Sunday, April 6, 2008

Two HUGE Surprises in the Movie Department

Dave is away at our niece Kristin's wedding in Rhode Island this weekend. I've been moving in (organized) piles of this and that, eating whatever I feel like (clam chowder, chili fries, sausage, popcorn...and peas!). And working.

In between, I've been watching movies. And much to my amazement, two have just blown me away.

The first is Kevin Costner's THE POSTMAN

This apocalyptic disaster epic got awful reviews when it first came out in 1997. It may just have been ahead of its time. Thanks to bad weather, disease and war, the world consists of isolated communities...until a lone drifter finds a crashed van and its skeleton driver, and decides to deliver the mailbag he finds. Eventually a whole network of mailmen is flowing between communities (think Pony Express). And when they do, people start fighting the army oppressing them.

It's long - 3 hours. And there are corny and awkward moments. But I found myself absorbed in the vitality and passion Costner pours into both his directing, and his work as The Postman. Will Patton is General Bethlehem, the 'bad guy' -- creepy and mesmerizing at the same time. His army smacks a bit of the banditos in the Magnificent Seven, but it's terrifying, all the same.

I was also amazed at the level of heartfelt -- and effective -- patriotism expressed throughout. (Although their canonizing of the US Post Office's persistence and enthusiasm may be a tad misplaced, based on my experience! :) ) There's a surprise character too, who grins and allows that he "may have been famous." (look for him around the dam sequence.) If you like classic rock, you'll recognize him in a flash.

If you liked Red Dawn, The Day After Tomorrow, or I Am Legend...and you don't mind an occasional silly visual reference to Costner's past work (like riding past the troops a la Dancing With Wolves), you are going to LOVE this amazing movie. Shame on the critics -- if Costner had produced The Postman today, it would have been a much bigger hit.


The other movie to take my senses completely by surprise:

Evan Taylor (a.k.a. August Rush) is an 11-year-old runaway from the foster home, looking for his parents. And he reaches out to them via music. But it's not your usual kind -- August hears it in the growl of the trucks on the city streets, or the swish of the wind...the tramp of feet...birds twittering... August falls in with a group of miscreants who are set up as street musicians, led by a greedy man who markets them to the public. (This is interesting, especially if you're a big fan of Ron Moody's Fagin in Oliver Twist, but Robin Williams' "Wizard" role is not one of his best. I guess Williams' sometimes odd nastiness adds some tension, but it often seems to have little purpose except to drag the plot onward. Ol' Robin is supposed to have been a "kid in the system" gone bad...but his bitterness grates on you.)

August's version of sound and rhythm isn't just music. It's interpreting life, using musical notes and percussive sounds. Amazing amazing amazing, and Freddie Hightower's obvious pleasure and excitement channeling this wonderful music just makes the whole movie even better. Add to it the romantic supposition that August is drawing his parents with his music -- and they are being drawn to each other at the same time -- and you have a tearjerker that is a musical experiment in the senses.

The finale is a huge concert in New York City's Central Park by the Philharmonic, featuring August's "Rhapsody"...but the real pleasure is hearing the percussive guitar of Kaki King -- an exercise in drums and melody at the same time. (How DOES she do it!) And organ music. And beats used as melody, as much as the notes. And a mix of the unusual, everything from wind chimes to cello to waterglasses. I especially enjoyed hearing classical music treated the way it was originally meant -- to be heard (and whistled, hummed and fooled around with) by the average joe on the street, as much as the society snooty-goer.

One of our good friends raved about this movie -- a surprise, since he usually likes shoot-em-ups, and though he enjoys music, I tend not to think of him this way. (He also HATES 'chick flicks.') But August Rush is a re-introduction to the beauty and simple, expressive meaning in our everyday lives. You won't walk down a road again without thinking a bit of your heels slapping the pavement, punctuated by the rhythm of your breath. As the Wizard says, "Play as if it is if there's nothing else."

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