7/10 My 4th most anticipated film of 2022 (which got bumped up to #2 since two films in front of it were pushed to 2023), “Babylon” hails from one of the best writer/directors working today; Damien Chazelle. “Whiplash” put him on the map, “La La Land” made him the youngest person to ever win Best Director and “First Man” showed he could expand his directing muscles. All three of his films prior to this one won at least one Academy Award, two of his first three films won acting Oscars and “La La Land” is tied with being the most nominated film in Academy Award history (with “All About Eve” and “Titanic”). Add an absolutely stacked cast and I was as hyped up as possible for this film. While it is probably Chazelle’s weakest film, that isn’t necessarily such a bad thing since a 7/10 is nothing to scoff at and still results in a solid film with a lot to admire. While the three hour running time and hard R rating will definitely turn many viewers off, I thought the film was paced well enough so that I didn’t mind how long it was. The film works on so many levels and is especially interesting considering Chazelle’s own filmography. If “La La Land” was his love letter to Hollywood, this is his hate mail sent in a box with elephant crap. “That’s LA. They worship everything and they value nothing.” – Ryan Gosling’s character Sebastian in “La La Land”. That single line can pretty much sum up this antithesis to the optimistic and romanticized “La La Land”. The appropriately titled “Babylon” is the flip side of the coin as we witness how the Hollywood machine can easily discard and destroy anyone and everyone in its way. Taking place roughly a century ago when Hollywood made the transition from silent films to talkies (films with sound), we get to see the rise and fall of several major Hollywood players who are all based off of real people. Silent film star Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) is based off of John Gilbert, who was in the highest grossing film of the 1920s with “The Big Parade”. Margot Robbie’s Nellie LaRoy is largely based off of Clara Bow with some shreds of Alma Rubens and Jeanne Eagels mixed in as well. Chazelle heavily researched this film and while less astute viewers might think most of the film’s crazier elements are fictional, they might be surprised to learn the truth. One rather shocking but true element, for example, comes in one of Conrad’s epic, costumed pictures. From the area that would soon be known as “Skid Row” in LA, homeless people were often enticed with free food and/or alcohol to be extras in films. That way, if they died (which happened more often than you’d think and is shown in the film) no one would care or miss them since they were homeless and without families/addicts. Their deaths, if acknowledged at all, were chalked up to an accidental death and quickly forgotten. If that sounds heartless, it’s because it is and that’s how Hollywood has always been. I was pleasantly surprised that even the darkest elements of Hollywood’s sordid history were on display; not because they are likeable or pleasant, but because it exposes the underbelly that Hollywood people would wish to keep quiet. In the third act we are shown “the asshole of Los Angeles” which is an underground dungeon with circus freaks, sex acts, prisoners, vile behavior, etc. Hollywood has many people selling their souls to achieve fame and fortune and there is rampant pedophilia, sex trafficking, underage sex, rape, casting couches, use of adrenochrome, etc. The bigger the name in Hollywood the more NDAs you have to sign to work for them, ensuring secrecy. It is a massive problem that people don’t like to think or talk about due to how disturbing the nature is and often gets smeared as conspiracy theory, as many true things do to get discredited. So even seeing a glimpse makes me respect Chazelle for exposing a snippet of what went on (and still does). Another strength of “Babylon” is how relevant it is. A century ago, Hollywood was drastically changed with the introduction of sound. Flash forward 100 years to the current era and Hollywood is once again seeing a colossal, Earth shattering shift with streaming services, made all the more popular due to people staying at home and utilizing them during the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021. While sound did kill many actors’ careers and lead to drug/alcohol abuse and even suicide for those left behind, at least it attracted more audience members to the pictures. Now however, streaming has kept viewers at home for a multitude of reasons. From older people who don’t wish to be in crowds for health reasons to being able to pause longer movies to use the restroom to saving money to not having to deal with morons talking or on their phones, streaming services certainly have appeal. I love the theatrical experience more than anyone (I don’t know anyone else who pays out of pocket to go see Netflix films in theaters when I could watch them for free at home) but even I am frequently annoyed by other, inconsiderate film goers, ridiculous concession prices and way too many trailers (I’m looking at you, AMC). While I want the theater going experience to continue on forever (while hoping improvements are made), the timing of this film as streaming threatens theaters couldn’t be better. The production elements, as with all of Chazelle’s films are top notch and this is easily Chazelle’s funniest film with the first act providing moments funnier than 95% of comedies that came out in 2022. Justin Hurwitz delivers one of the best scores of the year, Robbie and breakout star Diego Calva (Manny Torres) give the best two performances in the film (with Pitt also putting in solid work) and the production and costume design could both easily pick up Oscar nominations. As for the problems, while I didn’t mind the running time, Chazelle could have probably cut out a solid 15 minutes and not damaged the overall film. Upon my second and final viewing in theaters, the film didn’t hold up as well since I already knew what shocking hilarity would come. “Babylon” is definitely best the first time when you have no idea what to expect, unlike something like “La La Land” which gets better each time I watch it. Finally, there is a montage at the end and while I appreciated what Chazelle was trying to say, putting modern films into the montage (including two from James Cameron but zero from many far superior directors), didn’t entirely work for me. That being said, while the film takes a “Requiem for a Dream” style downward spiral for our characters, at least one comes out on the other side and is able to escape the Hollywood system, which is still continuing to corrupt and destroy everything it touches today. Yet like crazy, drug filled parties and orgy scenes, we still can’t look away and come back for more. Hollywood can be like drugs, booze or rampant sex. We know it isn’t good for us when we abuse it but we are still drawn to it. This film says a lot and despite its flaws and bloated run time, it didn’t deserve its failure at the box office and I hope more people discover this underrated film over time.

#Babylong / #OnceUponATimeInHollywood2 / #ClinginInTheFame / #TheBigSnort / #KillingThemLoudly / #LaLaLawless

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