I love “The Good Place.” And An Emmy for Megan, a new web series by “Good Place” writer Megan Amram is very meta, very charming, and a lot of fun, with some surprising guest appearances, and a very clever take on awards-bait programs. (With a very dark turn in Episode 6). One of my favorites is episode 4. If they ever give out Emmys for best smile, she’s got a lock.
“Modern Life is Rubbish,” named for the song by Blur, is a slight but sweet update to the classic boy meets girl story. What it lacks in originality it almost makes up for with its exceptionally appealing actors and a soundtrack featuring Radiohead, Stereophonics, the 1975, The Vaccines, Warpaint, The Libertines, and Mt Wolf, all very suitable for a story about a couple brought together by music. It’s like a lower grade “High Fidelity” with a touch of “When Harry Met Sally.”
Liam (Josh Whitehouse, who does play music in real life) meets Natalie (Freya Mavor) in a record store, where he tries to talk her out of buying Blur’s “Best of” album: “It’s cheating. It’s like a shortcut to enlightenment.” “Do you work here?” she asks, before telling him that she already has all the other albums he is urging on her and is buying this one because it is the only way to get the special live acoustic version of “On Your Own.” In other words, she is his dream girl. But she leaves the store without his getting her number.
But we know there is a romantic falling-in-love montage ahead with an impeccably curated musical score as they fall in indie music love and are just plain heart-meltingly adorable. Until life intervenes, Liam’s promises that he will be a big rock star seem increasingly implausible, and someone, probably the member of the couple who is not in the band, has to get a regular old job to pay the rent. In other words, it is time to grow up.
But Liam is, as we saw in the record store, a purist, and cannot sully himself by working for The Man or buying any of The Man’s enlightenment-preventing products, like, for example, an iPod. Music should be on albums you can hold in your hand, with artistic statements in their cover designs and meaningful liner notes. Natalie, who once dreamed of creating album covers (Michael Beck’s job in “Xanadu,” as I recall), goes to work for The Man-iest of The Man jobs — advertising. Each begins to resent the other. They break up and have to go through all the stuff they have accumulated together, each one bringing back memories of better times.
Director Daniel Jerome Gill relies too much on the music to do the work, and the secondary characters are not as colorful as he hopes they are. But Whitehouse and Mavor have great chemistry and give their thinly written characters charm and energy, which keeps us on their side through very predictable ups and downs.
Parents should know that this film includes some strong language and explicit sexual situations (no nudity).
Family discussion: Why was Liam so opposed to new technology? What does it mean to sell out?
If you like this, try: “High Fidelity” and “Bandslam”
Trans kids generally know who they are, even when they are very young. They don’t tell their families they want to be a gender different from their body parts. They say they are that gender, and it is usually their families who have to reframe their understanding of the boy or girl they thought they had. Even the most certain of children and the most understanding and supportive of families face a wrenching challenge as the child approaches adolescence. Do you block puberty with medication to preserve the child’s choices about gender until age 18? Secondary sex characteristics for the wrong gender can be intensely traumatic. But the medication can have side effects.
“They” and “their” are the preferred pronouns for the lead character, known just as J, and played by a trans actor named Rhys Fehrenbacher. J is a young teenager who is having an adverse reaction to the puberty blockers and has to decide what to do. J’s parents are away caring for another family member, their return home delayed, and J’s brisk but not uncaring sister Lauren (Nicole Coffineau) and her Iranian boyfriend, Araz (Koohyar Hosseini) have come to stay with J until their parents return.
Writer/director Anahita Ghazvinizadeh gives the film a lyrical, meditative quality. J’s parents, sister, Araz, and doctor are all understanding and supportive, if distracted. They are all so accepting that no one seems to think J might need to talk about the momentous decisions they are confronting.
I do not mean to complain.
They say it is my fault.
Nobody tells me anything.
Tell me how old I am.
The deepest demarcations
can slowly spread and fade
like any blue tattoo.
I do not know my age.
We see many moments in nature, as though to locate J’s transitions within the context of the natural world. Lauren and Araz are both preoccupied with their own personal and professional liminal challenges as well. There is also a long, seemingly improvised section that takes place in the home of one of Araz’s relatives, with Lauren and J at a large family party. Throughout, it almost seems as though we are eavesdropping on bits and pieces of the J’s world.
