Top Superhero Film Themes

With so many superhero and comic book films coming out over the last few years, and more still looming on the horizon, I decided to scroll back through my music library and compile a list of what I consider to be the best superhero “themes” from these films. There may be a few films I haven’t seen, so certain themes might have evaded my notice, but I have witnessed the bulk of them and here are my results!

I’ve linked a Youtube video (not mine) after each selection that contains the theme, as well as the Amazon link for purchase/listening. This isn’t sponsored or anything and I don’t own the rights to these songs; just want to have a bit of fun and spread some good hero themes around!

5.) Spider-Man 2 (2004) – Danny Elfman
Obviously I haven’t seen Tom Holland’s solo spin on our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man yet (besides his appearance in Civil War, which was excellent) but I’ll always have a place in my heart for the original Spider-Man films and Toby Maguire’s portrayal of the character. Maybe it’s because they were the first superhero films I got into, but regardless, I love both the original Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 – I actually still consider the second one to be one of the greatest superhero films to date. Not big on the third one, to be honest, but one thing is consistent throughout the three films – the music, and the amazing Spider-Man theme provided by Danny Elfman. In a way, the theme covers an “arc” – it hits different tones, from sweeping and emotional to action-packed and intense, hitting all the notes that combine to make a heroic sound. I honestly can’t even remember the theme from the second series of films; that’s not to say the music is bad, just that Elfman’s theme packed a bigger punch and has come to define the character (for me, at least.)

Here is the LINK! (Youtube)
Or purchase on Amazon: LINK!

4.) The Avengers (2012) – Alan Silvestri
Though I’ve loved nearly all of the Marvel solo hero films to date, I actually have trouble remembering the theme music for all of the individual characters; they’re all good in the moment, but none of them really “stuck” with me after the films ended. However, when the characters all teamed up for 2012’s The Avengers, they earned a new “team” theme, and it’s pretty great. It’s definitely the kind of song that will encourage you to finish the last strenuous laps of a running session or push you to the end of a difficult workout, and when it plays in the film, it’s easy to get pumped up about seeing a team of heroes take on a dastardly villain. It’s got the right blend of hype-building and morale-boosting, which is perfect for an ensemble film like The Avengers; it helps them sound like a team, instead of just looking like one.

Here is the LINK! (Youtube)
Or purchase on Amazon: LINK!

3.) Doctor Strange (2016) – Michael Giacchino
Benedict Cumberbatch’s turn as Doctor Strange is the most recent introduction into the MCU, and his theme music is very fitting for him as a character. Doctor Strange is enigmatic, sarcastic, and his ingenuity is as much as strength as his actual powers are; and since he is a “different” sort of hero than most of the other MCU characters, his theme is also a little strange – in the best way.  It’s definitely my favorite theme from the Marvel films, which isn’t much of a surprise, since Giacchino consistently delivers great themes and scores (Rogue One comes to mind as a recent non-superhero standout). I went into this film knowing very little about Doctor Strange, and emerged from the theater humming the theme song under my breath. It’s whimsical and heroic and evokes strength all at once; the perfect sound for a hero who defies the norm.

Here is the LINK(Youtube)
Or purchase on Amazon: LINK!

2.) Wonder Woman (2017) – Rupert Gregson-Williams / Junkie XL
One of the major highlights of 2016’s Batman V Superman was the introduction of Gal Gadot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman, and her solo film was released to glowing reception a little over a year later. And her theme music is absolutely BADASS – just like the character herself. The theme was initially created by Junkie XL for BvS but was also included and expanded on in the solo film, and Gregson-Williams does it justice. When this theme starts playing, it’s obviously a pulse-pounding, energetic prelude to some serious action, and it’s the perfect music to serve as the buildup and backdrop to battle. When Wonder Woman made her first appearance in BvS, this theme played to announce her arrival, and I remember sitting in the theater, listening to the music, and thinking “Wow – this is how a hero makes an entrance.” Now, every time it starts playing when Diana is fighting onscreen, I get chills; it’s everything a heroic theme should be and I hope we get to hear it in all Wonder Woman appearances to come.

