Monday, April 13, 2015

Wknd Box Office: The Longest Ride, While We’re Young, Seymour: An Introduction

Here is an interesting article from reviewing some of the movies that came out over the past weekend. This follows this post about some of the movies from last week and THIS POST about some movies that have been released over the past few years that you might have missed! This all follows this post about guidelines to choosing good movies to watch yourself!

Wknd Box Office: The Longest Ride, While We’re Young, Seymour: An Introduction

By Debbie Schlussel


Well, the movies are getting much better as we get closer to the May start of the movie blockbuster season:
The Longest Ride“: As Nicholas Sparks movies go, this is one of the better ones and very bearable for guys whose significant others force them to see this chick flick. I liked it far better than I was expecting to. This was actually patriotic, as it positively portrays an American hero in World War II and a modern-day cowboy and bull rider as a gentleman and hero in his own right. And, in something I rarely see coming out of Hollywood these days, two Jewish characters are portrayed in a positive light and as very good, caring people. And while this movie has the standard formula, complete with emotionally manipulative and maudlin machinations designed to bring a tear to the eye, I enjoyed it, despite its completely unbelievable and very concocted ending. This is the very hot Scott Eastwood’s (29-year-old mini-me son of Clint) star vehicle and comes with the minimum amount of shirtless shots of him required for a Nicholas Sparks movie.
The story here is actually two stories interwoven. The more interesting one, though, doesn’t involve the younger Mr. Eastwood’s character. It’s the love story of two Jews from North Carolina, which starts during World War II. She is Ruth, played by Oona Chaplin, the Spanish granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin and great-granddaughter of Eugene O’Neill. Ruth is an immigrant from Austria, who escaped Nazi Europe with her parents. He is Ira Levinson, played by Jack Huston, but for most of the movie, he is played as an older man by Alan Alda (although this is a minor complaint, I couldn’t help noticing the inconsistency that the older Ira has Alda’s New York accent, even though the character is from North Carolina). Ira is in love with Ruth but can’t get up the courage to approach her. Finally, she approaches him, and their romance blooms. And they are to marry, but then he is drafted into the Army to fight in World War II. Ira, is a war hero, risking his life to save a fellow American soldier on the battlefield against the Nazis. But he is seriously wounded in a way that could affect his future relationship with Ruth.

But the movie doesn’t start with this story. It begins with a studious college senior at Wake Forest University, Sophia Denko. Her parents are immigrants from Eastern Europe, and her dream is to work in the art field in New York. She’s about to leave to go on an internship at a prestigious gallery when she meets Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood), a local cowboy and bull rider who is making his comeback on the professional bull rider circuit after a serious injury sidelined him for a year. He and his mother are trying to hold on to their family ranch. Luke and Sophia go out on a first date and she tells him that she is leaving town for her career ambitions, so they are basically calling it quits, and he drives her home. But on the way, Luke spots a car that has driven off the road. In it is an old man whom Luke rescues and takes to the hospital. Before they leave, the man beseeches Sophia to retrieve his box of letters from the car, which she does, just before it catches on fire.

At the hospital, Sophia begins reading the letters in the box, and they are Ira Levinson’s love letters to Ruth. Through the reading of the letters, Sophia and Luke learn about Ira and Ruth’s timeless love affair that spans from the beginnings of World War II throughout their lives. And they learn about the lives that Ira and Ruth touched. But at the same time, as Sophia and Luke grow closer, Sophia is struggling with whether or not to give up her dreams and ambitions to explore a relationship with Luke. And Luke does not want to give up bull riding despite the risks it may pose to his life.

As I noted, the movie has the typical Nicholas Sparks movie manipulations and tugs at the heart strings that cause its viewers to weep. In this case, though, it was more touching than usual. And the ending is a happy one, even if it’s hard to believe and seems a little bit cockamamie and unreal. Plus some of the songs and music are realllly cheesy.

Still, the men in this movie are gentlemen, heroes, and good guys and they behave with class and dignity. The same goes for the women. And that’s rare amid the mounds of garbage coming out of Hollywood.


Watch the trailer . . .

* “While We’re Young“: I really, really loved this movie. It’s brilliantly written and absolutely hilarious. I laughed and laughed. It’s a great commentary on and mockery of the New York intelligentsia left and the hipsters who follow in their footsteps.

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts are Josh and Cornelia, a middle-aged couple in Brooklyn. He is a once-promising documentary maker who’s been working on the same confusing, complicated, left-wing, anti-war documentary for more than a decade and can’t move on. She is the daughter of a successful documentarian, played by Charles Grodin, who doesn’t like his son-in-law much because he sees how Josh has wasted so much time and can’t move beyond it to go on with his life and be successful. Josh and Cornelia are also childless in a neighborhood and community of friends in which everyone has a baby, and their friends judge them for it.

