La La Land (2016)

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I left this singing the songs and wiping tears from my eyes. Hardly a typical exit from a movie on a viciously cold winter’s day but confirmation that everything you’ve heard about this is true:  it’s absolutely, unexpectedly wonderful. The opening is casually breathtaking, a pass-it-along song among disenchanted motorists stuck in a traffic jam on the freeway in LA, singing and dancing as far as the eye can see in an utterly joyous spectacle. Ryan Gosling is playing and re-playing a piano sequence on the tape deck of his vintage car while Emma Stone is in the car in front, talking on the phone and looking at a scene for an audition. She doesn’t see the traffic move along, he overtakes, glares at her and she gives him the finger. This meet cute is in three parts and the second is at a club where he gets fired for playing his preferred jazz tunes;  then a pool party where he’s playing in an 80s covers band and she requests I Ran. He invites her to see Rebel Without a Cause (my favourite movie!) at The Rialto and then the romance begins in earnest, under the stars at the Griffith Observatory, over the course of the seasons, with everything colour coded, in tribute perhaps to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg but with liberal references to a slew of other musicals that have soundtracked our lives. Everything is perfectly judged as they move in together, she attends hilariously awful auditions, he has to slowly forego his dream of a jazz club and must earn his crust playing with John Legend (I know), just as he’s persuaded her to love the musical form she associates with Kenny G (exactly). He explains to her what jazz is:  Conflict and Compromise. And that’s how the story works. There is wit and smarts to spare, not just movie references, since the score by Justin Hurwitz is its own animal and the free jazz improv daubs this Damien Chazelle work with its own singular mojo. The narrative combines the integrated musical, the backstage musical and straightforward musical drama in a discursive work which posits settling against success, love against loss, against a bedrock of millennial failures and wannabes – baristas, waiters and jobless performers, living in an LA rarely seen on screen with its rackety streets, vintage accoutrements, nouveau restaurants and old style clubs, not to mention the Warners’ lot. This is just brilliant filmmaking, with an audacious ending and fantastically good performances by the leads who are terrific given their deliberately limited dancing and singing abilities. Gosling has improved so much (wasn’t The Nice Guys the making of him?); and Stone gives a gracious, complex, fully rounded empathy to a role that beautifully complements his sardonic but passionate dude. A widescreen valentine to Hollywood, music, movies, and La-La-Land, that destination for dreamers everywhere. Stunning.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

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Why? It’s my favourite film. I have adored James Dean and Natalie Wood since I first saw this aged 11. I’ve been to the LA locations and stepped around the High School motto. I’ve read everything there is on the production and I have always admired the cinema of Nicholas Ray and the screenplays of Stewart Stern. This moves me like few films could. It is staggering to watch in so many ways. It is a film about feeling. And because it’s my 1,000th post on Mondo Movies. Scuse me while I kiss the sky. MM#1000

Stranger from Venus (1954)

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An offbeat British sci-fi starring Patricia Neal, who had of course helped save the world in a previous outing, The Day The World Stood Still. Helmut Dantine arrives in rural England and we don’t see his face for the longest time – it’s all over the shoulder stuff – and his essential German-ness is of course responsible for everyone feeling the fear: like it or not the deliberate style of speaking is a national trait that alienates everyone else, pun intended. Produced and directed by Burt Balaban, most of it takes place in a Tudor public house – Neal is the proprietor’s daughter. Her government official fiance suspects all is not right with this mysterious intruder who has healed her injuries after their meet-cute at the car crash caused by the stranger’s flying saucer landing lights (that’s not a euphemism). He calls the war office.The journalist following the story gets  the stranger to translate into multiple European languages to prove they’ve been listening to our radio broadcasts (I must try that sometime). Police cordon off the area and the stranger gets antsy when his communications disc is stolen, preventing him calling his colleagues. He’s the advance party for a major landing warning Earthlings to stop developing dangerous technologies (too late, I fear) because detonating H-bombs means the gravitational orbit of the entire solar system would be adversely affected. Whitehall want Venusian technology and their shortsighted ploy destroys the peace mission … The story by Desmond Leslie advocates the safe deployment of nuclear weapons, a pretty radical message for the time which predated the founding of CND by a few years.

It Came From Outer Space (1953)

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One of the best 50s sci fis and directed by Jack Arnold, who was responsible for another, The Incredible Shrinking Man, a brilliant existentialist work. He was also responsible for some of the original creature features – The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Revenge of the Creature and another sci fi, The Space Children. This was adapted from a story by Ray Bradbury and has both his sense of wonder and his sense of optimism. With Richard Carlson and Barbara Rush – and their doubles!

Earth Versus the Flying Saucers (1956)

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Two hours into their honeymoon, rocket scientist Hugh Marlowe (one of my favourite leading men) and wife Joan Taylor, experience a flying saucer. That’s not a euphemism. The earth is under attack from mistranslated aliens in one of the era’s best sci fis, cowritten by blacklistee Bernard Gordon, George Worthing Yates and Curt Siodmak from the book Flying Saucers from Outer Space by Major Donald E. Keyhoe (retired from the Marine Corps) and directed by Fred F. Sears. Good effects – particularly at the conclusion and a great sense of urgency! – so it’s a pity it was shot in monochrome.