Here is the LINK! (Youtube)
Or purchase from Amazon: LINK! (WW) and LINK! (BvS)

1.) The Dark Knight (2008) Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard
Though the theme from the original Batman film back in ’89 is pretty excellent as well, I think Zimmer and Howard’s theme for the caped crusader is the most definitive and powerful version thus far. Whenever this theme kicks up, it gets the energy flowing; it’s come to signify Batman as a character and really helped to mold The Dark Knight Trilogy as a whole. Like Elfman’s Spider-Man theme, this one seems to cover an arc – it hits all the notes of Batman’s character; his suffering, his heroism, his experiences, his humanity. None of these films would be what they are without their score, but I’d argue that Zimmer and Howard’s contribution to this trilogy has the biggest overall impact. It’s a theme I won’t forget, even when new incarnations of Batman take the screen; this is a theme that will endure, and whenever I think of Batman, this is the theme I associate him with. I’m still baffled the soundtrack wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar, though that’s probably because I’m biased. The Dark Knight Trilogy really revolutionized the “comic book film” genre with its gritty, dark tone and groundbreaking performances, and the music provides the a fitting, powerful soundtrack to Bale’s incarnation of the much-beloved character.

Here is the LINK! (Youtube)
Or purchase from Amazon: LINK! 

Writing Rewind #3: Wings of Fate Chapter 1 Part 2

I can feel a headache brewing already… which means it’s time for part 3!

Last time, we met our beloved hero, Heiwa, who lives in the countryside with his grouchy grandmother and his terminally-ill mother. Now, we get the first taste of the plot, as Heiwa receives a mysterious (and likely poorly written) letter…

KEY/GUIDE:
Strikethrough = cut out
Highlight = rephrase/reword/awk
Blue highlight = minor additions
DANGER RED HIGHLIGHT= massive cringe

HERE WE GO! To set the scene, Heiwa just got some mail…

ch1p2first

I mean… I invented a new branch of the military for this story, and that probably was… erroneous. Definitely would have applied a different tactic if I were writing this for the first time today, but I’m not going to delve too deeply into it, because it would require a massive overhaul. Regardless, on a superficial level, I could definitely improve the way my fictional military branch presents itself. That letter is just a big ol’ ball of NOPE.

Here are the changes I pinpointed…

ch1p2firstchanges

Ahhhhhh, so much to cut out, so little time! Well, actually, I do have time; that’s why I’m doing this. Anyway… like so many parts before this, it suffers from “Too Much Detail” syndrome, and the only cure is extensive slashing. The letter is way too verbose, and there’s also some phrasing to rework, but nothing that major (for once).

Here’s the fixed version:

ch1p2firstfixed

Short, sweet (I guess), and to the point. Well… the point was for the letter to be vague, but intriguing. And the shorter it is, the better, so not to over-emphasize.

Later, Heiwa is watching television with his mother… in WAY TOO MUCH DETAIL. But we do learn a bit about Heiwa’s deceased cliche – I mean, father.

ch1p2second

In ninth grade, I obviously did not know the difference between “interlude” and “prelude.” So, that’s great. Also, I think Izumi has “smiled weakly” three times in this chapter alone, and TWICE in this segment. Good grief.

My initial scan yields this:

ch1p2secondchanges

Again with the emerald orbs!!!!! GAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

Anyway, per usual, there’s a lot to rework to fix some awkward phrasing and general issues, and a couple of cringe-worthy and superfluous sentences to axe.

Here is the fixed version:ch1p2secondfixed

Much more concise, and nothing was lost. It’s easy to get caught up in the mentality of trying to ensure the reader knows EXACTLY what you are trying to day, but really, I think it’s more about providing the framework, and allowing them to build their own mental picture around it. You don’t need to provide them with a fully-furnished house and try to convey each little feature in painstaking detail. There’s a balance to be had; a balance that eluded me way back when…

Lastly, to bring chapter one to a close, we have our hero reflecting on his day…

ch1p2third

WHAT THE ACTUAL F*CK, PAST ALLIE?!?!! I reread this and whispered “oh my god” under my breath about sixteen times. I cringed myself into the next plane of existence. This is utterly AGONIZING, from “jade colored eyes” to “please, star” and everything else. I mean, the concept itself is totally cringe-inducing, but I definitely can make it less so without cutting the whole thing out… though I really, really want to. Sadly, (SPOILER ALERT) the “wishing star” theme returns later… much later, though. So I have time to recover from this.