Soon, Josh and Cornelia meet Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), hipsters in their 20s. Jamie wants to become a documentary filmmaker, and Josh and Cornelia are mesmerized by the younger couples’ youthful hipsterism and its accompanying lifestyle. While Josh and Cornelia are busy using technology–computers, smartphones, etc., Jamie and Darby play board games, use a VCR to watch movies on VHS, and they are low-tech on everything. She makes her own “artisan” ice cream and takes hip-hop dancing classes, and so on. Josh and Cornelia, instead of dealing with their lives in middle age, hang out with the hipster couple and try to feel young again.

Eventually, Jamie invites Josh to get involved in Jamie’s documentary, which seems to have come about by accident and coincidence. But things aren’t exactly as they seem, and soon Josh discovers he’s been had in a lot of ways.

The movie explores ethics and how they no longer matter today, something Josh discovers to his dismay. I didn’t like the ending. But, sadly, the ending is more often than not today how things end up.

Very entertaining and witty. And very enjoyable.


Watch the trailer . . .

* “Seymour: An Introduction“: I had mixed feelings about this documentary, the subject matter of which is pianist and teacher, Seymour Bernstein of New York. The movie is actor Ethan Hawke’s first non-fiction directorial debut. Seymour is an incredible pianist who could, to this day, play in concert. He is that good. But he hates the pressures of performing and prefers to teach. Some of the world’s great pianists who now play in concert professionally were his pupils.

I like that Seymour demands excellence and wishes people would realize how much practice and physical exercise is behind a masterful performance. I liked that Seymour communicates the barely audible and recognizable nuances and subtleties that go into great piano playing and great performances in general. But at only 84 minutes, the movie seemed incredibly long, slow, and, to be honest, a little bit boring and dry to me. On the other hand, Seymour is a sweet man and a musical genius, who is incredibly talented and has had a number of interesting and touching experiences. That includes his service at the front lines of the Korean War as a member of the U.S. Army, after he showed his toughness by marching 20 miles in sub-zero temperatures while wearing all of his gear during basic training. Although not drafted as a musician for the U.S.O., he and a fellow soldier asked their commanding officer if they could play classical music on their respective instruments for fellow soldiers. He spoke of the enjoyment of soldiers at the front lines, many of whom had never heard classical music. But then he teared up as he spoke of the body bags he encountered on the battlefield, body bags of his fellow Americans. That story, and the one about how he may have gotten a renowned pianist knighted by the Brits are the good parts of this film.

I also liked the brief parts in which director Ethan Hawke appears on screen to talk about why he did this movie, and how much Seymour means to him. Hawke says that for the past five yeas, he’s had stage fright when performing live, and he had trouble getting past it. He was introduced to Seymour, who helped him get over this and improve. But when Hawke starts asking Seymour why he (Hawke) should live the second half of his life, it gets a little ridiculous and over the top. I also laughed when I watched a pretentious Harvard mystic of some sort lecture on and on about how he once heard all the voices of creation (he refuses to acknowledge the existence of G-d) singing allowed. The guy reminded me a lot of Martin Short, especially if he played a pretentious Harvard mystic in a comedy. It bothered me, too, that Seymour, despite all of his incredible and amazing experiences, won’t acknowledge that there is a G-d. Instead, he gives us the usual New Age gobbledygook psychobabble about how “the god is in all of us,” that it is the music inside of us. Um, no thanks.

Seymour is man who doesn’t look too interesting but is actually an interesting man, especially when he talks about perfecting his craft or any craft. But for divinity and spiritualism, he and the Harvard self-designated shaman leave a lot to be desired.

For all of Seymour’s advice on music and the arts, I’m glad that my parents didn’t partake in his advice on piano and kids who don’t want to play. As a young kid in a middle class family, I was privileged to have my parents pay for and send me to piano lessons. But, truth be told, I HATED IT! I hated playing it, I hated practicing it, and I hated forever waiting in my piano teacher’s smelly basement (which bore strong odors of that night’s meat loaf or casserole). And I just wasn’t that good at it. I wanted to focus on tennis. The only instruments I think I’d have been good at and enthusiastic about were drums. But that was out of the question, given that I never asked, and my family and neighborhood could probably do without the racket. My piano teacher was my grandmother’s best friend, though, and she had a husband who was very ill and couldn’t work. So I felt a lot of pressure not to be “a bad kid” and quit. Still, one day I finally got up the courage and begged my parents to quit. After a lot of discouragement I finally was allowed to stop. My late, beloved teacher, Mrs. Abramson, told me that she taught a lot of adult students who wished they had my opportunity to learn while they were young and it was easier to pick up the skill, and that I would one day regret it and become one of them. To this day, I can say, I don’t regret quitting piano one bit. For the record, I can still play some songs on the piano (such as “Ode to Joy”). But I just don’t care to. As with this movie, I respect those who are good at piano playing (and enjoy listening to them play), but it’s just not for me.

Seymour says that parents should discipline their kids more and force them to play piano and take lessons, even if they are not interested. He says that parents should ground their kids and take away television watching and getting together with friends, unless their kids play. He says that kids who did not play piano or another instrument grow up to be only “half-persons” or half-adults.

On that one, I have to disagree with Seymour. I think I and the other kids who quit piano are probably fully formed.


Watch the trailer . . .

No comments: