Sound of Metal

Posted on November 19, 2020 at 5:31 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drug addiction
Violence/ Scariness: Some graphic images of an operation
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: November 20, 2020

Copyright Amazon 2020
We’re going to have to come up with a better term than POV to describe “Sound of Metal,” the story of a drummer who loses his hearing. POV describes a subjective portrayal, where we see just what the character sees instead of what an outsider can see. But “see” is the operative word. Much of “Sound of Metal” is subjective, so that we hear only what Ruben (brilliantly played by Riz Ahmed) is hearing. Many of the sounds are muted or distorted. Some of the movie is in silence. Sometimes we get a brief chance to hear what he cannot. There are subtitles in some moments but not in others so we can experience Ruben’s sense of confusion and isolation.

This is a remarkably assured debut from co-writer/director Darius Marder and his co-writer/composer/brother Abraham Marder. In an interview with me and a small group of other journalists, Darius Marder said making music the center of Ruben’s life was appealing because music connects people and because hearing loss is both a personal and professionally devastating for a musician. But he also said that music serves as a metaphor for relationships. We all have our own place within a relationship,” Darius said. “I play the drums and you play guitar and together we make this music. But what are we if we start pulling those sounds apart? If you leave, what is left? Abraham and I were both inspired by the concept of using this two-person band as a metaphor for a relationship. Even though it is steeped in a very specific music world, the intention was for it to be universal in
feeling.”

The Marders trust the audience to lean in to the film, to not need to have every detail explained in advance. So we gradually learn that Ruben is a former heroin addict, who has been clean for four years with the support of his girlfriend and bandmate Lou (Olivia Cooke) and his utter devotion to music. We can see from the performance that leads off the film that Ruben gives everything he has to the raw emotion of the punk/metal music he and Lou play.

And then, suddenly, he hears a pop and then sounds are muffled and distorted. A doctor tells him it may be a result of the heroin use and that it isn’t coming back.

It’s just like the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross stages for impending death. The first stage is denial. Ruben plays another gig. He is sure he can fix this. But he can’t. Lou takes him to a rehab program for addicts with hearing loss led by Joe (played by Paul Raci, the son of Deaf parents). The program is attached to a school for Deaf children and at first Ruben is put in class with them to learn to sign.

The Marders show us in an understated way that Ruben’s addictive personality has just transferred from drugs to music and Lou. Away from both, he is lost. He learns to sign and begins to be a part of the new community but he is determined to get back what he lost, at any cost.

Ahmed, Cooke, and Raci all give understated, natural performances that draw us into the story even more than the immersive sound design. Much of Ahmed’s performance is in his deep, expressive eyes, making Ruben one of the most memorable characters on screen this year.

Parents should know that this movie includes very strong language and discussion of substance abuse. There are some graphic images in a scene of an operation.

Family discussion: What will Ruben do next? Did he make the right decision about the operation? Why does Joe insist that Deaf people do not need to be “fixed?”

If you like this, try: “One Trick Pony”

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Where You’ve Seen Them Before — Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Posted on December 16, 2016 at 8:00 am

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” opens today, introducing a whole new set of characters to the extended Star Wars universe, played by some actors who may look familiar.

Felicity Jones (Jyn Erso) appeared earlier this year with Tom Hanks in “Inferno,” but is probably best known for “The Theory of Everything.” Her breakthrough was in the lovely romance, “Like Crazy,” and she played Miranda in the Helen Mirren production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

My favorite character in the new film is the reprogrammed droid voiced by Alan Tudyk. He is a very successful voice actor — he provided the squawks for Moana’s chicken sidekick and was Duke in “Frozen” and Duke Weaselton in “Zootopia” — but he has also appeared on screen in a variety of roles, from “Firefly” to “A Knight’s Tale.” I especially liked him as a three-card monte carny in “Hearts in Atlantis.”

Another favorite was the renegade Empire pilot played by Riz Ahmed, who had a breakthrough role this year in HBO’s “The Night Of.”

Forest Whitaker is the Oscar-winning actor from “The Last King of Scotland” and has had an extensive and widely varied career in film and television. You may also recognize him from “Platoon” or “The Butler.” I’m especially fond of his performance in “Phenomenon” with John Travolta.

Ben Mendelsohn is an Australian actor of superb skill. He’s made big-budget and prestige films like “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and “The Place Beyond the Pines.” He is superb in a small film with Ryan Reynolds called “Mississippi Grind.” He’s played a lot of bad guys and will play one again in the upcoming Robin Hood movie, starring Taron Egerton and Jamie Foxx.

