Baseball Toaster Screen Jam
Word of Mouth for Once
2007-06-18 07:49
by Jon Weisman

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.

Update: From the New York Times review:

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

2007-06-18 10:04:55
1.   bryanf
I will have to check out Once as I am a huge fan of any feel-good movie. I mean Karate Kid and Rudy may take the cake for me in this category (though those are admittedly more underdog stories), I have seen That Thing You Do all to many times and loved it for so many reasons. Thanks for the recommendation, Jon, as I've been looking for something to see given what seems like a shortage of good films right now.
2007-06-18 10:07:52
2.   bryanf
Entourage fell short for me as well. I was mostly annoyed by the Billy Walsh character and I felt the episode, at times, was hard to watch - definitely not enough of Drama and Turtle. Still, I'll be following it all season...
2007-06-18 12:21:20
3.   jasonungar07
John from Cincinnati is something I am liking alot so far. I can't turn away from it, but not yet ready to say it's any good. Carnival was like that for me. So was Big Love. I have a feeling it will grow on me though.

Deadwood, The Sopranos and Six Feet Under were the ones where I was instantly hooked.

I just wonder if john is real or not.

2007-06-18 13:42:30
4.   Andrew Shimmin
I dug the Entourage. I definitely wouldn't want to see them go to that well again, but I thought it was funny and enjoyable. I wondered how they were going to handle shooting the movie. I'm not sure getting it all out of the way in one shot was the best way to do it, but, mockumentary or no, the show was going to be substantially different following the crew around in Bogotá for two months, or whatever. It could have gotten old, quickly, watching too many episodes of Billy having an Apocalypse Now style breakdown. Maybe the mockumentary spin lets you get the maximum neuroses crammed into the smallest possible box, and it gives the audience distance enough to find it funny instead of uncomfortable. And, as I've made known previously, I'm all about feeling comfortable with television.

I watched another mockumentary over the weekend, too. Confederate States of America, on the recommendation of, um, was it Benaiah? Didn't do anything for me. I've still got thirty minutes left, so, maybe that'll turn it around, but I'm not optimistic. I only very rarely notice the quality of the acting, and typically only when it's pretty bad. I'm noticing the acting a lot, in CSA.

2007-06-18 15:42:12
5.   the OZ
This Entourage reminded me of an episode of West Wing (season 6?) in which a camera crew follows CJ Cregg around for a day or so. It didn't work for me, but I can understand how the docu-format allows the actors to reveal things that wouldn't be possible with the standard format of each show.

I felt like the Entourage episode kept falling into and out of the docu style, which was a little annoying. If there had been a stronger commitment to the guise of a cinema verite, it might have worked better.

Johnny Drama's cameo in Medellin got a loud laugh from me.

2007-06-18 15:43:55
6.   the OZ
Also, I just finished watching John Tucker Must Die on HBO. Arielle Kebbel has not aged well.
2007-06-18 15:54:34
7.   Jon Weisman
5 - It got the same laugh from us too.
2007-06-18 16:13:13
8.   Andrew Shimmin
5- I hated the behind-the-scenes WW episode, too. But I liked both of the MASH episodes Jon alluded to. You're right that it dropped in and out of the novelty format, in order to get the Vin/Billy heart to heart about whether he was fooling around with the actress, and the Eric/Billy scene about why he needed the script doctor.

It's possible that, since I don't expect very much from the show, I'm much more easily pleased by it. Plus, Billy's tackling the DP would have made up for plenty of faults.

2007-06-18 16:16:10
9.   Frip
Jon: "...and motel manager Ramon, played by the unshakable Luis Guzman..."

He's a bit too unshakable. I'd like to see him play some sniveling nervous wreck. Or at least something wide-eyed naive.

From the last topic on favorite movies to quote from, I can't believe no one mentioned The Godfather. It seems that for any poignant situation you find yourself in, there's an apt Godfather quote that springs to mind.

For instance, you just disrespected someone you should respect (say Jon for instance), you then berate yourself, thinking - "you don't come to Vegas and talk to a man like Moe Green like THAT!"

You lose it on some clown coworker, and someone says you're being too hard on him. You retort - "I gotta business to run, he's banging cocktail waitresses three at a time!"

No one's listening to you. You burst out - "I'm smart and I want respect"!

Someone tries to pull rank on you and you think - "I know almost every big lawyer in New York, who the hell are you?"

A competitor just got away with some grand misdeed. Everyone's mad with indignation, so you calm the room with a note of solemn perspective, offering just above a whisper - 'This is the business we's the smart move...Tessio was always smarter."

Someone exclaims some sports play was "unbelievable!", you respond, "Sure it is. That's why they call him Superman.

Someone's says 'I didn't do it'. You respond with ultimate drama - "I know it was you Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!"

Someone offers a piece of gum to the person next to you, but not you, you break out - "I was your kid brother Mike and I was STEPPED OVER!"

Someone says they don't care if Barry Bonds took steroids. Your deadpan response - "I know what you mean, I loved baseball ever since Arnold Rothstien fixed the World Series in 1919".

I guess all that sounds pretty senseless to the uninitiated. Sorry

2007-06-18 16:39:43
10.   Kevin Lewis
From the last post:

I would have to say Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

It is just a flesh wound

2007-06-18 20:58:26
11.   Bob Timmermann
I don't find the dialog in "John from Cincinnati" all that annoying. I have no idea why. Maybe I've been trained all those years by "Deadwood."

The only problem I have is with Rebecca De Mornay's character, who is kind of blah.

2007-06-21 00:17:39
12.   Linkmeister
11 James Wolcott has a hard time with DeMornay playing a grandmother.

Since I've been futzing around with iTunes all day and noticing who played on what song (Ronstadt's "Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind"), "Once" sounds interesting.

2007-06-28 15:45:17
13.   MadMonk
I got to see Once last week and thoroughly enjoyed it and even love it for the little treasure of a movie it is. The music was catchy as well and enhanced the story. I felt the story was growing as the movie progressed and the final melancholy was rather happy and satisfying.

I highly recommend this movie.

Glen Hansard was one of the guitarists in the excellent movie The Commitments, another favorite.

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