Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Chicken Soup for the Orphan/Musical Protégé's Soul

Title: August Rush
Year: 2007
Starring: Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Robin Williams.

Ah, it is that time of year. The time where movies come out that are meant to warm our souls and our seats. It's the time where the ultimate drug is sentimental value and movies that lift your soul. And boy, does Hollywood have one of those movies for you.

With the season of films getting you pumped and ready for Christmas and Thanksgiving, Hollywood produces a whole bakers dozen of goods. Seeing as we are currently in November, it's the season for Christmas Movies and movies that will leave a sweet impression on your heartstrings. However, my personal beliefs are that if a movie that is just cinematic cheese that jerks tears and has no subtlety isn't my kind of family film. If a film just shows the cheery, utterly predictable meanderings of 2-dimensional characters, they why waste money on it? However, August Rush isn't fully what I mentioned, I saw it for free, so I can't complain about wasting money. I can say that seeing August Rush wasn't my first or second choice of movie to see at an advanced screening, (Margot at the Wedding was my first) but entering the theater, I said to myself "It's just a harmless movie, nothing more or less." And to be honest, I was right. But the only problem is that while it met my expectations, my expectations were that I could predict the movie's beginning, middle and end, which ended up happening. August Rush is the kind of movie that will do very well at the box office, not because it has a story, but because it will make you and your whole family feel good. Call me a Grinch, but I certainly didn't feel too dandy after I left the theater.

The whole premise of August Rush is basically Oliver Twist, a boy is stuck in an all boys orphanage, convinced his parents will come back for him. He escapes and meets an eccentric man with children who do his biddings and pick pockets. However, unlike Twist, our Oliver(or Evan as he is named in the movie) is gifted, for he is a musical protégé, he can master the sounds of music and their feelings and he is convinced music will bring his parents together. The film somehow conveys the idea that a one night stand with a rocker and a violinist is supposed to be an act of fate, not libido.

The positive side of our film's protagonist is that while he may be 15, Freddie Highmore still can captivate the viewer's eye, even if given sugary fluff as his material. And he isn't the only one who shows a good performance Robin Williams is good as the Wizard, our story's Fagan. The kids are also very talented, which helped keep my attention. And it was nice to watch Jonathan Rhys Meyers can go from playing an outright disturbing character with marital troubles(See him in the fantastic Match Point) to the lead singer of an Irish rock band. My only snipe is that Keri Russell(Who I love love loved in Waitress) does little to nothing for the story, she's wooden and dull, something Miss. Russell is not. But it is a shame to watch her not play up to her potential. Other then some good performances, the score is beautiful. There actually were moments where I said to myself, "This may actually be better then I expected" But frankly, that's really all I'll praise in August Rush. Which, considering other family films that almost lead to me clawing my eyes out, is good, I guess.

However, though it may have some shine to it, Rush is just too predictable. There were moments where I could accurately predict what would happen next to our characters, and where the story would end. This may be August Rush's biggest flaw, the realm of predictability.
For starters, there is no real conflict involved in this movie. Everything seems to be practically perfect for everyone involved. The cutesy clichéd story line overshadows anything that could have made August Rush a worthwhile movie. And personally, if I can predict the ending before watching the movie, it isn't always a bad movie. I knew that at the end of Breakfast at Tiffany's would end with Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard kissing while Moon River played, and yet I loved it. This was just, not that compelling, but then again, that's not what it's trying to be. It's a movie for sentimentalists, not for those who demand a feasible plot.

So, while I didn't love August Rush, while I found it sappy and not very good, I can't say I hated it. It's not a harmful movie, it won't murder me in my sleep. But it won't do anything for me. But then again, does it really need to?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Jeff Spicoli, Take some Notes

Title: Requiem for a Dream
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto,
Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans.

In our culture, drugs are spread all throughout the media. People write songs about drugs, books and even movies. And it seems that the majority of these works seem to glamorize or glorify drugs. In comedy, one popular genre or character is the stoner movie, or the stoner guy. The stoner guy typically seems to have nonsensical catchphrases, is a goofy lug who can't tell his nose from his elbow and usually gets involved with a bizarre situation that means that the stoner guy must drop his bong, and save the day. Think of the stoner guy as a different kind of unlikely hero.

When the stoner guy or the stoner comedy genre comes to mind, I think of many popular films that do something about their characters doing, well, nothing. Bill and Ted, Harold and Kumar, the dark comedy Trainspotting, Dude, Where's my Car?, Dazed and Confused, and of course, one of the most popular stoner guys in Comedy, Jeff Spicoli.

I say Jeff Spicoli because he made Sean Penn's carrier as well as show the funny side of doing drugs, a funny moron who stays a grade behind, orders pizza in class, and comes equip with the catchphrase "Awesome, totally Awesome!"