So, obviously, I was able to concoct some changes…

ch1p2thirdchanges

There’s some of the typical wording fixes to make, but it’s going to be quite a hefty order to make this less cringe-y. Time to grab my trusty scissors (also known as ctrl + x) and get to work!

ch1p2thirdfixed.PNG

Ahhhhhh. So much shorter. So much less… painful to read.

I was a real sentimental fiend back in the day, so there will be more instances of this type of (cliche-riddled, hopelessly optimistic, saccharine) writing as we proceed… I can hardly wait to share it with you. The good thing is, it’s definitely making for a cautionary tale, and even though I can’t actually steer my past self away from this writing, it’s already been a helpful experience to be able to recognize my errors and fix them now, so many years after the fact.

Next time, we learn about the “mission”… sort of. Secrets will remain, but we also get to meet some other members of our main cast! And a certain icy general might make another appearance, so stay tuned for Chapter 2: The Mission. Until next time!

Worth 1000 Words #8: Coffee

A cup of coffee can either save or ruin an entire day. I guess that also applies to tea or other similar beverages, but I dislike most tea that is not of the iced variety, so this post will strictly deal with coffee.

IMG_20170515_145133_308For several folks all over the world, coffee is what sets the morning in motion. Or it provides a much-needed stimulant in the afternoon. Or it can be the fuel to a productive evening if you don’t have to wake up early the following day. Basically, coffee is a versatile tool that can be utilized whenever someone needs a caffeine-based boost. On many dreary days, it is only the tantalizing scent of coffee that is capable of dragging me out of bed in the morning, and during certain evenings, I look forward to indulging in a cup of “night coffee” as I settle in for an editing session or to read a few chapters of a book.

My personal relationship with coffee has not always been a healthy one; back in my late high-school / early college years, I was averaging about five to seven cups a day. Not good, and quite detrimental to my general state of being. My sleep schedule was terrible, my diet was awful, the caffeine headaches were brutal, I developed the appearance of a zombie raccoon, and I was basically using coffee as a crutch to hobble through each day and night. After receiving doctor’s orders to decrease my caffeine intake, I have managed to scale it back to two or three cups, depending on my work load or the kind of day I’m having, and on (very) rare occasions I even settle for one. I still resemble a zombie raccoon on most days, but I’m starting to think that’s just my natural appearance.

But I am also one of those folks who is not satisfied with just any kind of coffee. No, no… I am a snob. I’m definitely not as bad as some, so I guess you could say I’m a low-tier snob, but over the years, my tastes have evolved so that I can only tolerate certain strains of coffee, with dark roast being the most prominent. I am partial to French roast (the Starbucks kind is probably the best I’ve had, but Victor Allen’s is decent, and so is the Newman’s Own) but I will accept Sumatra, Italian, or any other kind of dark roast. I used to be able to drink any kind of coffee, but now, all variants of light roast taste like a single coffee bean floating in water to me – I call it devil’s swill. I honestly can’t fathom how people even drink light roast; I can tolerate medium roast if there are no other options, but really, the bolder the better.

However, despite my love of all things dark roast, I do have a fondness for sugary, frilly coffee drinks; frapuccinos, machiattos, lattes, blended drinks, etc. Sure, they’re often overpriced and provide about three days’ worth of sugar in a single sip, but they taste delicious! And sometimes, a frou-frou basic-white-girl whipped-cream-topped sweet treat is just what is required to propel someone through a rough patch. I’m off chocolate for the year (which has been a struggle, let me tell you), but if I weren’t, I’d be indulging in a S’mores Frappuccino right about now. Not that it will redeem me any, but I am STRONGLY anti-Pumpkin spiced anything and cannot stand the taste of gingerbread, so in the fall/winter, I am somewhat less of a basic bitch. I also haven’t tried the new Unicorn thing, but I suspect there isn’t any actual coffee in it, so I think I’ll avoid that sugar rush.

I prefer not to take coffee black; I’m not even sure how people do it. If I’m fixing myself a cup at home, I use a splash of creamer – basic vanilla or something simple. Right now, I’m using one called “sweet cream,” but it’s not overly-sweet. Y’all can get out of here with your hazelnut, though, or any of those fancy-pants flavors. If I’m out at a restaurant or something, I go for standard cream and sugar. Not too much; just enough to stave off bitterness.