That is not always successful, and some of the choices are heavy-handed. But thankfully, it is not didactic or preachy. J may not know what they want, but Ghazvinizadeh has confidence that they will make the right choice, and trusts us to root for them.
Parents should know that this movie deals obliquely but frankly with issues of non-binary gender.
Family discussion: How do the boys with the bicycle feel about J? What should J do?
If you like this, try: the “I am Jazz” series on television
It’s the climax of the film. The hero and heroine finally kiss. The power of the moment comes from the emotion built up by the story, by the acting talent and screen charisma of the performers, by the heart-tugging swell of the music — and by the sound of the kiss itself, probably so subtle you don’t notice it, but if it wasn’t there, you would notice its absence. That sound was not made by the tender touch of two beautiful movie stars’ lips. It was made by a Foley artist, the “actor of sound,” whose profession is the subject of this documentary.
Skip this next part and go to the next paragraph if you want to preserve the illusion: the slight smacky sound you hear is probably some burly guy kissing the back of his hand. And when a beautiful actress walks down a hall or street in high heels, that same burly guy is probably wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and high heels, stepping on one of the dozen or so different surfaces in the studio to match the shot. The sound of the trudging footsteps of the enormous football player in “The Blind Side” was created by a woman, who explains, “I had to become a 300 pound man who was feeling alone and like no one cared about him…I gave myself a sense of heaviness.” Another woman “was” Mr. T in “The A-Team,” at least the sounds of his feet.
The Foley artist is the person who provides everything from hoofbeats on dirt to the clacks of high heels on a wood floor, from the sound E.T. makes when he walks to the sound of Walter White taking off the mask he uses for cooking meth to the sound Robert de Niro makes when he slams a baseball bat into a guy’s head in “The Untouchables.” That last one, we learn in this fascinating and engaging documentary, was made with a combination of a raw turkey (gizzards still inside) and a coconut. We learn about sounds like the snap of Batman’s cape, the flutter of paper floating through the air, and the “hyper-real” coin toss in “No Country for Old Men.”
Foley was a real person, a pioneer in the field. While the technology for recording and editing the sounds has advanced along with most other aspects of filmmaking, the technology for creating the sounds has not. They are still using the same kinds of props — and sometimes even the exact same props — that go back to the heyday of radio. If it’s a period film and someone needs to dial a phone, you’re going to need a dial phone to create that sound. And nothing beats corn starch for the sound of walking on snow.
The documentary includes archival footage showing how sounds were created for some of the most iconic moments in film history. ET’s walk? Let’s just say that when the Foley artists were served Jello at lunch, it gave them a good idea. It also includes Foley artists from around the world and some discussion of how changes in the industry and technology may affect the future of the profession.
All of the participants are wonderfully imaginative and dedicated, and their stories and perspective make this essential viewing for anyone who is interested in film. “The sound has to pan, too,” to help create the illusion of movement. And they will do anything to get the sound just right — even a condom over the microphone.
As one of them says, a Foley artist has to be “an athlete, a musician, and an actor all in one,” and as another says, they are “painting a picture with sound.” So far, no one has been able to produce sounds digitally or via a sound library that feel real, not robotic. Being a Foley artist requires “imagination, tempo, coordination, and love,” and this film is filled with all of that as well, a welcome appreciation for an essential and often overlooked profession.
Parents should know that this film includes brief violent footage from films being discussed.
Family discussion: What movie sounds do you remember? How will this movie make you listen more closely?
Free Classic Movies from Focus: Fridays on Facebook
Posted on August 25, 2017 at 10:00 am
Three great films from Focus Features will be streamed on Facebook Live over the next three Friday nights in August and September. #FocusFridays will take place each Friday night on the Focus Features Facebook Page beginning @6:00 PM PT.
Friday, August 25th: The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) won the Academy Award for Best Original Song (“Al Otro Lado del Río”). Following an inspiring journey of self-discovery and tracing the youthful origins of a revolutionary heart, the Latin American continent is unveiled in all its glory as two friends experience life at its fullest.
Friday, September 1st: The Constant Gardener (2005) sweeps audiences along one man’s emotional and global journey to uncover the truth behind a personal loss and a worldwide conspiracy. For her performance opposite Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz won the Screen Actors Guild, Golden Globe, and Academy Award.
Friday, September 8th: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) earned Golden Globe Award nominations for its stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, in an unforgettable love story, a tumultuous relationship seen through a maze of memories. Winner of the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.