be inaccurate to claim that I dislike needing help. (Boom triple negative, try to wrap your head around that sentence. I certainly won’t.) But I think that paints a picture that misrepresents the truth. I don’t mind help if it is for the purpose of my own betterment and growth. It’s actually pretty difficult for me to articulate, though.

It’s also a double standard, because I like helping people. If you put two of me in the same situation and explicitly put one in charge, the other one would hate it.

You know what? This post doesn’t even mean anything. I hate writing about myself and then just start talking about what it feels like to be a human with emotions. I’m sure most people like to feel independent. This just ended up being another ramble-y post that doesn’t stick to one topic or even have any relevance or novelty. So, you know, quality content. Here you go.

Me — Outside Perspective

I’m a very introspective person. I used to be really into the MBTI Personality Test, and back in high school and a year or two after that I considered myself INTJ, because it fit me so well. I never learned the “functions”, because it didn’t interest me and it seemed like a chore to understand it. A good friend of mine knows a good deal more about it, though, and has since told me that I’m probably an INTP.

Now, I won’t go into a lecture about what MBTI is or what all the different functions are, because I admittedly am not that fluent in them myself, (and I also don’t believe that categorizing a thing as complex as people into a few things will ever work all the time), but I will say this. INTP’s strongest function is Introverted Thinking. Here’s a summary of what that means (taken from personalitygrowth.com)

People with Introverted Thinking want the world to make sense in a logical manner. They form an internal framework of how the world works. It is constantly being modified and improved through life experience and experiments.

Introverted Thinking’s goal is to create a web of knowledge in which everything is interrelated.

For example, someone with introverted thinking can find out how a car and all its parts work by relating it to some other system, such as a computer.

They have the ability to find commonalities in seemingly unrelated things.

Introverted Thinking is also great at troubleshooting. Someone with Ti can analyze something, figure out where the problem areas are, and fix them rather quickly.

I am always in my head thinking and adapting. I would say that for any given big event in my life, such as getting a car, completing college, moving out, etc., I devote a good amount of thought to every day. I’m constantly framing, organizing, and planning my day in both the short term and the long term. But this is actually not what I wanted to talk about in this post. This is context.

Because what has really fascinated me lately is that even with how much I as a person think about myself and try to psychoanalyze myself in a myriad of different ways, people can still see me better than I can just be watching and listening. I find that this is true for everything in life.

I can read another’s writing and point out every tiny little flaw as well as the glaring issues. I can critique character motivations and promises to the reader as well as mark grammar mistakes and missing (or extraneous) commas. But I cannot do that with my own work.

This is both interesting and depressing, because often in my writer’s group, I might come up with amazing changes to somebody’s scene. I’ll say “Instead of the characters having this conversation at home, it should be at the bar, because it will increase the tension and it will also make more sense when Character Y stumbles into them and everything falls into chaos.”

I’ll watch as the writer’s eyes light up and they say “Whoa, yeah, that’s an awesome idea! Thanks!”

The reason I find this frustrating is because I wish I could do that while reading my own work. I get bored with my writing a lot of the time, and things stop working, but I can’t read it and see what I would imagine to be glaring issues that are as easy to solve as the issues in other’s writing. It would be incredibly pompous for me to say that I want another me to read my work from the outside, but really I think that’s something we can all work on. My problem is that I’m in my head so much that I can’t get myself out of it. I find it impossible to read my own work as an editor because I always read it as the writer.

And to pull away from writing, I’ve thought “Z fact” about myself for a year or two now, but have been struggling with the why. Why do I think this way? Why am I so attached to what is logically an insignificant problem? Well, I was explaining this to that same friend the other day and he said that the answer I had been telling myself was wrong. And that the real explanation was “W fact” (I can’t use X fact, because it makes me think of X Factor).

You know, that last paragraph is awful and ambiguous, but I’m not going to delete it. I think it needs to live in shame for how awful that was. Let me try again, with examples. Let’s say there’s this huge waterslide. We’re talking 60 feet high or more. I want to be the sort of person that goes on over and over again, because it looks like it should be fun. But I can’t, because I’m not a strong swimmer, or the slide looks unsafe, or whatever.

But when I’m explaining this story, a friend might say, “Wait, you said 60 feet high? Dude, you’re afraid of heights.”

And then I’ll think, “Oh, yeah, that makes way more sense.”

It’s amazing that it really doesn’t matter how much you think about something, because sometimes all you need is for somebody to look at it from the outside.

Rambling over. See you next Monday!

Review — Grand Budapest Hotel

Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) is an interesting film for a number of reasons. I admit that as I was watching it, I thought it was much older than a 2014 release, which shows how little I keep up with the film industry. I also had no idea it was a comedy, so when funny things started happening it was a welcome surprise.

I think that one of the most interesting choices made in this movie is the fact that the form if its narration has several layers. This isn’t simply a guy talking about a hotel. This is (to my admittedly limited understanding) the last writings of a famous author, who spoke directly to the last owner of the hotel, who has an amazing story to tell about what it was like in its prime. This many layers of distance adds a layer of mysticism to the entire concept of what the hotel “is”, implying that any story to come of it would have to be amazing. It does somewhat retract from its accessibility, as this many flashbacks makes it hard to understand which characters/plot threads are actually important, but this is dispelled once the narrative of the busboy is introduced and the movie sticks to it.

Another amazing thing that this movie does is play with the color palette. The different scenes in this movie all play important roles in what they mean for the plot, such as the whites, pinks, and reds of the Budapest Hotel, or the dark greys and blacks of the prison. Anderson uses these sets and color palettes to mirror the mood of both the scene and the characters, and I would go so far as to say that he uses this to imply that Agatha and Zero are meant for each other, because the bakery Agatha works at is also characterized by pinks, when most of the other major sets are contrast from the setting of the Hotel.

Grand Budapest Hotel also uses lots of cutting, especially during heavy action, to keep the pacing of the scenes. This is not a heist movie, so when something akin to a heist happens, they don’t bother to explain to the audience what the plan is, they just show the plan in action with lots of cutting and edits to make this scene happen quickly. Since this is a comedy movie, it also allows ample opportunity for humor.

It’s important to note that while emotion is not the focus of this movie, Anderson does a great job at slowing the pacing when he wants the audience to feel some, such as Zero watching Gustave insult the soldiers for daring to touch his busboy, or later when Zero confides his past in Gustave. These lapses in the pacing of the scene never last long enough for the audience to breathe and think “Oh, this movie is really hitting at something here”, but instead are meant to slow us down and remind us that, while this movie is funny, these people are normal and well-rounded, not caricatures. This raises the stakes and increases the verisimilitude of the character’s actions.

I thought this movie was a load of fun, and it’s a nice movie to sit down, relax, and have fun with, though it certainly deserves its R rating.