I also have a mug preference, if I’m at home and am free to select whichever vessel I desire for my caffeinated beverages. My cupboard includes two Star Wars mugs (one is BB8, the other is Rogue One based) an Avengers mug, two Batman mugs, a mug with the logo of my alma mater on it, a Game of Thrones stein (House Baratheon… purchased before season 5 episode 9), and a bunch of plain white mugs for plain days. Sometimes, all it takes is a cup of java in a BB8 mug to lift my mood. Why would I use a plain old mug when I can drink out of a mug with superheroes on it?

Now, coffee is a simple thing, I know; probably not something I should spend 1000 words droning on about. But simple pleasures have power. Besides, you can tell a lot about someone from the way they take their coffee. I like to think I’m as bold as French roast (I’m not) with just a splash of sweetness (I’m not that, either), but a coffee preference can be an integral part of a person’s psyche; something that someone else can identify with. I even try really hard not to judge people who drink light roast, though it’s a daily struggle. Seriously, how does anyone consume that… that… devil’s swill?!?

My coffee order has evolved over the years, and I have changed with it – maybe someday, I’ll be taking my coffee black to match my bright sunshine-y disposition! For now, however, I’ll happily stick to my French roast… I actually just ordered a pack of 200 Victor Allen’s K-cups and I’m curious to see how long it will take me to plow through it.

So, the question is… how do you take your coffee?

LAST CHANCE!

The Countdown Deal for the kindle version of my YA novel, I’m With You, ends tomorrow morning! The price is currently $3.99!

Here is the link: LINK!

book-cover

In a YA, low fantasy, and vaguely steampunk adventure, follow fifteen-year-old Ciarán Morrigan and his little sister Remiel, who, with enlisted help from a band of misfits, strive to escape their unstable father and the ghosts of their past.

I’m With You – Countdown Deal is LIVE!

Over the course of the weekend, I’m running a special on the kindle version of my debut YA indie novel, I’m With You.
countdown.pngCurrently, the price is discounted to $1.99, down from $4.99! After today, the price goes to $2.99, etc, until it’s back to the original price. So right now, it’s quite a deal – get it while you can!

Here is the link to purchase: AMAZON LINK!

I’m With You is the story of fifteen-year-old Ciarán Morrigan and his little sister Remiel, who must flee their home in Kelvar City to escape their unstable father. Along the way, they meet a band of misfits, including a fire juggler and the disowned heir to a car-manufacturing empire, who help Ciarán and Remiel evade the hired hands sent to track them down. But when Remiel’s darkest secret is revealed, will their new friends abandon them, or will the Morrigan siblings find the freedom and peace that they dream of?

Check it out!!!

Stream of Consciousness OSCARS Reaction

Instead of writing up a proper review/reflection for the Oscars for this week’s post, I’ve decided to post my (mostly) unfiltered thoughts as they pop into my head – more a “stream of consciousness” type babble with some minor structure than an official reaction. If you follow me on twitter, you may know that I also live-tweet(ed) the event, so this post might contain repeat thoughts. Here goes!

Pre-show:

Where did Lucas Hedges’s hair go?????
JOHN LEGEND is performing the La La Land songs?!? I am down with that.
Hidden Fences strikes again! Someone needs to make an actual movie, now.
DEV. PATEL.
How tall is Matt Damon? Is he not tall or is Michael Strahan just super tall?
Aw, the boys of Moonlight all together in one picture!
Isabelle Huppert’s dress is GORGEOUS.
Excellent use of the word serendipitous, JT.
I’m pulling for La La Land for Original Song, but if Miranda wins I won’t even be mad because EGOT.
RYAN GOSLING!!!! Not a fan of the ruffle, but it’s definitely in the spirit of the film.
Petition for Casey Affleck to get a haircut. (edit: It’s for a role, nvm.)
I thought this was over at 8. Guess not.
Michael Strahan is taller than The Rock?!? I guess that answers my previous question.
Ah, I love a good photobomb.

