Years ago, I remember walking out of Tom Hanks' That Thing You Do thinking, "Wow, so that's what it would be like to make a professional-quality film where nothing in the plot goes wrong for the protagonists."
That was a slight exaggeration there is the breakup of the band and all but overall, Thing was the definitive feel-good film. And I'll cop to it as a guilty pleasure if it pops up on cable, I'm usually lured into sitting through a good chunk of it. I suppose I should be ashamed to admit this, but I actually like the music.
In some respects, the new indie release Once can take over the feel-good crown. The plot couldn't be simpler: Guy and Girl meet, like each other and play instruments (no double entendre there). Though it's not without its melancholy, the film is as close to a happily-ever-during picture as I've seen in a while.
But filmed on a much more intimate scale for a reported $175,000, I've read - Once comes across with much more power than the cotton-candy experience of Thing. This might be a lazy comparison, but there's a Jim-and-Pam sophistication to the lead characters that is quite touching. The characters aren't flawless, but they have mix great integrity with humanity, which is a winning combination. I enjoyed this film quite a bit, and I'd love for others to see it.
A big part of it is that I also like the music, most of which was co-written by lead actors Glen Hansard (of Irish band The Frames) and Marketa Irglova (who is only 19), and I don't think I need to be ashamed to admit it.
It seems silly and grandiose to lavish praise on a movie whose dramatic crux is the recording of a demo tape, and there is some danger that the critical love showered on "Once" will come to seem a bit disproportionate. It is not a film with any great ambitions to declare, or any knotty themes to articulate. It celebrates doggedness, good-humored discipline and desire the desire not only to write a song or make a recording, but the deeper longing for communication that underlies any worthwhile artistic effort.
The special poignancy of the movie, the happy-sad feeling it leaves in its wake, comes from its acknowledgment that the satisfaction of these aspirations is usually transient, even as it can sometimes be transcendent.
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Speaking of combos, I saw most of two mockumentaries over the weekend: animated penguin surfer Surf's Up and the season premiere of Entourage.
Up was cleverly written and, from what I can tell, well-told, although I had to leave for about 25 minutes in the middle when my 2-year-old got super-antsy.
In Entourage, for some reason, the motif didn't work for me. It seemed self-conscious. I'm not sure I can explain why, but it may just be that when a show uses mockumentary as a departure from its conventional style, it stands out too much.
Decades ago, M*A*S*H sort of did the same thing when it did an episode in the eyes of a feature report by real-life journalist Clete Roberts, but it was such a sober tale that it didn't go wrong.
That's not to say that there weren't some good lines in the show, with Rhys Coiro eating up the screen as the director you would hate to have working for you, Billy Walsh, but all in all, I'll be looking forward to Entourage returning to its usual overhyped but otherwise winning style.
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I'm not as baffled by John from Cincinnati as others seem to be. There's a core generational story here about three surfers, colored by a mystery involving some people who speak really strangely, in particular the title character. Because it's a mystery, you don't need to understand it all right away, which is something some reviewers seem to have forgotten. The setup is something I'm perfectly ready to watch.
Where I'm on the fence after two episodes is deciding whether its worth enduring how annoying the strange-speaking characters are. I don't need to know what their story is yet, but if their dialogue is just going more and more approach nails on a chalkboard, I'm not sure it's going to be worth the effort.
In fact, the only really likable characters on the show are young surfer Shaun, played by Greyson Fletcher (whose acting I liked much more in the pilot than Episode 2) and motel manager Ramon, played by the unshakable Luis Guzman. Maybe Willie Garson as Meyer Dickstein, too. However, Shaun's father (Brian Van Holt) and grandfather (Bruce Greenwood) are such losers from a personality standpoint that even though they speak comprehensibly, it's not really helping.
I'll be back for the third episode, but it's going to be a week-to-week thing.
In the meantime, I'll definitely be back for the second episode of the new HBO series that airs after Entourage: Flight of the Conchords. Though the pacing could be improved, I found myself laughing out loud several times, particularly at the songs by Bret McKenzie and Jermaine Clement.
The show is anything but HBO-style and kind of a weird post-Entourage shift, but unlike John, the kind of quirky in Conchords was easy on the ears.