Music: On the Stage and On the Screen

Summer in Telluride means music festivals. From Bluegrass to Blues and Brews, from RIDE to Jazz Festival — our little town is invaded by music fans. This summer, music lovers with a taste for nostalgia can also get their music fix on the big screen. Rocketman, with it’s amazing musical and acting tour de force — Taron Egerton channeling Elton John — seems to have started a rock music biopic craze. It’s still playing in some theaters. Perhaps it was actually Bohemian Rhapsody, directed by the same director as Rocketman, Dexter Fletcher, that started this music film craze. This summer there are many films featuring musicians or their music in biopics, documentaries and romantic comedies.

There’s a great documentary that celebrates the music that came out of LA’s Laurel Canyon, Echo in the Canyon and a look back at David Crosby’s career; the story of how he survived four decades having dealt with addiction, prison and heartbreak called Remember My Name. August brings Blinded by the Light, a coming-of-age film set in India. It’s inspired by the true tale of a Muslim teenager who finds himself through the music of Bruce Springsteen. There’s even a trailer for a behind-the-scenes look at the K-Pop band BTS on tour (Bring The Soul).

Yesterday has a simple premise: what if there was a world-wide power outage and when the lights came up, only one man remembered The Beatles and their music? Director Danny Boyle spins this charming tale of struggling singer-songwriter Jack Malick and what he does with this gift. Jack is played with warmth and a great deal of befuddlement by Himesh Patel, the British actor and writer best-known for his role on the EastEnders films. When his unexpected good fortune makes him a superstar, he must learn to navigate fame, a greedy manager (a brittle Kate McKinnon) and receiving advice from Ed Sheeran.

There’s a joy in watching people “discover” The Beatles songs and the snippets of the songs are played with great gusto. It’s interesting to think about how these songs were received back when they were hits and if modern audiences would be as enamored of them. Jack’s close friends are shown supporting him even in his failing sets at the local pub and his parents have the realistic hope that his songwriting and performing career will end. When his career takes off, it’s sweet to see their whole-hearted support.

The key relationship with his biggest supporter and first manager, played with sweetness by Lily James, is where the film loses it’s footing. Instead of weak excuses to keep them apart, a stronger storyline would’ve let Jack tire of his small-town love or stray into temptation’s path…but this sweet fairly tale, story by Richard Curtis of Love Actually fame, doesn’t dig deep. It’s nice that the action moves at a good pace, but there’s not enough time spent on conflict or introspection.

If you’re a Beatle’s fan or a British Rom Com fan, you’ll find this a fun diverting film. Himesh Patel transitions from a woebegone lad playing for a few friends in a chips shop to an International superstar without sacrificing his innate niceness. The relationships ring true, the songs are performed with real heart and there are some laughs along the way.

Drinks with Films Review: Two pints of British lager (out of five)

“Trance” :Hypnotic, chaotic, who-done-it

imagesJames McAvoy has a wide-eyed, boy wonder appeal.  Dressed in a nice suit with his posh accent, he stares straight out at us narrating a heist; a heist that leaves him gravely injured.  His charm draws the audience in and makes us care about his welfare.  An exciting start to a thriller that plays with your perceptions.

All three of the leads give committed and naked performances–both literally and figuratively.  It’s a rare film where full frontal nudity is used as a plot point, but this one is unique.  Rosario Dawson gives an extraordinary performance and Vincent Cassel subverts the British criminal stereotype with dry humor and an unexpected warmth.  As the man who may have lost more than his memory, Jame McAvoy exudes charm even without his fingernails.

From the heist to the hypnotist, from the secret club house at the dump, and back and forth to the three lead’s flats, not only does where the action is taking place get confusing, it’s even a challenge to know when (past or present) and even, if what just happened was imagined or real.  As the characters seem to get closer to solving the mystery, the action gets more intense and the possibility that one or more of them will be killed seems certain.  But who and by whom?

“Trance” loses it’s way in it’s own maze by the end but with a thrilling soundtrack (original music by Rick Smith), some excellent performances and a plot that plays with our perceptions; it’s a ride you’ll enjoy. Danny Boyle has mentioned that he’d like to try his hand at a musical next.  His work ranges from science fiction (“Sunshine”) to dark farce (“Shallow Grave”), from charming Irish fable (“Millions”) to the drug-fueled abandon of “Trainspotting”.  He’s the acclaimed and award-winning director of “Slumdog Millionaire” and “127 Hours”.  Danny Boyle crafted this action-packed thriller in a short break while planning the Opening Ceremonies for the Olympic Games in London; it’s safe to say, he’s capable of tackling any genre!

Rating: 3 glasses of wine at a posh restaurant

Challenging the audience: Films that make you “wonder”

Here in the Bay Area in the middle of April, lovers of cinema have a wide array of film choices.  For those of us lucky enough to live near the cities that are graced with art-house theaters, there’s more at the local cineplex than the comic book adaptations, sequels and rom-coms to choose from.  Now, more than any other time, there seem to be a plethora of challenging, thought-provoking films that encourage discussion and flaunt the rules of conventional story-telling.

Welcome to “to the Wonder”, Terrence Malick’s latest divisive film.  A cinematic meditation on love, faith and commitment, Malick continues to contrast nature porn, voice-overs and characters interacting.  He chooses to drop the audience into the middle of his exploration.  Only four of the actors from the 14 or so he filmed made the cut but in truth, he seems to care more for the silent interactions between his actors and not WHO is playing the role.  No dinosaurs or images of the cosmos like “Tree of Life” but it does asks audience to sit through long stretches of silent (or unheard dialogue) and with little in the way of plot or resolution. And a distinct disregard for audience’s patience.

Another head-scratcher is the film, “Upstream Color” from a new auteur, Shane Carruth.  He also directed “Primer” and wrote, directed, shot and edited “Upsteam Color” as well as scoring and acting in the film!  Where “Primer” was told from an engineer’s point of view and deals with time travel, “Upstream Color” is romance thru the prism of of a sic-fi thriller.  With references to Walden, orchids, possession and pigs, the story unfolds with beautiful images and an emphasis on sound.  One character is even called the Sampler and is seen recording sound.  Like Malick, Carruth seems more interested in presenting ideas than a straight-forward romance.  Thankfully, he knows the importance of an audience’s attention span, especially considering the complex material and the film is 96 minutes.

Also opening this weekend is a more Hollywood-style film, the British production, “Trance”.  Danny Boyle  breaks free from the standard heist narrative with a focus on hypnosis.  “Trance” plays with perceptions and takes the who-done-it to a where?who?why? realm.  Danny Boyle wants the audience to question if a scene happened in the past, is currently taking place or is a fiction created in the character’s mind.  Lofty aspirations for a heist film and featuring some nice performances from James McAlvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel.  At 101 minutes, it loses it’s way in it’s own maze near the end but it’s  entertaining and has a great soundtrack.

Now this is not to say that the local cineplex is chock-full of art-house fare.  There’s still “G.I. Joe-Retaliation”, “Oz, The Great And Powerful”, “The Croods” and even a re-release of “Jurrassic Park” to take advantage of the 3D fad and encourage new fans for the upcoming sequel.  But it’s nice to see that there’s really something for everyone playing right now and even the mainstream fare is being directed by filmmakers that are willing to bet that not all audiences are looking for an evening of crashes, chases or cheesy rom-coms.

So I say, hooray for Terrence Malick, Shane Carruth, and Danny Boyle.  It might not be my cup of tea but I’ll take it over the same ol’ concession soda any time!