Monologue/Opening:
I constantly forget that this song is from a movie.
What a great way to determine if the nominees in the first few rows can dance/possess rhythm.
I just screamed “VIGGO!” out loud, so you know where my attention is. My LoTR cast radar is always turned up.
With Kimmel as the host the snark-meter should skyrocket. (edit: It already has)
“Smooth move, dumbass.” I love it.
MERYL!
This monologue is better than NPH’s entire hosting stint 2 years back.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
WHY OH WHY WAS SUNNY PAWAR NOT NOMINATED? I am OUTRAGED.
Mahershala was soooooo good. Fingers crossed.
I also love Jeff Bridges. But that’s just, like… my opinion, man.
DEV. PATEL.
YAAAAAAAAAAAASSSS!!!!!!!!! Mahershala Ali! What a guy!

BEST COSTUME/MAKEUP/HAIR-STYLING:
Star Trek over Suicide Squad all day every day.
Pffffft.
The dudes are cool, though.
YEAH, FANTASTIC BEASTS!!!! That makes up for the Star Trek loss. Sort of.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:
Need to see Hidden Figures. What a stellar cast.
I need to step up my documentary game, too…
Still picked right, though!

“My twin, Lin Manuel Miranda.” Lol.
I am sad I still haven’t seen Moana…. or Zootopia.
But DAMN, that girl can sing! Didn’t even falter when a rogue wave smacked her!

BEST SOUND EDITING/MIXING:
The only category sci fi films  stand a chance in, besides effects!
Also, CHRIS EVANS!
Sound was such a huge part of Arrival, so glad to see it win something.
Abbot and Costello would be proud.
DAMMIT I wanted Rogue One to win something. ;_;

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Sidenote, Mark Rylance is the only winner I’ve ever picked immediately after I saw the film in theaters; before the nominees were even announced.
Was pulling for Naomie Harris (I mean, she was unrecognizable in Moonlight), but I love Viola Davis. Should have been a “Best Actress” nom, though, not supporting.
D’awwwww, Denzel. ;_______;

I don’t know why, but seeing Meryl eat Junior Mints is just… A+.

BEST FOREIGN FILM:
Picking A Man Called Ove just because it’s up for more than one.
Not a great strategy, as it happens.

DEV PATEL!

BEST ANIMATED SHORT:
PIPER PIPER PIPER PIPER PIPER PIPER
YAYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:
KUBO KUBO KUBO KUBO KUBO KUBO KUBO
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN/SET DECORATION:
Would love to see Arrival, but I’m thinking LLL.
Tbh, the entire epilogue sequence of LLL was worth that award, though.
But that dress is unfortunate.

….. Could these people be less impressed?
Okay, now they’re warming up. Except that dude chewing gum, he could not care less.
That woman got a hug from Viggo I am DYING.
AWWWWWWW SO CUTE! Couple goals.
Gary from Chicago is my hero!

The Bicycle Thieves!
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon!

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:
Riz Ahmed looks dapper and Felicity’s dress is beautiful – best dressed duo thus far.
Also this category is STACKED.
The Jungle Book was literally 90% effects. How could it NOT win?
Was secretly pulling for Kubo, though.

BEST FILM EDITING:
Is Seth Rogen wearing moon boots?
Guess I need to see Hacksaw Ridge now.

SUNNY PAWAR!!!!!

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT / LIVE ACTION SHORT:
Not even gonna pretend I have a clue what any of these films are…

I have a strange craving for mustard, just now…not sure why…

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:
This category is stacked, too – and I actually saw all of the nominees but one!
LLL strikes again! Has the trend begun?

I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS MOMENT say what you want about La La Land, the music is the bomb.

god that performance was STELLAR

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:
Is blue velvet in this year? This is blue velvet suit jacket number 3!
And it’s LLL again! In other news, grass is green!
Tbf, the score for LLL is fantastic.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG:
WILL WE SEE THE EGOT????
Update: Nope.
I am def of the opinion that City of Stars is better than Audition, though.

The In Memoriam section hits me in the feels EVERY TIME. ;______;

Kimmel is slaying it tonight. I will never get tired of the Damon/Kimmel feud.
“AND GUEST” I’m CRYING.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
MbtS better win this – it was a beautiful script and Lonergan is a word wizard.
Loved LLL, but it wasn’t for the writing.
WOOOOOOO!!!!!! *fist pump*

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Come on, Lion or Moonlight….
Wow that is some height differential.
Moonlight was absolutely beautiful – so happy to see it get recognized.