Donnie Yen is one of Hong Kong’s top martial arts superstars. His fight scenes are electrifying.

Diego Luna has been an immensely charismatic actor on screen since “Y Tu Mamá También” when he was barely out of his teens. Be sure to see him in the twisty con man movie “Criminal” and with Sean Penn in “Milk.”

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Actors Where You’ve Seen Them Before

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Posted on December 13, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Copyright Disney 2016

I know, I know, you want me to tell you how it ranks against the other “Star Wars” movies.  I’m going to say somewhere between “A New Hope” and “The Force Awakens.”  It is a worthy addition to the canon, gorgeously imagined, with striking images, intriguing and richly diverse characters, a suspenseful plot, a worthy adversary, an amusing sidekick, some romantic sparks, and a very satisfying answer to one of the most persistent questions from the very first film in 1977.  And without getting heavy-handed or preachy, it touches on some complicated and timely issues.

Once again, we are reminded that this takes place a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, and thankfully the text ends there and we are immediately in the middle of the action. A little girl with pigtails is breathlessly racing home to tell her parents that the threat they have been preparing for has arrived. “It’s happened. He’s come for us.” “You know what to do.”

The girl is Jyn Erso. Her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) was a scientist who once designed weapons for the Empire. He got away and has been living on an isolated farm, but the Empire’s Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) has found him. He is there to bring Galen back to finish work on the planet-killing weapon we know well from “A New Hope.” Galen explains why he left. “You’re confusing peace with terror.” Krennic responds crisply, and creepily, “You have to start somewhere.”

Jyn’s escape has been well-rehearsed. She knows where to hide. Her mother was supposed to go with her, but could not resist trying to protect her husband. She is killed, Galen is captured, and Jyn is rescued, kind of, by outlaw Saw Gerrera (a dashing Forest Whitaker).

The grown-up Jyn (Felicity Jones of “The Theory of Everything”) has clearly been taking care of herself — and not trusting anyone else — for a long time. But she is captured by the rebel forces, who have received a message smuggled out by a pilot named Bodhi Rook (a terrific Raz Ahmed). The Rebel Alliance wants Jyn to get to her father and find out how to stop the terrifying new weapon, the planet-killing Death Star. Jyn, who did not know whether her father was dead or alive, and hoped he was dead because it would mean that he was not helping the Empire and not abandoning her, must re-think her view of the world (in her case, I guess, the galaxy) and of herself.

Led/accompanied by Rebel Alliance hero Cassian (Diego Luna), his pilot/sidekick droid K-2SO (winningly voiced and motion-captured by Alan Tudyk in one of the film’s most memorable highlights), a blind monk with mad martial arts skills (Donnie Yen) with his firepower-packing friend Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), and the renegade pilot, Jyn crosses the galaxy to try to rescue her father and stop the Death Star.

So, to recap: good characters, good action, great scope, and just the right amount of fan service. I’m not sure that the digital re-animation of “A New Hope” characters are worth the distraction. And I am not entirely on board with the ending.

No more for risk of spoilers. But there is so much going on, it is worth pointing out some details that might be overlooked in the middle of all the action. Note young Jyn’s stormtrooper doll, an Ozymandias-like massive statue, prone on the sand, the issue of factions within the rebel community, the bigger issue of moral responsibility for actions committed for the larger good, echoes of familiar wartime images from the D-Day landing to hooded prisoners and IEDs in civilian areas.

K-2S0, like Rook and “Force Awakens'” Finn, was formerly with the Empire. It/he has been reprogrammed but a sort of data pentimento has it/him a bit loopy and the result is a dry, even sarcastic wit that adds a bit of a twist to the seriousness of the storyline. This film, more canon-adjacent than linear, has some of that same sense of independence and even improvisation, a welcome waystation before the next chapter of the saga.

Parents should know that this film includes extended sci-fi action-style violence, with many characters injured and killed. There are sad deaths including death of parents, and some disturbing images, including monsters. The script by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy is wise enough not to try to answer questions about the complex quandaries of oppression and rebellion, but wise enough not to overlook them.

Family discussion: How did the governance of the Empire and the Rebel Alliance help or hinder their decision-making? How did the hologram message change Jyn’s mind? What does it mean to carry a prison with you?

If you like this, try: “Star Wars” IV, V, VI, and “Force Awakens”

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Fantasy Science-Fiction Series/Sequel
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