However, while the stoner guy and his hilarity seem to make box office gold, there are also a number of movies that depict a dark underbelly of getting high, though some of these darker movies seem to include drugs as a sub plot, or do the dumb thing and Hollywood-ize drug addiction. The protagonist gets caught up on the wrong path and gets help before they get really hurt. In the seventies, one book came out that seems to still affect young adults today. That is the "true" story, Go Ask Alice. At the time, Go Ask Alice created quite a buzz, a "real" girl's diary detailing her drug abuse. Today, we have learned that while the story may still affect readers and sell millions of copies, the anonymous narrator is about as real as Mr. Spicoli, this known fact still hasn't stopped readers getting engaged in the girl's tragic journey.

In the year 2000, talented Visionary and Independent director, Darren Aronofsky put out a bold and daring movie, Requiem for a Dream. Requiem came out not too long before the gritty crime drama, Traffic, though it was overlooked for many reasons. One being that it was to be released with an NC-17 rating, however, Aronofsky decided to release the film as Unrated as opposed to Traffic's R rating. While both were nominated for awards that year, Traffic won 4 of it's five Oscars, while Requiem only got a nomination for Ellen Burstyn's magnificent and bold performance. Traffic aside, Requiem for a Dream still is a well known and popular movie among many.

Based off the Hubert Selby Jr. novel, Requiem tells the melancholy tale of four individuals who's lives end up affected and infected by drugs. There is Sara Goldfarb(Ellen Burstyn) a mother and widow who has become a slave to her couch, watching countless hours of mindless garbage on TV, infomercials and self help programs to be exact. With her husband gone, Sara now only has Harry(Jared Leto), a troubled, yet caring Mama's Boy, and her TV. While she may constantly watch TV, it is her dream to star on TV, and as if the genie came out of a lamp, she just so happens to get her wish when a TV company calls her in her dank New York apartment to tell her that she will be a star. Seeing this as an opportunity to relive her days when she was more glamorous, Sara does her damnedest to wear the beautiful red dress, the one that reminds her of her son's graduation as well as better times. Dying her hair red and prettying her self up for her television debut, Sara finds out that along with losing her husband, she has gained some pounds. Sara feels all hope is lost, until a friends turns her on to amphetmines. She can fit into her dress, but eventually, everything, her dreams, her beauty and her life, begin to spiral out of control.

Also in the story, Sara's son, Harry is doing drugs of his own and trying to accomplish his own dreams. He and his friend, Tyrone(Marlon Wayans in a "Why doesn't he do more drama?" role) begin to sell drugs to satisfy their addictions and gain money. In the film's beginning, Harry has it all, money, a friend and girlfriend, Marion(Jennifer Connelly), but towards the end, like his dreams, his life comes crashing down on him. Tyrone is a wayward young man, a man who has spent his life trying to make his mother proud of him, like Harry. So of course he experiences a similar fate as Harry. The two go over to Florida to pick up some drugs, while Harry tries to keep the arm that has been knocked up with so much heroin. It has been injected with so much smack, it has begun to deteriorate. Because of their drug addictions, not only does Harry lose his arm, but also he and Tyrone end up in jail and alone. The most they can aspire for now is to live another day.

And finally in this toxic spider web of tragedy, Marion, so desperate to get money for drugs succumbs to prostitution and degradation, leaving the viewer with questions like, "Is this really worth fighting for? Do we really need to do such horrible things to ourselves to get what we want?" Marion's dream is to live a life, a life where she is pleased with herself and feel beautiful. Her fight to satisfy her craze mirrors today's culture and how girls are forced to do horrendous things and go unspeakable measures to feel whole and beautiful. And sometimes it seems that the bottom isn't the end of the journey.

While pondering the title for this movie, I was completely oblivious to the meaning of Requiem for a Dream and what it signified. In a eureka moment, it came to me. Requiem's title means that because of drugs, all of their hopes and dreams died. And this movie is trying to help the characters remember what they once had before submerging into a pool of inner torment and darkness. If one can think about it, they might notice how one's life begins to fade into shades of gray when under the influence, and the line that us crossed isn't always clear. To me, that is the saddest thing of all.

There is a scene towards the very end where one character is consulted by a friend. The two embrace and begin to sob into each other's arms. Such a raw and emotional moment lets the viewer realize that while everything at the moment is gone, and it may look like there's no point in turning back. We take in the fact that not only are we hurting ourselves when doing drugs, but everything else around us. Our friends, our family and our lives. And it is this moment where the character grasps the idea that they have hit rock bottom and that it is time to turn their life around while they still can. Right now, it is all they can hope for.