BEST DIRECTOR:
Would be literally happy with any of these except one, but I’ll leave that to the imagination.
And that’s another one for LLL! I am SHOCKED. Shocked!
He’s 32 going on 14.

Dude I gotta get up at 4 can we wrap this up pls

BEST ACTOR:
It has GOT to be Affleck. I love Denzel and Gosling (AND VIGGO), but Affleck MADE that movie. He was the picture of misery.
I mean… I am not opposed to a surprise Mortensen win, though.
Awwww, the Affleck bros!
At least he looks like a vagrant for a role, though. Like, there’s a purpose for it.

BEST ACTRESS:
Can Stone pull it off?!?!?!? Would love a surprise Negga win.
Meryl Streep was AMAZING though, fyi. I have never laughed so hard in a Meryl Streep movie.
This is the first I’ve seen Leo since last year’s Oscars. Did he get lost in the wilderness again?
AWWW is it even possible to dislike Emma Stone?

FINALLY I need to go to bed so let’s get this done it is literally the nEXT DAY

BEST FILM:
God, I only saw five of the nominees this year. Gotta step it up in 2017.
I enjoyed La La Land the most, but I think Moonlight is a superior film, so it’s my pick.
MbtS is borderline for me, though it hit me very hard. I think it won for what it should have won.
Lion’s a long shot, as is Arrival, but they are all excellent films and if either of them win I won’t even be mad, tbh.

….Well, I’m not surprised.  Would have loved to see Moonlight walk away with it, but really, all nominated films are deserving, and LLL was phenomenal too…

wAIT A MINUTE WHAT?!?!?!?! A mistake?!?!?!

OH

MY

GOD

YESSSSSSSSS!!!!!!

Feel bad for the La La Land team, but WOW. What an upset! Glad to see Moonlight take it after all, but what a plot twist!

now sleep

 

Film Review: La La Land (2016)

Dir: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling
Runtime: 2h 8m
Music: Pasek and Paul (lyrics) Justin Hurwitz (score)

WARNING: This review contains potential SPOILERS for general plot details. MAJOR SPOILERS (likely pertaining to the ending of the film) will be forewarned in BOLD and under a “Read More.”

1Sheet_Master.qxdOne of my local movie theaters runs a promotion called Tightwad Tuesdays, so when the Damien Chazelle helmed musical/romance film La La Land finally arrived in my area, I snagged tickets a week in advance. It’s a sweet deal ($6 tickets, cheaper popcorn) but often, when I indulge in Tuesday screening, it’s not unbearably crowded. In fact, when my mom and I went to see Cinderella one Tuesday afternoon in 2015, we were the only two people in the theater. Usually, it’s not that slow, but I had never seen it packed.

This past Tuesday, my mom and I arrived at the theater about fifteen minutes early for our 1:15 showing, got our popcorn (and our annual popcorn bucket, complete with Matt Damon’s face to promote The Great Wall), and when we got into the theater, it was already at half-capacity. By the time the previews started, almost every seat was taken, save the front two neck-breaking rows of seats where no one sits anyway. Granted, I was the youngest person there by a significant margin, but I suppose the positive reception to the film had managed to saturate my sleepy little Pennsylvania town.

I have been wanting to see this film since I saw the first trailer and the buzz began to spread earlier in the year. Anticipation heightened my expectations, and I was not disappointed. I was charmed from the first notes of the opening number, and stayed captivated throughout; this film is truly deserving of its Golden Globes sweep.

La La Land is primarily focused on the romance between Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a struggling jazz pianist with dreams of “saving jazz” and opening his own club, and Mia (Emma Stone), a barista and aspiring actress who endures several failed auditions in her efforts to kick-start a career. As their romance unfolds over the course of a year, they attempt to navigate the obstacles and challenges of life in “La La Land” and strive to make their dreams come true.

The opening act of the film is an homage to classic Hollywood musicals, with infectiously-catchy songs like “Another Day of Sun” and “Someone in the Crowd,” but while one foot is tapping jauntily to the beat, the other remains planted in “reality.” The film does a fair job of lending itself to nostalgia (in a relatively self-aware manner) but still manages to divert from well-worn paths to break new ground. For example, the charming song and tap-dance number “A Lovely Night,” reminiscent of classic films like Singin’ in the Rain (1952), is a whimsical scene, playing on the “two leads bicker while denying obvious chemistry” trope, but the number is interrupted by the chime of an iPhone. If that’s not a modern, relatable mood-killer, I don’t know what is.

The first arc the film portrays the rush of a new, passionate romance, while still managing to poke a bit of fun at itself, but it’s almost too much like a fantasy. I mean, no one breaks into spontaneous dance numbers while gazing out across the city skyline, and while literally dancing among the stars is a dream come true for the romantic soul in all of us (and my favorite sequence in the film), it’s not physically possible. It’s an idealization; a culmination of “Hollywood” romance.

The second act is where reality sets in, and the film hits a different, more grounded note. There are fewer musical numbers, save the now Golden Globe winning “City of Stars” and John Legend’s “Start a Fire,” as Seb and Mia start to face professional and personal challenges. The mood of the film shifts from the playful tone of new romance to something a bit more real, and though some of the magic fades, it is a reflection of life, of a relationship that has left the honeymoon stage and is now encountering obstacles as both characters try to achieve their respective dreams.

Together, both the vibrant opening act of the film and pragmatic second half manage to strike a balance between expectations/reality, and though the tone of the narrative evolves to suit the course of their relationship, it doesn’t disrupt the plot or flow of the film overall. Without revealing too much of the specific events of the film, I’ll say that La La Land hits a lot of high notes; I enjoyed the lighthearted, humorous moments, the romance, the instrumental interludes, and the emotional scenes.

As far as music goes, the songs are a significant part of what makes the film so magical; it’s easily my favorite score of the year and my personal front-runner for the Oscar. I, like Mia, didn’t even really like jazz all that much going into the film, but I came out of the theater with the tunes whirling around in my head, and I had to suppress the urge to dance on my way to the car. Here it is, a few days later, and I’m still humming the theme. Highlights for me were “City of Stars,” “A Lovely Night,” and the instrumental pieces, “Planetarium” and “Epilogue.” Hurwitz’s score flirts heavily with an old-school sound, complete with Disney-esque trills and chimes that made me half-expect Bambi to come prancing onscreen, but it adds a modern, jazzy undercurrent that makes it less saccharine. The lyrics of each song, written by Pasek and Paul, are also worth re-examining upon completion of the film; some lines take on new significance after viewing the final sequences.

I also appreciate that Gosling and Stone, while not “powerhouse” vocalists, sound like real people signing instead of trained professionals – though Stone totally killed it in “Audition.” It made them seem more genuine, and I thought both of their performances (in song and dance, especially with those extremely long takes) were stellar – the acclaim they’ve been getting is well-deserved. As far as the characters go, I thought both Mia and Seb were well-developed and written; their personalities complemented one another, and their chemistry throughout the film is palpable. Mia learns to appreciate new things through Seb’s influence, and vice versa, and they grow and change in a believable way as the film unfolds. There are so many iterations of “struggling musician” and “barista/actress” out there, it could have easily tumbled into a mess of cliches, yet Gosling and Stone each brought a fresh perspective to their roles. The film is their film, and they are the true beating heart of it all, but the supporting cast (J.K. Simmons, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, etc) are great, despite limited screen time.

Visually, the film is stunning, with amazing costumes, set design, and effects – as I mentioned, the “Planetarium” sequence is my favorite part and I might go see the film again just to see it on the big screen one more time. The cinematography is great, with the exception of a few panning shots that came across blurry, like a carousel going too fast. The use of long, uninterrupted takes for the song and dance numbers was superb. Color is used in a way that reflects the passing of the seasons and the emotional tone of the film, and it also helped enhance the dreamlike quality of many sequences.

All in all, La La Land is a well-written film that is beautiful to look at, but it’s much more than a pretty blend of color and song; all of the components – acting, music, pacing, plot – function collectively to create an engrossing story about love and life in the “City of Stars”, which, although it might partially rely on nostalgia and ideas we’ve seen onscreen thousands of times before, also puts a new spin on classic themes. It is an ode to “those who dream,” and a reminder that there might be “someone in the crowd” who can completely change your life. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go put the soundtrack on repeat for the next several days.

Overall rating: 9/10

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